Oliver Stone Sounds Off on ‘Idiots’ in Showbiz, ‘Nuclear Now’ Doc



Oliver Stone settled into a sofa on the terrace of the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cluj, Romania, apologizing for the jetlag and gazing at a downcast sky that had briefly parted over the Transylvanian hillside. “Let’s see if we can find some blue,” he said, describing himself — despite ample evidence to the contrary — as a “hopeful” person. But after a week of steady downpours in this picturesque medieval city, the weather refused to cooperate. From the hotel terrace it was gray as far as the eye could see.

Stone was in Romania to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Transilvania Film Festival, which also programmed a small retrospective in honor of the three-time Academy Award-winning director including his latest film, the pro-nuclear-energy documentary “Nuclear Now,” which Variety’s Owen Gleiberman described as an “intensely compelling, must-see” doc after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival last year.

Before receiving the award, Stone sat down with Variety to discuss Hollywood’s long-running resistance to nuclear power, from fear-mongering movies such as “The China Syndrome” and “Silkwood” to the horror schlock of the 1950s, whose giant irradiated insects and mushroom clouds tapped into the subconscious fears of Americans in the nuclear age.

Though it would be hard to characterize those fears as misplaced after the horrors of Hiroshima, Stone nevertheless insists that nuclear energy has been unfairly vilified and argues that it is not only clean, abundant and safe, but perhaps mankind’s best hope to avert the impending climate catastrophe. “I like nuclear. You can eat it for breakfast,” he said. “But they don’t like nuclear energy [in Hollywood] because nuclear scares them.”

The director described the process of making “Nuclear Now” as a “fucking ballbreaker beyond belief,” after he was repeatedly turned down by anyone who would listen to his pitch. “It was rejected. It was rejected at birth,” he said. “No financing. No company wanted to do it. No Netflix. It’s crazy.” (At an appearance with festivalgoers the following morning, Stone went on to say: “People in showbiz are idiots. They just go with the trend, they just go with the fashion — it’s a fashion business.”)

Stone has spent much of the past decade on the margins of the movie biz, although he insists he harbors no ill will toward Tinseltown. “I’ve gotten along in the business,” he said. “I’ve always survived.”

It’s a perhaps uncharacteristic understatement for a notoriously outspoken director who during a torrid moviemaking run in the 1980s and ’90s was one of our most essential filmmakers, with a string of critical and commercial hits including “Platoon,” “Wall Street,” “Natural Born Killers” and “Born on the 4th of July.”

None of his films in recent years, however, has had quite the same impact. Whether Stone is out of touch is debatable, but he is nevertheless by his own admission flummoxed by the pop-culture zeitgeist.

“I saw ‘John Wick 4’ on the plane. Talk about volume. I think the film is disgusting beyond belief. Disgusting. I don’t know what people are thinking,” he said. “Maybe I was watching ‘G.I. Joe’ when I was a kid. But [Keanu Reeves] kills, what, three, four hundred people in the fucking movie. And as a combat veteran, I gotta tell you, not one of them is believable. I realize it’s a movie, but it’s become a video game more than a movie.”

Stone wasn’t done. “It’s lost touch with reality. The audience perhaps likes the video game. But I get bored by it,” he continued. “How many cars can crash? How many stunts can you do? What’s the difference between ‘Fast and Furious’ and some other film? It’s just one thing after another. Whether it’s a super-human Marvel character or just a human being like John Wick, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s not believable.”

If that sounds like sour grapes from the 76-year-old director, however, Stone says he’s “not complaining.” “I made 20 feature films. Maybe I’ll make 21 before I go. That’d be nice,” he said. “I have one in mind but I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

Perhaps Stone is frustrated with the studio system, perhaps that system has wearied of his increasingly cantankerous takes. (“As I got older, I became more angry, not less,” he said. “I was a conventional boy. I wanted to be loved. But I realized I can’t be loved.”) In recent years, the director has instead found a platform for his often polarizing political views with documentaries including “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass,” “The Putin Interviews” and “Snowden.”

Stone cut his teeth at a time when independent American filmmaking was ascendant, long before the rise of $200 million, CGI-fueled, comic-book blockbusters with publicity costs to rival the GDP of a small island nation. “When they make movies now, they want to think about how do we market it, who’s going to watch it? Of course, that’s a consideration. But it becomes the sole consideration,” he said. “You really have to have a bigger and bigger hit, which ruins the business because it makes the margins bigger, and of course that makes the cost of the film bigger.”

Sixteen years ago, Stone was set to make his highly anticipated drama about the My Lai massacre, “Pinkville,” when production was shut down by the last writers’ strike; the film was later dropped by United Artists. Asked about the current strike, the director didn’t pull punches.

“The studio would always argue, ‘We’re losing money.’ They always lose money. You can never make money if you go by their standards,” he said.


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