Oliver Stone, director of "Platoon," "JFK," "Nixon" and "W." to name a few, doesn't shy from controversial political tales. And, now, instead of just telling a story about one aspect of U.S. history at a time, Stone is taking on pretty much the whole damned thing.
First, Stone is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his landmark and controversial film, "JFK" -- a film that spawned an entire generation of conspiracy theorists surrounding the assassination of the United States' 35th president. Next, Stone is also promoting the Blu-ray release of his 10-episode series, "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States" (which originally ran on Showtime) -- a series that basically presents in one collection all of the wrongs Stone argues that the United States has committed, and that spans from World War II to the present day. Even if you don't agree with Stone's take (and there are more than a few times you probably won't), it's a fascinating thing to behold.
Stone isn't afraid to challenge questions he doesn't agree with, but not in an off-putting way. He's incredibly charming while he explains to you why he thinks that you are an idiot. Stone explains his worldview -- in a nutshell: The threat of the Soviet Union was exaggerated by the United States to increase defense spending -- and explains how that worldview doesn't always influence his films -- even in his film about George W. Bush, a man for whom Stone doesn't hide his contempt. Stone also gives us an update on his biopic on Martin Luther King -- titled "MLK" -- starring Jamie Foxx and how the realities of the film aren't quite as far along as what's been reported.
I watched your "Untold History" set...
All of it?
All 12 hours?
You're a serious man ... there's a lot there.
And it culminates with a clip of the Death Star blowing up Alderaan.
It's our generation.
Because of the timing of its release, you missed getting the Edward Snowden story into this, which actually backs up a lot of points you make about wiretapping.
It's the next logical step, unfortunately, in the madhouse. If I had told you, "Listen, the government is tapping all of our phone lines. Everybody. The whole world," you'd think I was paranoid -- like Jim Garrison at the trial with Kennedy. I think that Snowden, thank God, came along and he had the goods.
I don't think most people would would have thought you were paranoid. I feel a lot of people just assumed this was happening, even before Snowden.
When I was saying that Garrison was talking about a very large government involvement, people thought he was flaky and that I was making it up. It was a very hostile reception, for the most part.
But in 2013, I don't think people are surprised by this anymore.
Well, to me, I think it means "JFK" aged well, the movie.
Speaking of Presidents, in "Untold History," you do not seem to be a big fan of Harry Truman.
Being a fan or not a fan is not the issue for me, because it's not a personal issue. I suppose in context, Truman is better than Eisenhower. But, to me, at a very key moment because Roosevelt dies, all of these key decisions come down to a very -- let's put it this way -- narrow-minded man. It was as if George W. Bush were in office at that key moment. It couldn't have been worse for this country. To distrust the Soviets so quickly, so openly -- our allies -- and, in two weeks, to insult Molotov, is incredibly reckless to go totally whole hog into a pro-British Empire point of view without considering some of Roosevelt's issues, it's just a shame, a tragedy, for this country. But, personal blame, I think Truman had many good qualities -- but he was sold to the American public as this heroic, common man. He was a stupid, heroic, common man.
You take issue with Truman using the atomic bomb on Japan, that Japan was going to surrender soon anyway. Wasn't there concern that if the U.S. didn't strike, the Soviets would have taken part of Japan? Creating a North Japan and South Japan, like we see still today in Korea?
It was a huge issue, yes. So you're admitting that we were fighting the Cold War right away?
I don't think it's me admitting it, I feel that's been established.
So it's OK because we knew the Soviets were going to take it?
I'm just saying, opinion of its morality aside, that I think that's the reason -- not to just "save lives."
So we do agree, but to me it's an underhanded way of doing things because, clearly, if Roosevelt had been there, we would have been allies still. And they had done us enormous favors -- they had saved us from losing a lot more men in the war. And perhaps they saved England entirely, because I don't think England could have lasted without Russia. So, the way we paid them back was extremely underhanded.
