Oliver Stone Interview: JFK 30th Anniversary | Screen Rant

Oliver Stone's seminal JFK, released in December of 1991 and now on its 30th anniversary, has influenced a wide range of things from policy to cinematography in the intervening decades. The defining interpretation of the beloved president's death has been as lauded as it has been challenged, and that discussion has been reopened this year with the JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass documentary that was released last month, also directed by Stone himself.

Stone reminisced with Screen Rant about the original film and spoke about the experience of returning to the material after so many years.

Related: Why The Winter Soldier Assassinated JFK in the MCU

Screen Rant: Mr. Stone, thank you so much time for speaking with me today about the release of JFK, the director's cut on the 30th anniversary of the film. Now, Kennedy was on the verge of changing Cuba's policy, Russia's policy, Vietnam's policy, and then he was assassinated, and the country shifted to the far right, in the words of Donald Sutherland's character X in JFK, why was Kennedy killed, who benefited and who had the power to cover it up?

Oliver Stone: Exactly. I think you've answered the questions I tried to raise, very good, I'm glad you got that. Who does have that power? You have to go to the very highest levels of the US government. Beyond that, you have to look at who gave permission for that kind of a thing to happen. He had made many enemies by 63, many. He had refused to go into Cuba twice, he refused to go into Laos, he refused to send combat troops to Vietnam, he'd sent advisors and so, and of course, he made the nuclear peace treaty, which is the greatest thing that happened in all those years after World War II. Russians and America agreed on a peace treaty, nuclear test ban treaty, and it worked but unfortunately, the powers that wanted tension, predominated and the money is the target, tension works for money.

This version of the film is three hours and 28 minutes, and the original version is three hours and 10 minutes. Now, back in 1991, your original contract had you keep the film to three hours or under, but WB lets you keep it three hours and 10 minutes. That's pretty rare in 1991, right?

Oliver Stone: It was rare, and I remember Spike Lee, wanted to get the same thing from Malcolm X, and he was asking me how long the film is, and I guess Warner’s was tough with him too, but they let me have it because they saw the film and they felt it really worked. In hindsight, I could have cut some stuff, I thought it was true. At that time, I was struggling to convince, so perhaps I went overboard and told too much information, I think I could have lost some time, but still, it was a powerful message to this film and it comes out of my life out of the feelings and my research with people like Jim Garrison and Fletcher Prouty.

Now one of the scenes that stick out to me the most is the John Larroquette scene, in this version of the film, he plays Jerry Johnson who interviews Jim Garrison for his show, was that originally cut due to time?

Oliver Stone: Yes. Yeah, it was originally cut too. That was the director's cut you're talking about. I just did that afterward because it would be for the fans. I was happy with the film cut, I didn't have problems with it, I wasn't protesting or anything. It was three hours and as you say, 10 minutes. I was fine with that, but it was so successful that when I asked if I could do put the other scenes in, they said, no problem.

That's amazing. I've always been fascinated with the Kennedy assassination, and I feel like because of the political and social climate of at that time, it's very reminiscent of now when we came upon the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, what inspired you to do the documentary JFK: Revisited?

Oliver Stone: I sat there numb, I couldn't believe the shit they were passing off on TV. Every station was saying the same thing or Warren Commission, Oswald was a mad man who shot the president three shots, so it was so ridiculous, nobody modified their views, nobody said there's a recording, first of all, he was an alleged killer, his case would've been thrown out of court. There was no proof, no proof that he was even on the sick floor and there's no fingerprints, the rifle is all fucked up.

It's just a strange story and the more you go into it's a bit of a maze, it's true there's a lot of stuff you get lost and as Fletcher Prouty, told me if you follow Oswald's story, it's like a red herring, you'll get lost in there. But I do believe that he knew about what was going on because he was used by them, he had the fingerprints of intelligence all over him since 1959, when he went to Russia, as the defendant, one of the several defectors he went to Russia and back, the story of Oswald is insane. No more the same as the rest of this story.

Now JFK: Revisited, was a two-hour documentary film, but I read that there's either a four or five-hour cut, any plans to release that at some point?

Oliver Stone: Yeah, the four-hour cut is now playing in Australia with DocPlay and it will be released here in February. Showtime has a 90-day hold on the JFK revisited. So, in late February we will release more broadly to Amazon, and to the four-hour cut will be available for all the buffs, people who really want to get into, actually there's a lot of stuff on foreign policy that we had to cut.

Oh really?

Oliver Stone: Yeah.

Oh, wow.  I went back and watched this film. This is one of my favorite films and I think it is absolutely historic. It really changed the way that people looked at this assassination, it was very controversial at the time, but this film is stacked with legends, Kevin Costner, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Candy, Ed Asner, Gary Oldman, Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon, Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Rooker, Vincent D'Onofrio, the list goes on and on. Can you share any memories of casting any of them or any memories of working with some of these legends?

Oliver Stone: Well, when I had, Warner Brothers wanted insurance on one of a movie star and Kevin Costner was the insurance for them. He was their creation, Robin hood, he'd worked with the Untouchables, I believe. So, he was quite hot. I got them and they didn't care about the rest of the cast, but I still wanted to get faces that were recognizable and memorable in there because it's a complicated movie and if you don't know who the name of the person is, you get kind of confused. So, if you have John Candy playing Dean Andrews, it kind of locks in, the same thing with Matthau and Kevin Bacon, they're all vivid, and I had to make the people vivid as possible so that you would remember the storyline and the clues.

