The Religious Affiliation of Director
Oliver Stone describes himself as a practicing Buddhist. Specifically, he has said he follows the Tibetan branch of Buddhism. He was not born into Buddhism, but adopted the faith as an adult.
Oliver Stone's father was a Jewish American stock broker. His mother was a French Catholic. Neither of Stone's parents were particularly religious. In fact, they raised him in neither Judaism nor Catholicism. Stone was raised as an Episcopalian, and regularly attended Episcopalian church services and Sunday School as a youth. He thought of himself as a Protestant, but describes himself as not particularly religious while growing up.
From: Edward Lagrossa, "Stone Soul Booksigning" (interview with Oliver Stone), 20 October 1997, in The Austin Chronicle (http://weeklywire.com/ww/10-20-97/austin_screens_feature4.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
AC [Austin Chronicle]: Do you consider yourself a Buddhist?
OS [Oliver Stone]: Yes. I'm a practicing Buddhist or a student of it, whatever you want to call it.
AC: How would you describe being a Buddhist?
OS: It's a state of trying to reach enlightenment.
AC: Is the work you do in films part of that?
OS: Trying to. It may strike you as bizarre, but it's closely allied. My work is mostly about the spirit life. But not necessarily in the case of U-Turn. U-Turn is another kind of movie, but there is a lot of spirit in it, too, if you look at Indian [Jon Voight] and the meaning of the town and the Apache tradition.
AC: Which of your other movies would you say is more exemplary of your inner philosophy?
OS:Heaven and Earth. The beauty of the woman, Le Ly, a true story. Her ability to forgive her enemies. To transcend her pain. I think that is a great ending. It's a great moral. She was a Buddhist and she converted me. To the Vietnamese church and then I went on to the Tibetan.
From: Tom Allen and Tim Rice, "Oliver Stone wants more." (interview) in MovieMaker Magazine, Issue 12 (http://www.moviemaker.com/issues/12/stone.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
TA [interviewer Tom Allen]:I'd like to ask you a question about religion. Were you raised Catholic or Jewish or neither?
OS [Oliver Stone]: Neither. I was raised Protestant. I went to Sunday school in New York and I was a Protestant, so called, although I don't think I was really very religious.
TA:You conclude Heaven and Earth with a V.O. narration saying: "If the monks were right and nothing happens without cause, then the gift of suffering is to bring us closer to God, to teach us to be strong when we are weak, to be brave when we are afraid, to be wise in the midst of confusion, and to let go of that which we can no longer hold...." As well as being a central tenet of Buddhism, this is also a Catholic, Christian belief. So I'm wondering why in the film you come across as being hostile to Catholicism.
OS: Hostile is not the right word. Any Buddhist would tell you that any spiritual life that works for you is good, be it Muslim, Hindu, Catholic or any other. Whatever brings you closer to an awareness of your intrinsic nature is good. And they've been highly tolerant of other faiths. I think the point I was trying to make was that LeLy was puzzled and I am puzzled by the Christian insistence on original sin and insistence on suffering. If you notice, all the imagery or most of the imagery in the Catholic icons is people who have been martyred, people with nails through their bodies. The Christ figure himself as I showed in the movie briefly is a figure of suffering. And it reflects Tommy Lee Jones' response to life, whereas in contrast, LeLy's response to suffering is not to martyr herself but to change. I think Buddhism offers a certain flexibility, an ability to change that Tommy Lee does not have in the movie. He goes from being a hero in Vietnam to returning to America and feeling the pressures of American society and capitalism, the need to make money, and he puts enormous pressure on himself and becomes rigid, goes rigid. He judges himself very harshly and I think that comes from a Christian upbringing. Whereas she is able as an immigrant to come from being a victim in Vietnam to being a capitalist here, and she succeeds whereas he fails.
TR [interviewer Tim Rice]:What attracted you to Buddhism in the first place?
OS: LeLy's book. It was very well written. I'm a student [of Buddhism], but don't consider me a good one necessarily. (Laughs)
TR:You do seem attracted to excess in your films and some people say in the way you live your life. Does Buddhism bring a balance into your life?
