Update: This page scan is from Seattle’s The Stranger, a local weekly. Original Sunday night post: I don’t know where this page scan came from, and I strongly doubt that Heart’s Anne and Nancy Wilson co-wrote this letter to John McCain — the line about McCain “chomping away at [Cindy’s] breasts with little yellow teeth” is the giveaway — but they should have written it. For the five or six seconds that I thought it might be real, I was falling in love with these women like I never did in the ’70s.
Fierman: What the hell happened with the script leak last fall? I mean, I got a copy of that script, Oliver. It took one e-mail.
Stone: That wasn’t a media strategy. That was an outrageous leak by a company called Participant. One of their assistants was trying to make a few bucks, and he sold it, and then it was everywhere. There were articles everywhere destroying it, historians trashing what we’d done. We didn’t want that. All because of an assistant. Christ.
Fierman: Doesn’t that kind of thing just come along with the words “Oliver Stone, Bush Movie”?
Stone: “An Oliver Stone movie” has been a cross to bear for years. I don’t know why, because my form always fits the function of every movie. Alexander is as different as World Trade Center as this is from those two. This is a different man; he’s not as dark or deep as someone like Nixon. The style is a time trip through three different eras, to give you a sense of young, middle, and old. It’s light.
Fierman: Wait, are you saying this movie is a comedy?
Stone: Well, it has to be done with an ebullience and a certain fun, because the guy is goofy. He’s a goofball! And I think he endeared himself to people because he couldn’t get anything right. Kubrick was an idol of mine. I grew up on Strangelove and movies like Network, and they made a big impact on me. So yeah, W. is a satire.
Fierman: What was it like shooting in Shreveport, in the middle of one of the reddest of red states?
Stone: I enjoyed it. But Shreveport at night? No fun. They all got arrested the last night there, you know.
Fierman: Yeah, I was getting to that. How the hell do you end up with Brolin and Wright in jail?
Stone: Oh, we were all having champagne on the set to say good-bye–it was nine thirty at night–and then we all went off to get loaded. The cops came to this bar. They arrested Jeffrey Wright because the bartender had a hair up his ass about this uppity black man from the North. And contrary to reports, he was not drunk. I was there. He was arrested because he had words with the cops. As for Brolin? It was the first night he had had a couple of drinks the whole time we were shooting. He had been sober for five months for the role, so he let loose a little bit and they got him, too.
Fierman: How do you market this movie? I know that’s not your problem, but it’s gotta be a concern.
Stone: It doesn’t seem to be a problem! You’re here! [laughs] It’s taking care of itself.
Fierman: The controversy doesn’t hurt either.
Stone: I don’t need controversy. If anything, I’ve had too much. It simplifies me. It trivializes me, frankly. Do you like Oliver Stone? Do you hate Oliver Stone? Worst movie ever. Best movie ever. It’s all opinion. At the end of the day, you know every movie I made, I made for my reasons, and I never compromised, ever. [pause] Except maybe on Alexander.
Fierman: It seems to me that between this and World Trade Center, you seem to be grappling with the idea of 9/11 as a historical aberration that allowed domestic horror to happen.
Fierman: That’s exactly right. That’s it — 9/11 is the flame. When 9/11 happened, I knew it was an overreaction. I knew it. We went fucking nuts.
Fierman: Are you guys going to finish in time?
Stone: Honestly, I don’t know. We’re going to try like hell. I have to finish and lock by September 17, and we just wrapped. So it’s a real push. If we miss it, it’s not the end of the world: We’d miss the election, but he’d still be in office. But honestly, I feel like I did on Alexander. I got rushed. Warner Bros. had Troy ready to strike in May, and they thought we’ll just follow up with Alexander in November. And I had to make that date for marketing reasons.
And if I was smart, I would have just given them what they wanted, because they wanted a sexless Alexander with not much violence. They wanted Troy II. If I had the guts, I would have done the Sergio Leone three-hour cut for Europe and butchered it for Warner Bros. And I would have taken out the homosexuality, which is what Warners really objected to.
Fierman: Yeah. I heard that you guys aren’t exactly on good terms about that.
Stone: Did I ever tell you the story of the ten-page commentary I got with about ten days to deliver from the editor? It was all these suggestions. It was unbelievable. It’s a classic. One day when I finally donate my papers, the world will see it. But I should have done what they wanted. It would have been a smarter move. It really would. That would have been the Peckinpah move, but I didn’t have that foresight. There are heroes out there, the Terry Gilliams of the world, who take on the studio system. But it’s hard to do. Warners has banned me, you know.
Fierman: You’re not serious. Is that explicit?
Stone: Oh yes. They have told my people that they don’t want to work with me again. I should have just said, “Okay, guys, go for it. Just make your cut.” And it would have been a much shorter, truncated film, and who knows, it might have made more than $32 million. It might have made fifty-two. Eighty-two. Who knows? You don’t have any idea how big an issue the homosexuality was. Especially when it comes to a military movie.
