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Oliver Stone Hits the Couch at HFA

FILM OLIVER STONE SPAKS "The Role of Personal Vision in Film" Harvard Film Archive September 25

By Jordan I. Fox, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Oliver Stone addressed a jam-packed audience at the Harvard Film Archive last Thursday evening as part of a grueling publicity tour for both his new movie U-Turn and his newly released first novel, A Child's Night Dream. Reflecting all of the off-putting frankness and none of the feistiness of his carefully sculpted press persona, Stone treated the audience to an uneven but occasionally fascinating hour and a half.

Preceding Stone's talk-ponderously titled "The Role of Personal Vision in Film"-was a sycophantic introduction by Jim Bernier, chief film critic of the Boston Herald. After happily noting Stone's staggering 37 Academy Award nominations, Bernier somewhat reluctantly mentioned Stone's next big project: Mission Impossible II.

On this unusual note, Oliver Stone entered the room and shuffled up to the stage. Looking haggard and exhausted, Stone stood, slightly slumped, over the podium and apologized to the audience for his lack of energy. The firebrand of many a TV interview lamented the day's six previous publicity-engagements and mumbled, "Live television is torture...it's demeaning." The publicity-hungry Oliver Stone of Natural Born Killers, of endless controversy and extremist rhetoric, was clearly nowhere to be found.

Whether that Stone is dead and gone or simply sleep-deprived into silence was unclear, as he launched into an unexpected and extremely personal discussion of chronic problems of his self-confidence as filmmaker and individual. As members of the heavily pierced and bespectacled audience exchanged puzzled glances, Stone chronicled its gradual deterioration at the hands of bloodthirsty critics. Stone even suggested that his constant inability to satisfy his parents as a child led to feelings of personal and professional inadequacy.

"I still don't really know who Oliver Stone is," he reflected.

Oliver Stone is not a naive man. A veteran spin doctor and veritable walking quote farm, Stone never projects an image without meaning to. So why this show of insecurity? Why the infirm stance, the frequent sighs? Has a brutally public life finally broken the director the Los Angeles Times once branded "The Most Dangerous Man in America"?

No chance. Perhaps Stone was affecting humbleness to make the planned success of U-Turn more headline-friendly ("Underdog Director Strikes Back!"). Maybe he thinks that presenting conflicting versions of himself to different audiences will further his mystique. Or maybe he was just really, really tired.

Whatever the case, after sufficiently confusing the audience, Stone abruptly redirected the talk to the safer, more boring waters of his film school days at NYU. Twenty minutes of material straight out of The Pocket Guide to Film School Anecdotes ("Martin Scorsese told me, 'Make a film from inside yourself, about yourself."') left those in attendance pining for more of Stone's wacky self-analysis.

But the Stone of old did make an appearance in the question-and-answer session. Warming to the audience, he ripped into modern American culture with zest, blaming the spiritually devoid lives of teens on pervasive media-influenced materialism. On the Block-buster Video and Wal-Mart policies forbidding NC-17 videos and many CD's: "I personally would like to blow up Blockbuster...I would like to nuke Wal-Mart."

Just as things were getting interesting, in came a deluge of mindless questions.

"Could I run some quick script ideas by you?"

"I don't like most of the movies that come out these days. Is there something wrong with me?"

"If Jim Morrison were alive today, would you make an MTV video for him?"

When Stone finally got around to discussing the role of personal vision in film, he shuffled through a few more cliches before revealing his ultimate desire: an intensely personal film with the director as subject, a la Fellini's film-on-film 8 1/2.

"American cinema rarely does it [make personal films]," said Stone, "except for Woody Allen, who does it every year."

Soon after, though, in the contradiction that made the evening, he was excitedly considering his involvement in the blockbuster sequel Mission Impossible II: "It would be a combination of action, suspense and philosophy for the 21st century...a very cutting-edge film."

Stone declined to comment on the relationship between personal vision and Tom Cruise's blowing up yachts with fountain pens.

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