OS: Sure. Yeah, it's a very balanced, satisfactory response. A billion people practice it, I would estimate. It's not like it's a minor eccentricity in the history of the world. It isn't. It's older than Christ. I saw it in Vietnam when I was a young man too. We went through many temples, but we really didn't understand what was going on over there. Certainly when I came back to the (Greenwich) Village there was a lot of Buddhism going on, a lot of Hinduism. It was very hip in the '60s. And then LeLy's book, exposure to that, and then going to India a couple of times and then Tibet with Rutowski (one of my associates, Richard Rutowski). Trying to deepen my awareness of Eastern things has helped me, absolutely. It's made me more aware of the culture of aggression we have here, the media, the culture of the news, the culture of money-making, the football, the boxing, the behavior between ourselves as people, the competitiveness, the Darwinism which exists everywhere in the world but which seems more vivid here.
Stone first began to become serious about following Buddhism while in Thailand during the filming of his film Heaven and Earth. From: James Riordan, Stone: The Controversies, Excesses, and Exploits of a Radical Filmmaker, Hyperion: New York, NY (1995), page 456:
Stone was also exploring the spiritual aspects of his character--getting more and more into Buddhism. Though the religion's passive nature is somewhat in conflict with Stone's natural assertiveness, he began meditating on a regular basis and even converted his backyard treehouse into a Buddhist shrine with pictures of his relatives inside. Part of it was an effort to better understand his character's mentality, but part of it was genuine exploration. At this point one could speculate that the god Stone serves is art; that appears to be what he is most committed to and the arena in which he is most conscientious. Yet he seems to be seeking more.
More about the filming of Heaven and Earth, from: Riordan, page 465:
Just as the rice crop was tremendously important to the Vietnamese farmers, Stone tried to make it a significant part of the film. "Everything was the rice," Le Ly says. [Le Ly is the author of the autobiographical books the film is adapted from, and became Stone's teacher in Buddhism.] "The rice was our food. When the troops walked into the village, we could see right away that they didn't know anything. They couldn't tell the difference between the rice and the grass. When the Americans came with the helicopter landings, they destroyed everything that we worked so hard for. It waas very painful for me the way they wasted things . . . especially the rice. The rice is God's thing. He gave it to us to eat."
From: Riordan, pages 518-523:
Too unconventional for organized religion, Stone has been seeking spiritual answers on his own and has found comfort in Buddhism. Though he considers himself a student, he has been investigating the discipline for some time through his association with Le Ly Hayslip and Richard Rutowski. Filming Heaven and Earth was an important turning point. "I saw the temples when I was nineteen in Vietnam, but I didn't relate to them as I do now," Stone says. "Seeing the monks with their begging bowls on the sides of the road at dawn and how the people of the village feed them, make them a part of their life, made a strong impression on me. And how every house has a shrine, both exterior and interior, to their ancestors. The people are surrounded with the spiritual because they live it on a daily basis. It's in the rice growing, it's in their respect for nature and their respect for each other. That's not to say that there is no crime or no problems. There are many corrupt 'Buddhists' as well. But still, I saw a sense of harmony and gentility in their society. It's not just a Sunday thing like it is in America. We live our lives in layers, I think, and the most important layer is the spiritual layer, but we lose sight of that when we're under a lot of stress."
Stone has learned to take the feelings of others more into consideration...
In many ways Stone is now facing the greatest battle of his life--mastering his own mind. As of January 1995, he has been living alone for over a year and a half and many of his perceptions have changed. Those around him agree that he gets less upset than he used to and recovers from a setback much more quickly. He still has dark moods and bouts of depression, but seems better able to see these things for what they are--old enemies rising up from his past as projections of his mind, rather than signs of impending doom. "Buddhism teaches the world and its desires to be illusory--samsara, a whirlpool--and in accepting them as such you teach yourself to step outside it, the world, and become detached," he says. "I've been able to step back from the abyss of pain. I've had luck, misfortune, success, and failure, and I think that now I can accept them equally as impostors. Being able to spot that early enables me to be less drawn in and less tossed and turned by the winds of fate. I often see desire as elusive. Eros is the most underrated force in the universe. It carries us through the darkest hours and hides in the deepest tunnels of the mind. It's been a consistent, driving thread in my life. Simone de Beauvoir wrote of sex as 'the sixth continent.' It's the place everyone can go for free. But it's also part of the illusion. I'm aware of that, but sometimes I'm pulled in because I don't mind being pulled in. I'm not sure if I'm ready yet to step outside the cycle of life. In some ways I am, but in some ways I'm not able to. Or don't want to... I understand now more fully the power of karma--karma not as fate, but as your responsibility, your character, the result of your actions. The final law of cause and effect. Not looking outside yourself, but looking inside to yourself."
