Oliver Stone Discusses JFK and Nixon and the Jacob Burns Film Center
A Look Back at 2008 QA
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Last Thursday, Oliver Stone appeared at Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville with an an airing of his 1995 film Nixon. Coinciding with its re-release on DVD and his upcoming film on George W. Bush, an enlightening Q&A took center stage afterwards with New York Times critic Janet Maslin. Of course, the subjects of assassination and conspiracy arose but so did a claim that might disappoint his legion of believers.
Feeling that his true filmmaking intentions over the years have been misinterpreted, he said, "I see myself as a dramatist not necessarily a historian.”
Stone demonstrated this in Nixon. The filmmaker portrayed a cabal of Texas supporters who seem to be pulling Nixon's strings and orchestrating the assassination of Kennedy in late 1963. "It's a bit overdone in the film. But On the other hand, some of Nixon's liberal type policies angered 'these supporters,' and they did not intervene on Nixon's behalf before his downfall," the directer speculated.
In terms of JFK, his dramatic intent was to showcase alternative theories that have existed since Kennedy was killed in 1963. "I wanted it to be a narrative that people could be excited about," Stone said.
But on a historical level, he considered his film to be a necessary deconstruction of The Warren Commission because it mostly ignored the eyewitness accounts of many of the people interviewed. Stone hoped that this format would achieve similar critical and popular success with Nixon. "It was tough to do - a lot of guys in suits just sitting around and talking," Stone lamented.
He also thinks that 1995 was not the best time to do a film on the disgraced president. With a charismatic, handsome and popular president in Bill Clinton, Stone asserted, "I don't think people wanted to spend time with Richard Nixon."
So he feels waiting five or ten years to make the film might have made Nixon a bit more palatable to the liberal audiences that Mr. Stone can lay claim to. Having concerns for the environment and acting dovish in regards to Russia and China, Nixon might fall left today in many respects.
Of course, that is abundantly clear when played against this administration. "George W. Bush is way beyond Nixon. In fact he almost seems harmless compared to Bush," said Stone.
Segueing into W, Stone compared the darkness of Nixon to his profile of Mr. Bush. "He’s dangerous but goofy with an endearing quality that got him elected twice," he said. "Furthermore, Nixon comes with the dark depth of Greek tragedy, while George Bush is a backslapper and a salesman who lacks guilt or regret."
So when The War Powers Act goes completely ignored and unconstitutional activity is justified by stringing unrelated lawyerly words together, only the speech writers and attorneys lose sleep. "This administration sees all this as routine," he said in comparison to other presidents who viewed extraordinary measures as temporary.
Either way, films like these are an exploration into what beast within our leaders drives them toward their destructive tendencies. "I'm trying to understand the mindset of why we keep going to war," he said.
The acclaimed director may have learned something from these studies but he feels his so-called role as pseudo historian with a message has failed. "Vietnam, forgotten, was truly a horror show and amazingly these same characters have returned and sold us another war," he lamented.
But with 24 hour cable news and all access to everything with the internet, it should have been pretty difficult to slip the lies past us again. "It didn't do us any good. It was a conspiracy in broad daylight," Stone said.
Worse yet, he believes the excess of information has had an effect that is contrary to logic. "It's made us more apathetic," said the Academy Award winner.
Sensing the doom that the next election may carry, Ms. Maslin implored a request off of Mr. Stone's uncertainty as to whether W, would come out before November. "Please, get it out," she said to the audience's agreement.
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