Fierman: Is the My Lai massacre movie you were making before W. dead?
Stone: Pinkville? It can probably only come back if UA would give us the movie without paying them the money they’ve already spent. We started to make the movie. I mean, we built a whole village in Thailand! We have tons of stuff sitting in crates! There’s $6 million against the movie. And I don’t have that kind of money. They didn’t even pay all the bills. They stuck us with a bunch of them.
Fierman: Is your sense that they got cold feet on the project and used the writers’ strike as the excuse?
Stone: Yes, of course that’s what happened. First they kept cutting our budget. We had our locations, we had our actors, we had everything picked out, and it was a very reasonable plan. Then Bruce Willis walked, and they were thrilled, because that gave them the final excuse to call it, even though we got Nicholas Cage. That was three weeks before shooting and right before Christmas. Let me remind you, that’s 120 Americans and 500 Thais put out of work right before Christmas. It was a cruel, heartless decision, and it was probably made because [UA’s] Lions for Lambs was perceived as a mess, a failure, and we were linked to these Iraq movies that weren’t working.
The irony, of course, is that Pinkville is only about Iraq in a Holy Ghost-type way. It’s about the roots of Iraq, without being too close to it. It’s not a war movie. It’s JFK meets Platoon. It was about an investigation into the past and how the nature or man covers up evil. And I have UA going on and on about “Do the bad guys have to be Americans?”
Fierman: In a movie about the My Lai massacre?
Stone: I mean, GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK! American soldiers, I mean, American soldiers are sacred? Come on! I’m saying this as a veteran. I’ve been to war. There are a lot of bad guys in the army.
Fierman: What do you think about what’s happening at the box office right now?
Stone: It’s all about the muscularization of film. Comics changed everything. It’s movies on steroids. I mean, look at Transformers. That made a fortune, but it’s incomprehensible! Maybe I’m too old for it.
Fierman: Oliver, I grew up on Transformers. It’s not just incomprehensible, it’s incoherent.
Stone: Oh, okay! It’s not just me! [laughs] And I’m sure this sequel will be huge, and it will be a franchise. So where do I fit? Thank God for people like the Coen brothers. Those movies get made occasionally, but they’re still hard to get made. No Country was turned down [domestically] by Paramount Vantage. They didn’t want it! I heard this story a long time ago, that John Lesher [president of Paramount Film Group] wanted to get rid of it. And that’s a good movie. Why would you want to get rid of it?
Now think about W. The first reaction across the board was “Who cares about this guy? Everybody hates him, and he’s finished anyway. What’s the relevance of this project?” And my answer is that it’s one of the most fascinating stories of recent times. Whatever you think of him, he’s a great story, and secondly his impact is enormous, because his policies are not over in ’08. It’s going to go on and on.
Fierman: Oh no. The damage this guy has done is generational in its scope.
Stone: Well, call it consequences. The consequences of his actions are enormous. We’re never going to go back to 2000. That’s a different country. We’re into another thing, and we have to deal with where we are now.
“John McCain‘s is not the resume that a presidential candidate wants to advertise as America faces its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich in the 9.21 edition. “That’s why the main thrust of the McCain campaign has been to cover up his history of economic malpractice.
“McCain has largely pulled it off so far, under the guidance of Steve Schmidt, a Karl Rove protege. A Rovian political strategy by definition means all slime, all the time. But the more crucial Rove game plan is to envelop the entire presidential race in a thick fog of truthiness.
“All campaigns, Barack Obama’s included, engage in false attacks. But McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates keep repeating the same lies over and over not just to smear their opponents and not just to mask their own record. Their larger aim is to construct a bogus alternative reality so relentless it can overwhelm any haphazard journalistic stabs at puncturing it.
“When a McCain spokesman told Politico a week ago that ‘we’re not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say’ about the campaign’s incessant fictions, he was channeling a famous Bush dictum of 2003: ‘Somehow you just got to go over the heads of the filter.’
“In Bush’s case, the lies lobbed over the heads of the press were to sell the war in Iraq. That propaganda blitz, devised by a secret White House Iraq Group that included Rove, was a triumph. In mere months, Americans came to believe that Saddam Hussein had aided the 9/11 attacks and even that Iraqis were among the hijackers. A largely cowed press failed to set the record straight.
“If you doubt that the big lies are sticking, look at the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Half of voters now believe in the daily McCain refrain that Obama will raise their taxes. In fact, Obama proposes raising taxes only on the 1.9 percent of households that make more than $250,000 a year and cutting them for nearly everyone else.
“You know the press is impotent at unmasking this truthiness when the hardest-hitting interrogation McCain has yet faced on television came on The View. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falsehoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word ‘lies’ to his face. The McCains are so used to deference from ‘the filter’ that Cindy McCain later complained that The View picked ‘our bones clean.’