For years, Stone has functioned by taking the pain he has experienced in life, using it as a springboard for creativity and drive. "It's crucial to turn our negatives into positives," he says. "I've had feelings of inferiority which have often turned into self-loathing and depression. But I've sometimes been able to turn that depression into melancholy and the melancholy into good work. I've also tried to turn excess into a productive thing and use it my work. Either you use something or you don't. It is worse to be ignorant of it. Ignorance is one of the six negative emotions that Buddhism describes--pride, jealousy, desire, ignorance, greed, and anger."
[page 521] These days Stone is attempting to transcend his pain by examining it instead of running from it. He meditates daily on this and on cultivating more joy and happiness in his life. One of his great strengths as a dramatist has alwyas been his ability to get in touch with suffering, but now he seeks to develop compassion on a more personal level. "The work has been compassionate, but I don't feel I've been a particularly compassionate human being. That is the greatest lesson I have to learn. I was always willing to expose myself more to love and compassion. I no longer have the feeling that I have to justify my life by my work. My focus has to be more spiritual and less materialistic. Otherwise I'll always be at the mercy of others and there's no peace in that. In fact, for the first time in a long time I feel I could handle life without ever making another movie. I want to make movies, but I don't feel so compulsive about it any more. I hope the films I do make reflect honestly the things I experience in life and continue to grow with me, become more refined, more soulful."
For most of his working life, Stone has been an intensely private person... He has only recently begun to see the value of sharing difficult experiences as a way to reduce their power over his life. "Being interviewed for this book, looking back over my life, has made me more sentient," he says. "What we think is secret is really seen anyway. It's a lesosn in life. Nothing is really hidden. Even when you're [having sex] in your bedroom, your ancestors are watching. There are no secrets... A filmmaker prostitutes himself already by making his fantasies public, but it is at least in his power, the limited power he has, to cut the length of the revelation... You can wake up with your cup half full or half empty. That's a choice we have--how we accept our karma or start changing it."
As a child, Stone learned more about how to achieve than he did about how to be happy. After the many traumas that grew out of his parents' divorce, he reinvented himself. He didn't like who he was becoming, so he broke away to Asia [at the age of nineteen when he taught English in Saigon] and created a new Oliver Stone. But while this new person lived life with great gusto, his joy was more about experiencing pleasure than real happiness. Only in his work did Stone seem to really find peace. Writing and directing became his escape... Without realizing it, Stone has long been practicing his own form of prayer and meditation. In his work he sought what the Tibetan Buddhists call rigpa--awareness, pure Mind. Christians call it "God," Muslims define it as Allah, Hindus as the "Self." More than anything, it means attaining peace within yourself and with the world around you by acknowledging a greater and purer power. When an artist creates, he or she is in touch with this pureness. Stone now seems to have rediscovered something he long sensed, an exteriorization of an inner state that has existed within him since he was a child.
Stone no longer sees himself as a lone wolf. He has met many on a spiritual quest like himself--wild Indian medicine men in peyote ceremonies, Brazilian Shamans on ayahuasca, Tibetan monks, Vietnamese villagers, artists, and just simple people--all of them looking for the truth... "Suddenly, I am good enough because I'm like everybody else," Stone says. "I feel like all these years I've been battling my mind. And now instead of my mind controlling me, I'm controlling my mind. But that brings up the idea of who's the 'I'? I feel the only way to make peace with my mind is by experiencing the absolute Mind, the pure consciousness of life."
From: Toby Young, "Oliver Stone" in The Sunday Times (South Africa), 12 February 1995; on tobyyoung.co.uk website (http://www.tobyyoung.co.uk/341/oliver-stone.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
To describe Oliver Stone as a limousine liberal does not begin to capture the seismic contradictions of his character. Here is Hollywood's foremost critic of the Vietnam war who volunteered to fight in it when most of his peers were frantically dodging the draft. Here is the serious-minded radical who made Salvador and JFK but who also wrote Scarface, Eight Million Ways To Die and Conan The Barbarian. Here is the self-proclaimed Buddhist ascetic who managed to tear the saffron ribbon he wears round his kneck as a symbol of his faith during a recent bout of bedroom gymnastics...
