Between the years of 1965 and 1995, the American film industry underwent a vast amount of change that affected various aspects of Hollywood, including advancements in technology, continual changes to censorship regulations and the strengthening of independent film production. Chapter 20 of David A. Cook's A History of Narrative Film features a great deal of information between these years, including a group of independent filmmakers from the '70s and '80s who made a number of very unconventional films. Cook writes: “Most of these films were too original to have been made in the studio era and too eccentric for the mass-market economies of the 1980s” (874). The director who emerged as the most outstanding and controversial from this small cluster of filmmakers was Oliver Stone, whom Cook describes as “the most audaciously brilliant American filmmaker of the 1990s” (874). He has been commonly criticized for his stretching of truth, manipulation of facts and questioned on his viewpoints on his political and societal viewpoints expressed within his film content. However, he has been quoted on the Internet Movie Database saying: “I consider my films first and foremost to be dramas about individuals in personal struggles and I consider myself to be a dramatist before I am a political filmmaker. I’m interested in alternate points of view.”
Stone began his filmmaking in the early 1970s after returning from his tour of duty in Vietnam. He attended New York University and crafted a student film entitled Last Year in Viet Nam (1971), which was clearly based on his own personal experience during the war. Later on in his filmmaking career, he would write and direct an entire trilogy of films influenced by his experiences that consisted of Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven & Earth (1993). Each film took a different perspective on the events of the war, including a view from the eyes of a Vietnamese peasant woman in Heaven & Earth; but all portrayed the same idea that the United States involvement in the Vietnam War should have never happened.
Although Stone has found great success through his films based on Vietnam, his most eclectic and notorious motion pictures have included his biopic of 1960s rock band The Doors (1991), his drama-slash-documentary on John F. Kennedy’s assassination JFK (1991), and his critique of violence in the media Natural Born Killers (1994). Cook discusses all three of these films in A History of Narrative Film, calling The Doors “a self-indulgent, if penetrating, portrait of the late-1960s rock and drug culture” (875). While Cook says that JFK was meant to explore a “counter myth” to the President’s assassination, many accused Stone’s picture of trying to rewrite historical events; however, according to Cook, “Stone puts more accurate information about the assassination and its aftermath on screen in 189 minutes than most contemporary audiences would have encountered in their lifetimes” (876). Finally, Natural Born Killers tells the fictional story of the two young and murderous lovers, Mickey and Mallory. Although they are obviously in some way out of their minds, the film looks at the media as the psychotic villain. Cook writes: “Catapulted to stardom by the media, Mickey and Mallory are captured and imprisoned for the murders of forty-eight “innocent” people, but when a true-crime TV journalist attempts a live-feed interview with Mickey on Superbowl Sunday, an apocalyptic prison riot ensues” (877). Stone used various different film stocks in this film - 35mm color, black and white, Super 8 and homemade video – along with animation to illustrate his criticism of violence in the media through cartoons, news stations and more; his use of varying film stocks has been recognized as a directorial trademark.
Other notable films by Oliver Stone include Salvador (1986), about real-life experiences of journalist Richard Boyle in the 1980s, Wall Street (1987), which was likely influenced by his father’s career in the stock market, his look at the Watergate scandal in Nixon (1995), as well as a documentary on Fidel Castro’s communist reign in Cuba Comandante (2003), which was released on HBO. According to the Internet Movie Database, Stone has said in reference to his film Alexander (2004): “If we had to do things the American PG way, then we are screwed. Alexander had to be an R picture. If you work in Hollywood, you have to get past the studio development committees.” However, Stone’s adaptation about the events of September 11th in World Trade Center (2006) was not a social controversy as would be expected, but rather a dramatic depiction of two police officers who are trapped under the collapsed towers. It was his first film to be rated PG-13, and since he has released two other films, W. (2008) and the sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), that have been rated PG-13. Whether this suggests a change in Stone's direction of filmmaking is unknown, but regardless, his interest in history and varying points of view solidify Stone as a brilliant, yet controversial filmmaker.
To date, Stone has been nominated for eleven Oscar’s and won three. He has directed eight different actors to Oscar-nominated performances; and collectively, his directorial efforts have been nominated for a total of thirty-one Academy awards, winning nine of them. It is obvious Stone’s contributions to the film industry are very important milestones in film history, as they continually question and criticize the societal issues that surround us in every day life. For a filmmaker who has created as much controversy as he and been accused of outright lying in his films, Oliver Stone is a filmmaker who should be closely followed throughout the remainder of his career.