Say what you will about Oliver Stone, he's a heck of a good sport.
The recipient of this year's Founder's Directing Award from the S.F. International Film Festival was feted last night in the big house at the Sundance Kabuki Theatres with an onstage interview that tilted more toward politics than film. That much was expected. Unexpected were the bemusement, grace, and light humor. They're traits we don't associate with Stone, yet he used them to field an array of absurd comments and queries from the audience, from a kooky screenplay pitch about the 1970 Kent State shootings to a solicitation of his opinion on sustainable gardening in Santa Monica. ("When are we going to get our 40 acres and a mule?")
"I've had a very up-and-down history," he conceded in response to interviewer David D'Arcy's opening feint. "People say I'm history, people say I'm washed up, all the time."
Stone then touted his adaptation of Savages, Don Winslow's novel about a couple of young Laguna Beach dudes who run afoul of Mexican drug dealers. It begins filming in July. He also mentioned The Untold History of the United States, a Showtime series premiering in January.
"Memory is the thread of civilization," Stone declared. "Without memory, we become barbarians." That led to a mini-rant about the American enthusiasm for war, the military-industrial complex, and the news media's support for war. Clad in a blue suit, open-collar shirt, and black boots, Stone leaned forward in his chair and smiled wryly as he recounted the "nightmare" that has befallen the country since the 1960s.
"I think some of us want to get the fuck out," he said. "How much more of this can we take? Donald Trump wants to be president."
When the laughter subsided, D'Arcy turned the conversation to Nixon ("I think Nixon was one of Satan's spawn," Stone muttered), W (George W. Bush viewed it in the White House, Stone confirmed) and the two Wall Street movies.
"In the old days, there was a certain sobriety," Stone proclaimed. "It's gone. It's going to be fun to watch as we get old." However, that philosophical take on the decadent decline of the empire gave way, a few minutes later, to a more acerbic assessment.
"This whole society has gone to shit since the 1980s," Stone said. "I'm not saying old money's better, but it really was. Though there were robber barons then, too."
Stone said he has been deluged with requests to make a documentary about the Kennedy administration, and how the direction of American foreign policy was altered by the assassination, since JFK came out in 1991. "But I can't go back into that world right now," he said.
He returned to the subject, albeit obliquely, in response to one of several questions that genuflected to his accrued status as an outspoken Vietnam veteran, a director of uncommonly political Hollywood movies, a documentary maker focused on Cuba and Latin America, and a not-quite-elder statesman with no plans to go gently.
"The only conspiracies are the ones that create wars and the ones that create financial frauds," Stone proclaimed, the smile gone. "We get distracted by bullshit."
The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 5.