On the strength of his films it's not difficult to guess which category he places himself in. There is a strong autobiographical streak running through all his work, from the Charlie Sheen character in Platoon to the mass murdering outlaw in Natural Born Killers. Perhaps the character closest to his heart was Jim Morrisson in The Doors, whom Stone presents as a tortured soul who risks social exile for the sake of his art. In the course of the film Morrison is compared to Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jesus Christ. Even in Heaven and Earth Stone can't resist identifying with the central character, even though she's a woman. In his most autobiographical film to date, Stone depicts her as a transcendent fusion of Buddha and Christ
From: Gary S. Dalkin, "No Stone Unturned: The Essential Oliver Stone on DVD" on Amazon.com UK website (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/tg/feature/-/212148/ref%3Ded%5Fart%5F303890%5Ftxt%5F1/202-0034417-9231816; viewed 1 July 2005):
While making Heaven and Earth (1993), his most haunting and poetic film, Oliver Stone adopted the Buddhist faith he had explored as a soldier in Vietnam, yet his religion does not appear to have brought him peace. An affair and divorce from his second wife, Elizabeth, followed...
From: Jordan Elgrably, "The Dream Factory: Oliver Stone and Barry Gifford Converse on the Production of Art in a Mass Market Culture" (interview) in Matador, Winter 1995 (http://www.jordanelgrably.com/stonegifford.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
And, when we take a closer look, we find that the two [Oliver Stone and author Barry Gifford] have even more in common: Born in New York City in September 1946, to a Jewish father and French Catholic mother, Oliver Stone early on proved himself a staunch individualist... Born in Chicago in October 1946, to a Jewish father and Irish Catholic mother, Barry Gifford grew up on a steady diet of film noir and pulp fiction...
OLIVER STONE I've never gotten to the bottom of my father's history. I think he was probably of Northern German or Latvian origin [the name was originally Stein]. My father was never religious, he was always strongly atheist--almost but not quite. He didn't like the rituals, the traditions, the superstitions. My mother was a Catholic in rebellion against her Catholicism, my father was in rebellion against Judaism, so what did I become? I became a Protestant a result of all this. They sent me to Sunday school and I basically downloaded on a very American kind of compromise...
ELGRABLY [interviewer]: Western society seems to be convulsing with a permanent confusion over values. As artists are you aware of the internal value system in your own work? Oliver, you've begun to explore Buddhism, for instance, in your life and your films.
STONE: I think that spiritualism in movies is a luxury--most people have a life of struggle and conflict and they go to movies for reasons other than to look for an alternative cultural system..."In Heaven and Earth" we tried to posit the idea that a woman could go through life and forgive her enemies, find forgiveness in herself and reach a higher level of enlightenment through Buddhism. The picture was unsuccessful. The underlying message of the movie was extremely resented. It was distorted by the media into my somehow being anti-American, because I preferred the Vietnamese character and the American husband commits suicide...
We are a very secular, information and result-oriented society. There's very little faith in the right side of the brain type of thinking, or mysticism or what they call spirituality...Films, I feel, should be like the great Hindu and Buddhist ideographs I saw on the temple walls of Southeast Asia. Massive paintings and murals telling common tales, you know, tales of danger, fear, death, heroes, elephants, love, the birth of children and new kings, new dreams. Kings always have dreams in these ideographs. It's an interesting dream life. They worship dreams. Holiness in ritual, in art, in entertainment. I tried in my own way, with "Platoon," "Doors," "Born on the 4th of July" and "JFK" to tap into this national American conscience of the '50s, '60s and '70s...
I sometimes think that America--unlike the Sioux or the Buddhist societies I've seen--is really torn apart by opinion makers, and by too much doubt. A theocracy of doubt and skepticism divide us in a quarrelsome Athenian society where individual artistic achievements are suspect as attempts to enrich ourselves, or as political propaganda. If film is going to exist as spiritual revival for the country or the tribe, then it must include dissent and controversy, because film must challenge the thinking and fashion of the time. Film should try to peel back the lies.
From: Anna Argasinski, "Buddhist Stars: Eastern Thought Popular Among Many Of Hollywood's Brightest" on The College of New Jersey website (http://unbound.intrasun.tcnj.edu/archives/lifestyle/old/buddha.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
In Asian countries, where Buddhism is much more prevalent, the philosophy is not so much a religion of the masses. It is kept alive by a monastic elite, who spread their influence by teaching and example. So, too, in America, with the difference that the equivalent class here consists of movie stars and rock musicians, who can spread their message through movies and television...
Despite his reputation as an angry, self-described provocateur, director Oliver Stone also claims he has now attained a degree of spiritual tranquillity. Some signs of Stone's newly found mellowness can be found in his approach to the criticism surrounding his January 1996 film, "Nixon". Before its opening, the late president's daughters condemned the movie as a piece of character assassination.
