Oliver Stone's Salvador Still Relevant At 25th Anniversary

11/11/2011 12:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 11, 2012

"My first directing effort, Salvador (1986), was at times a cauldron, and I thought it might be my last", said Oliver Stone at the New York Film Festival (NYFF) commemorating Salvador's 25th anniversary starring James Woods as photojournalist Richard Boyle upon whose memoirs the film is based. Woods got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Jim Belushi, Michael Murphy and John Savage, who plays real-life photojournalist John Hoagland also star.

Ripped from the headlines, Salvador is still relevant today and is available on DVD with many of the scenes that were deleted from the feature film in order to get an "R" rating. Stone not only directed it but also wrote the screenplay together with Boyle. He said it "barely got through" the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), responsible for assigning ratings, because of the sex and violence in it.

Said Stone, "The fate of Salvador broke my heart" because most people never got a chance to see it. It was hard to get distribution although it got some decent reviews and did good business in Los Angeles. Part of that was the sex and violence and also what Stone dubbed a South American/Central American curse with US filmgoers. For some reason, films made about that part of the world don't do well at the box office here. He's not sure why. However, Salvador got him noticed and enabled him to make Academy Award winner, Platoon with Charlie Sheen later that same year.

Platoon (1986) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, is loosely based on Stone's army experiences in the Vietnam War. He was in combat and earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. His other two films about Vietnam are Born on the Fourth of July(1989) starring Tom Cruise and Heaven & Earth(1993). Stone won Academy Awards for directing for both Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.

According to Stone, Hollywood does not treat the making of films about history very well -- it's hard to get financing for them. For example, Salvador was done "by the skin of our teeth". Even films about American history, he said, are difficult to get financed.

Money and getting distribution weren't the only problems with Salvador though. It was shot in Mexico and after 42 days, Stone said they got kicked out of the country for having broken too many laws. Mexico was very strict about its filming regulations.

Stone sadly noted six priests were murdered in El Salvador in 1989 several years after the release of Salvador. Stone depicted a carload of nuns and a Catholic lay worker savagely slaughtered and gang raped by midnight marauders. That scene is similar to the real life executions in 1980 of two Maryknoll nuns and two women missionaries in El Salvador. Stone's film also shows the real life murder of Archbishop Óscar Romero shot to death as he celebrates Mass.

Last May the New York Times reported Spain invoking the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, issued arrest warrants for 20 people allegedly involved in the murder of those Jesuit priests. Five of those slain priests were born in Spain.

Having been taught in Prof. Richard Brown's "Movies 101" film class at NYU to always stay for the film's closing credits, I learned Salvador was dedicated to Oliver Stone's father who had passed away the year before. I was deeply moved that he had dedicated the film to his dad.

Actor James Woods who appeared with Stone at the NYFF celebration of their film, revealed that Stone had directed him to ad lib his church confession to the priest in it. Woods, a Roman Catholic in real life, said ad libing an onscreen confession to a priest gave him pause, but he did it. That confession alone is worth the price of the DVD.

I couldn't help thinking as I watched Stone meld politics and drama in Salvador as he has in many of his films that here before me in New York City is the creator of films criticizing Wall Street as protestors occupy nearby Zuccotti Park, a protest that has rapidly spread around the world.

"Is not there another sequel in this somewhere for Gordon "Greed Is Good" Gekko played by Oscar winner Michael Douglas in Wall Street and then again in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps", I asked of Stone.

Stone said he's busy with a couple other projects right now. But sometimes, you just gotta go with the flow. After all, James Woods who just appeared in HBO's Too Big to Fail sat right next to him on the NYFF stage. I believe in serendipity. Does Oliver Stone?