“In our news culture, Behar, a stand-up comic by profession, looms as the new Edward R. Murrow.”
By common consent, the three Obama-McCain campaign debates will be on the free-flowing and loosey-goosey side, but McCain camp advisers have refused to let Snowmoose Squareglasses debate the wily, free-associating, fork-tongued Joe Biden this way. Whoa, guys…our girl’s not good enough at this stuff! Different rules!
Hence the Vice-Presidential debates, set for 10.2, will be much, much simpler with shorter question-and-answer segments than those for the presidential nominees, and with much less opportunity for free and footloose moves, boxing, fencing and tap-dancing between Biden and Sarah Palin.
As the N.Y. Times Patrick Healy put it today, “McCain advisers said they had been concerned that a loose format could leave Ms. Palin, a relatively inexperienced debater, at a disadvantage and largely on the defensive.”
The first Obama-McCain debate will happen on Friday, 9.26, in Mississippi.
The Commission on Presidential Debates “had proposed that the first debate be on economic issues, and the third on foreign policy — in part, people involved in the process said, because the first debate is usually the most watched, and many voters rank the economy as their top concern.
But Obama “successfully sought to flip the proposed topics for the first and third debates, so foreign policy is now coming first and economic and other domestic issues come last.
“There is a second debate, in the format of a town hall meeting, in which the candidates will sit on director’s chairs and take questions from the audience and internet users on any topic.”
On October 11th, the American Cinematheque will be showing John Huston‘s Moby Dick (’56) with Eugene Lourie’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (’53) as a creatures-from-the-sea double feature. Not to trash Lourie’s film, which was the first ’50s flick about a radioactive prehistoric monster invading a big city (a year before Gojira opened in Japan), but this pairing feels like a kind of light-hearted mockery of Huston.
Moby Dick, after all, was a flawed but in many ways admirable example of literate, authentic, epic-scale filmmaking in the classic mode; The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms had Ray Harryhausen‘s effects, fine, but it was primarily a fast-buck popcorn movie.
I’ll always worship Moby Dick for its luscious monochrome color scheme — a decision by Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris to blend the coior-shot film with a “gray” negative in post-production and thereby creating a unique sort of faded steel-gray color. (The idea was to try and duplicate the faded color in those 19th Century Currier and Ives etchings.)
This monochrome color look was simulated for the Moby Dick DVD that came out in ’01, but will the American Cinematheque show a 1950s collector’s print that has the same immaculate look of the 1956 release prints, or will they just show a plain color print (i.e., one from the original negative but not blended with a gray negative). That, Mr. Starbuck, is the question.
A stirring discussion — lively, blunt, rousing — happened last night on Real Time with Bill Maher. Here’s one of the better portions, which dealt with Sarah Palin. The polls have returned to pre-convention levels, but Palin “is still doing well with white women…the people that Democrats need,” Maher noted, “Obama [right now] is now getting less women that John Kerry did.”
Here‘s the opening portion, which isn’t as interesting — a discussion of the Wall Street situation of the last few days.
Some points by Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism: The Wall Street sociopaths are “proponents of crybaby capitalism…when things are good they’re preaching deregulation, and when things are bad they want the bailout. The disaster was on Wall Street but it has moved the disaster to Main Street…the disaster that has now been transferred to the taxpayer…the real bomb has yet to detonate, which is the debt that’s been put onto the American taxpayer.”
Universal has said no to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson‘s Tintin project — a 3D animated feature based on the Belgian comic strip — because they don’t want to spend $130 million to make it. And, as L.A. Times reporter Claudia Eller noted yesterday, “the decision has left the two powerful filmmakers scrambling to find another financial partner.”
Update: Viacom has reportedly stepped into the breach, so I guess we’re stuck with the damn thing.
I was going to say that anything that takes Spielberg and Jackson down a peg is a good thing in my book. I’m intrigued as the next person about what a first-rate 3D animated film might be like, even one from the two most over-praised and spiritually bloated rich guys in the film business.
Before reading about Viacom I was going to spin my wheels and dream about Spielberg dropping Tintin and finally — finally! — getting around to making his Abraham Lincoln movie instead, but the evidence is pretty strong that he’s been afraid of it all along.
“When even Spielberg and The Lord of the Rings director Jackson, who have made some of the biggest blockbusters in history, can’t get their movie made, you know something is up in Hollywood,” Eller wrote. “Universal’s refusal to finance Tintin underscores how in today’s tough economic climate, bottom-line concerns trump once-inviolable relationships between studios and talent.
“Until now, however, filmmakers of Spielberg’s and Jackson’s stature were thought to be immune to the brass-knuckles tactics of the studios. Squeezed by a business trapped between rising costs and leveling revenues, the two filmmakers are Hollywood’s latest — and most prominent — victims of cost containment.”