Years ago (I won’t say how many) I was sitting on the steps of a Cinemobile truck parked near a film set (I won’t say which one), practicing “hurry up and wait.” I was chatting with a grip, a veteran of countless productions with decades in the business. At one point he sighed, looked off in the distance, and said, “Just once I’d like to work on a picture that’s about something real.” Even at that tender age I understood that desire; it’s what compelled me to become a documentarian, while my fellow film students aspired to be Spielberg or De Palma.
I recently recalled that encounter while watching an episode of Conversations with History featuring filmmaker Oliver Stone, and realized that my enthusiasm for factual filmmaking also informed my interest in Stone’s work. Beginning with his sophomore film, “Salvador,” and throughout his career, Stone has incorporated elements of documentary style in heightened narratives that are often based on real people and historical events. In his pursuit of what he’s termed “emotional truth,” as opposed to literal truth, Stone has never shied away from controversy. Stone’s detractors – and they are legion – accuse him of being “undisciplined’ and “reckless” in dealing with facts, labeling him as a “propagandist” and an “amateurish would-be historian.” In fairness Stone has never claimed to be either objective or an historian in the academic sense (though his films are heavily researched); rather, he has stated that his goal is not to provide definitive accounts but to spark debate while hopefully entertaining his audience. In this he has often succeeded, and even those self-same detractors can’t deny his prowess as a filmmaker.
Stone’s work in documentary and docudrama is just one of the many topics discussed in a wide-ranging interview with “Conversations” host Harry Kreisler. Of particular interest is Stone’s discourse on the changes that have overtaken him since his last appearance on the program some twenty years earlier. He’s an older artist who’s fallen out of favor in Hollywood, and his once-prodigious output has slowed as a consequence, but Stone remains committed to his beliefs and fearless in expressing his viewpoint.
One of the consistent themes in Oliver Stone’s work is a determination to explore the complexities of character, and in this interview Stone himself emerges as a complicated figure – by turns insightful, dogmatic, worldly, parochial, passionate, and analytical; at times exasperating, but, like his films, never dull.
Browse this program and others on Conversations with History.