It's amazing, that's amazing. Every time I watch JFK, I completely forget the Gary Oldman is in this film. He completely disappears into the role, and can you just talk to me about working with him as a collaborator and the preparation that he did for Lee Harvey Oswald.

Oliver Stone: Gary had done Sid and Nancy, I believe. So, he had that dark side I wanted, and he did a very good job, he had a dark, as I said. We talked about Oswald, and he went around, I urged him to go around New Orleans, and where we were shooting, starting to shoot and he talked to a lot of people we put him in touch with, so he figured it out his way. He is an enigma, we don't really know a story.

All the conversations he had with the Dallas police there's no record of it. All we know is what he said in the hallway. He doesn't act at all like a crazy assassin who's happy he did it, not at all, he wants the lawyer. So, Gary, I think he was the right choice for it, did a great job. Unfortunately, now he's moved on in his British sail. He's wrong about certain things, he doesn't really know the story of Oswald, so he's become more of a Warren commission guy, now that's the shame.

Wow. Now, what new information, if any, has changed your perspective on the assassination since the early nineties?

Oliver Stone: Oh, well, come on, the Assassination Records Review Boards and SEC, gave it a third investigation, so they declassified a lot of files that give us confirmation of what we suspected. And that is really important, they brought back people from the sixties and the seventies to talk, and we learned from those, sometimes the conversations change, we learned a lot from them, there's a lot of information that is now declassified because of them, they're very important. They didn't do enough, if they got 60,000 documents, no 60,000 pages out, there's another 20,000 roughly still classified, it's hard with the CIA stole all of them, Secret Service stole all of them, it's described in the film the difficulty of getting people, CIA lies about everything. So, is hard to... How do you prosecute a case in the light of day where it's a covert operation? It's very difficult.

Now this year, I believe we were supposed to see more, the JFK files released to the public, but apparently due to COVID that wouldn't be happening. What are you most interested in seeing in those documents, and do you think they're actually going to get released?

Oliver Stone: I think since, I don't know, maybe our film, in the end, this assassination community is very serious and they're very good, so they can look at small pieces of evidence papers, people like Jim Dieugenio has an elephant memory. You give them something, they go for it, they're like fish. They make sense of things. The media, they said completely, never reported what they were doing, except for the big one, like operation northwards, but all the smaller details were missing. So, we had an obligation after we saw that ridiculous 50th anniversary shows to go back and say, look, before we get out of here, we're going to leave a record, and this record is as accurate as we can be of what we know and may not be everything, but this is what we know, and this is a fact.

No one addressed that fact since the film came out, we don't hear anything. We just hear criticism of, it's unbelievable, stupid criticism of something or other making fun of me and so forth. I think it's really, I'm very proud of this is a fact-based film, as I am proud of the untold history of the United States, which is also fact-based.

I loved the untold history of the United States, so thank you so much for that docuseries as well. Now, since JFK was released, what other big possible like assassination or death do you think has come close to comparing in that magnitude of JFK's?

Oliver Stone: Nothing, because what he died, it was coup d’etat, the concept of a government shared by the people went out the window. It was no longer that it was a military security state and no president since Kennedy, not one you think about all the years has been able to take on confront the military-intelligence apparatus, not at all. And that is sad because we get fed all these lies. Now, Iran has this, Iraq has this, and Russia has this, nobody questions it, and even the media. You can make up anything now, that they run with it. And even Trump's secret AS is an agent of food, it's all fantasy land.

It was a danger to this democracy, they destroy, they say conspiracy people are destroying the fabric of trust, it's the opposite. They're the ones who destroyed the fabric of trust, they did it with Kennedy by putting out this ridiculous Warren commission story.

You're completely right about that, completely. Now with the advent of streaming services and more movies than ever, do you think the biopic genre has grown or kind of become stagnant in the past few decades?

Oliver Stone: I have no idea what you're talking about, I don't know. I've seen very good movies made by old people and some not so good. I can say movies have gotten better in many ways. There's a lot of good work being done.

Now in your directing career, you've typically chosen to tell stories of gritty reality. Why do you think that fantasy is so prevalent to modern society, currently?

Oliver Stone: I did Conan the Barbarian years ago. I wanted to do that, and I couldn't do it. Digital has made much more possible, but I don't like it when it's for show. I sometimes feel like it's predictable. If you look at my movies, there's like Natural Born Killers, you don't know when it's going to happen. It just sneaks in suddenly there's an effect. And I like that kind of thing where you surprise the audience, but to see a guy walk into a room and grow into a bigger monster and like steroids and all that, it's just, I don't get that excited.

Now, what young filmmakers most remind you of yourself and your style in today's landscape?

Oliver Stone: Those are trick questions because I don't want to hurt young filmmakers, there's a lot of them are out there and very good. And they do good work, so I just don't want to pick one out because the other one will say...You understand they're sensitive.

Next: James Bond's Modern Success Owes a Debt to JFK



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