Since then, almost every official who served in the Nixon administration and a number of historians and neutral observers have made similar attacks. Although Stone has not shrunk from defending his work, his responses have been far more measured than in the past. Stone has even suggested that a symposium be held on the late president's image. Stone's transformation can undoubtedly be linked to his relationship with Korean immigrant, Chong Son Chon, with whom he's raising a 3-year-old daughter, Tara, in the Buddhist tradition.
Riordan, pages 3-4:
Born in New York City on September 15, 1946, Oliver Stone was virtually born into controversy--the only child of a mixed marrage between a Jewish American stockbroker and French Roman Catholic girl who met just after V-E Day while Stone's father was serving on Eisenhower's staff in Paris...
Louis Seon, Oliver Stone's father, was born into considerable wealth in New York City as Louis Silverstein. Lou's father, Joshua Silverstein, was a likable Jewish man who had made a fortune in the dress business and retired early...
Young Lou decided to change his name from Silverstein to Stone when he registered as an English Lit. major at Yale in September 1927. With the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, Lou thought it made good business sense.
Riordan, page 18:
Though his father was Jewish and his mother Roman Catholic, Stone was raised an Episcopalian. He was often sent to Sunday School on his own, however, and there wasn't much emphasis on spiritual beliefs in his home. The emphasis was on productivity, and Lou often stressed the importance of organized work habits to his son.
Riordan, pages 5-6:
[Oliver] Stone's mother, Jacqueline Goddet, was born in France. The Goddets were are poor as the Silversteins were rich... Jacqueline was nineteen when Lou Stone first saw her. He was thirty-five, already somewhat successful on Wall Street back in the United States...
Riordan, page 8:
Oliver Stone's childhood was bicultural, split almost evenly between France and America...
Riordan, page 10:
At age five, Oliver began more formal schooling. He attended Trinity School, an all-boys school in Manhattan...
Riordan, page 13:
The Stones were wealthier than most of the other Trinity kids' families. Virtually all of Stone's friends were aware of the considerable differences between his outgoing, optimistic French mother and his intellectual, serious, and somewhat pessimistic Jewish father.
At the age of thirteen, Oliver began attending Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, an exclusive all-boys boarding school where he lived full-time except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter (Riordan, pages 20-21). From: Riordan, page 22:
"It was a dismal life," Stone says of his years there. "Getting up in cold dawn. Chapel every morning, then classes. The teachers were good, but there was a lot of discipline..."
In February 1962, when Oliver was a sophomore at Hill School, he was called to the headmaster's office and informed that his parents were getting a divorce. His father had suddenly sold the family home and moved to a hotel and his mother had moved back to France. Neither of Oliver's parents visited him at the school to deliver the news. They did not even call to tell him personally. (Riordan, pages 24-25). Oliver tried repeatedly to call his father at either work or the hotel. It was three days before his father answered the phone. Oliver's adulterous father was apologetic about the break-up, and explained that Oliver's mother had been having adulterous affairs (Riordan, page 26).
From Riordan, page 28:
The trauma of seeing his family and home disintigrate so suddenly had a significant impact on Stone's world view, and it also formed strong traits in his character. Faced with such emotional shocks, he had a choice between freezing up or forcing himself ahead. In retrospect, it appears he did both. Much of his personality froze up emotionally, leaving him stunted with the emotional maturity of a somewhat sheltered fifteen-year-old boy. But another part of him took a stand that no longer let others determine his life.
Before his first year at Yale University was over, Stone felt "sqeezed, suffocated," and he began looking for opportunities to work abroad. From Riordan, page 33:
...he had receied an answer from the Free Pacific Institute in Taiwan, a church organization which operated a group of schools... The institute's headquarters were in Taiwan, but the school they had asigned Stone to was in another location--Saigon... The Free Pacific Institute was a Catholic school for Chinese students located in Cholon, a Saigon suburb. It was 1965...
From: Tricia Cambron, "At festival, Buddhists explore budding bond with film", 28 January 2005, in San Francisco Chronicle, on The Buddhist Channel website (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=00000000012,00000000709,0,0,1,0; viewed 1 July 2005):
...Richard Gere is a longtime devotee. According to the tabloids, director Oliver Stone raised his daughter in its traditions... The International Buddhist Film Festival, coming to the Bay Area today through Feb. 13, is a natural extension, says San Francisco Zen Center's Michael Wenger, of the symbiotic relationship evolving between film and the way of the Buddha.