You criticize Obama for keeping a lot of the Bush policies when it comes to national security. To play devil's advocate, we don't see what the president sees on a daily basis. I am curious what Obama is seeing to make a guy like that change his world view so drastically.
I thought a lot about that. And I would say to you that if you are a young president -- like Kennedy was -- and you're subjected day to day to military security intelligence issues, where you're constantly dealing with threats to your life and threats from the enemy, it can magnify in your mind quickly. It becomes a sole-issue kind of thing. So, all of a sudden, yeah, the threats of the Soviets are much more magnified than they really are. That's the nature of concentration. So, when you allow the military industrial complex to come in with all of there considerations and maps and geopolitics and power, life becomes a game of power. I think that's what happens to these presidents, but I do think you have to envision beyond what your people are telling you. To see "what is my moral vision of the universe?" Perhaps you can have one that is peaceful.
And I think that Obama shocked me because, if anything, he seemed to understand, at least briefly, the idea that this war on terror was a hyped up bill of goods. And then when he bought into it very quickly -- possibly at the same time he started to take that campaign money. I don't know. When he started to take huge money, why did he go to a private option when the public option was working for him? He would have been elected.
So do you credit McCain for taking the public option?
Yeah, I do. But, he was the guy who was yelling "security, security." Part of the reason I voted for Obama was that he wasn't a sucker for that kind of bullshit talk, which we had heard from the 1940s on.
You mentioned Eisenhower earlier. Why do you think he gave the now-famous "military industrial complex" speech in his farewell address?
Amazing. That's a very good psychological question, one well worth probing. But, first of all, you have to accept what Eisenhower did -- and that's what's shocking. He put us on this war footing. He created a beast, a monster of incredible proportions that he handed over to Kennedy. You know what he called it at the time? People forget that quote, "I leave my successor a legacy of ashes." That's a heavy quote. He was a reasonable man, we all thought so, at least he acted like it. The 1952 election, the Republicans had to go hard on communism -- they were already committed to that platform in 1946 ... and I think Eisenhower had a bad conscious about it because he had done more than anybody to bring it on.
Did you happen to see a documentary called "The World According to Dick Cheney"?
I avoid those things, they upset me. But why? [Laughs]
It does a good job of portraying the rift between Cheney and Bush in Bush's second term. And why Bush's second term is so different than his first term.
Because they failed in Iraq.
Do you wish you would have waited a few more years before making "W." instead of making it while he was still in office? So that you would have had even more to the story?
I'm sure I could have, but I had the desire to do it then because he's so enervated me -- it really was that motivation. That came in 2008, we really committed. We were so depressed by what we had seen again with Bush. We thought, "Is he an aberration or this this a system? A pattern that can't be beat?" And I don't regret the decision at all because part of that came from making the movie. I could probably make a different movie, but, you know what? I disliked him intensely.
But you're more fair to him than I would have guessed that you would have been.
On one hand I'm a dramatist -- and a dramatist tells a story. So I was determined to tell the story -- as much as I hated him -- in the same way as "Nixon." I hated Nixon, but to tell the story from inside the man's shoes. To walk the path. And how he became president: It was basically a free ride off of his father ... and that father rivalry, to top his father in Iraq, seemed to me like a very worthwhile movie. But, definitely to me, Bush was always a mental lightweight and that's why it was done in this fairly simplistic style -- because I didn't want to do the "Nixon" style for him. it wasn't heavy. The beauty of the movie to me is that George Bush has no awareness. Even at the end of the movie, after all of this shit's gone down, to Laura he says, "What did I do wrong?" I find that to be amazing and accurate and realistic to a guy like that.
Your "MLK" project has been in the news. Is that a done deal with you and Jamie Foxx?
No, it's not a done deal. But it's certainly something that I would like to do, and Jamie would certainly like to do it. But, whether we can get it done, I have to rewrite the screenplay and that's what I'm doing. It's a great story and that's what's motivating me. I can't say it's going to be done, by the way. I can't do that.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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