Oliver Stone

Violence, Film and Shoebox novels

By Rob Elder


Suprisingly, Oliver Stone believes there are limits to the First Amendment.
In a rare public appearance, the controversial director of such films as JFK, Platoon, Natural Born Killers, and Nixon, came to Portland in October to promote his first novel, A Child's Night Dream. In a Q&A session with the audience at the Portland Art Museum, Stone talked about his work, the film industry, violence and the First Amendment.

"There should be limits to the First Amendment," Stone said when asked about violence in film. Although Stone defended free speech in the arts, he said that "people should not be able to promote or call for the destruction of other human beings."

A Vietnam veteran, Stone is very sensitive to violence and the value of human life. After the acclaim he received for the semi-autobiographical Platoon, Stone was haunted by one persistant question from the press. Did Stone kill his Sergeant as Charlie Sheen's character did?

"No, I didn't kill him, but I felt like I had become that type of person. I certainly killed people- it warps you forever," the director said. "The person who comes out is not going to be Forrest Gump."

Throughout Stone's career he has been followed by frequent criticism that his films are too violent.  "Violence is talked about too much. It's become too sanitized," Stone said. "There are other ways to deal with violence than just running away from it. In television, violence has no consequence or it is arrived at too easily."

Stone said he wants to portray the ugliness of violence in an honest manner in his work.
"People are much tougher on sex than violence on television," Stone said. "You can tell a lot about a culture from how they respond to sex. Maybe violence is a result of bad sex."

Stone also talked about his roots as a film student at the New York University after returning from Vietnam. Before he came to the stage, the audience watched Last Year in Vietnam- a short film he made for a class taught by Martin Scorcese.

"After the class screened the film, Marty stopped and said, 'This is a film maker.' I'll always remember that; it was very important to me," Stone said.

"Marty was one of my first teachers at NYU. My films were terrible. But he'd say, 'Don't worry, you'll do better. Do something personal.'" A Child's Night Dream, Stone's first book, is a continuation of his personal narratives.

The novel is a semi-autobiographical exploration of his experiences in Vietnam and his return home after the war. The novel took 30 years to complete, but spent most of that time in a shoebox. The project might have never been published if Stone had not casually mentioned the unpublished book that he wrote in college to an editor at St. Martin¹s Press.

When asked if the novel could ever become a film, Stone said:
"Yes, I mean, no. I don't know quite yet."

Another student asked the director for advice to young filmmakers.

"Experience life first, unless you have something to say," Stone said. "How do you get there? Hard work. -Or you can just work at a video store and freak out," he said, in reference to Quentin Tarantino.

Stone expressed the importance of variety and taking chances in film. "Don't make personal films all the time or you get stale inside yourself," he said. "Sometimes you have to make that Hollywood movie outside yourself."

With the commerical prosperity of Platoon and JFK and the box office failure of Natural Born Killers and Nixon, Stone has had a rollercoaster relationship with success.

"I used Platoon to make Born on the Fourth of July. That film was unmakeable before, and I still had to get Tom Cruise to work for nothing," Stone said.

"Then I had another hand to play after JFK, so I made Nixon. But now I've lost the card- I've lost the hand, but I feel good about it.