From: Prof. Steven Mintz, "Film and History: Oliver Stone and Vietnam", written 2004, on "Digital History Resource Center" website, of the University of Houston website (http://www.class.uh.edu/mintz/places/film-11b2_oliver_stone.html; viewed 1 July 2005):
[Oliver Stone's film] Heaven and Earth, 1994, says that the war was not only or even mostly about the United States. The overwhelming majority of those killed were Vietnamese, and most were civilians. It was their land that was destroyed, their economy shattered, their culture threatened with ruin. Stone wanted to explore the themes of Buddhist spirituality, reverence for ancestors and respect for the land.
From: Terrance Gillum, "Hollywood heavyweight directors star in Buddhism documentary" (press release), 14 October 2004, on The Buddhist Channel website (http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=00000000012,00000000013,0,0,1,0; viewed 1 July 2005):
Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the Dalai Lama star in the Refuge the John Halpern documentary that will compete in the inaugural Century City Film Festival, benefiting the Minorities In Broadcasting Training Program charity...
The Century City Film Festival will host the West Coast premiere screening of the John Halpern documentary Refuge, the true story about Buddhism today, as told by Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, the Dalai Lama, Bernardo Bertolucci and others.
Film makers Oliver Stone, (Alexander, Nixon, JFK), Martin Scorsese (The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Casino), Italian Director Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers, Stealing Beauty, Little Buddha) and spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama discuss controversial issues concerning Buddhism in the West. "Refuge offers insight into Tibetan culture and Buddhism beyond Icons and Misconceptions," says Director, John Halpern.
Refuge includes controversial subjects like: the distinction between Buddhism and Tibetan culture, Exploitation in the West in the name of Buddhism, Spiritual voyeurism and Can Buddhism survive without Tibet? Refuge blends the humor and charm of its story tellers with the beauty of India, Tibet, Nepal and the United States.
Refuge is a refreshing and revitalizing experience of Buddhism and the spiritual developments in the West since the fall of Tibet in 1959. It is testimony to the vigor of spiritual pursuit and peace in times of religious turbulence and fear.
From: Oliver Stone, "Searching for the Spiritual" (Commencement Speech at UC Berkeley) on NewsMax.com website (http://www.newsmax.com/articles/?a=1999/7/15/63038; viewed 1 July 2005):
I had the fortunate privilege recently to be able to shoot one of my movies in Thailand. It was called Heaven and Earth, and it's coming out this year. I spent several months over there preparing the movie, and I was struck, as was my crew, by the spirituality of Thailand; by the concept of Buddhism in every walk of life.
...Thailand, as I said, is a Buddhist society; at 6:00 in the morning everywhere you go you see monks walking on the sides of the roads with their beggar baskets. People give them food. It's very beautiful, the sharing and the trust given the monks.
At one point in my stay there, approximately 100,000 monks got together - in a country that's about as big as Texas - to chant and sing and pray in protest against the military regime [The Thai military had overthrown the Thai government].
It was something that was not reported in the newspaper; you didn't hear about it probably because our secular press doesn't pick up on things like that, but it had a tremendous, tremendous impact in that country. It wasn't too much longer after that day when the force of their prayers worked and the military government collapsed. They gave up, and they returned to a form of democratic government. It was a very noble example of bringing change through prayer.
When I got back to America, I was wondering where that element exists in our society. We are a very secular, information and result-oriented society. There's very little faith in the right side of the brain type of thinking, or mysticism, or what we call spirituality. Buddhism in this country is not really understood; it's regarded as sort of quaint, it seems to be an old-fashioned religion. But it isn't, really. It's a very active one and has a place in the modern world.
I couldn't find that kind of spirituality in this country, except, oddly enough, in the American Indian cultures where I've been able to travel with some friends over the last few years. With the Sioux up north in South Dakota, and the Navajo and Hopi tribes down in the Southwest. It's been a very eye-opening experience for me to attend a sun dance, for example.
A sun dance, some of you may know, is a coming together of the tribes in a vast gathering in the summertime to pray, to exorcise the demons, to bring the tribe together, to make speeches. Certainly the physical highlight of the event is the piercing of flesh, where the males of the tribe walk around a tree in circles and dance around the tree for days on end. When I was there, there were 300 sun-dancers. There were old people, young people; they beat the drums through the day. There must have been a hundred with pierced flesh on the front, on the breast, and on the back. They were crying as they went through a wall of pain, young boys up to age ll. I saw men lifted into the trees by their chests. Horses were pulling the ropes; they were dragging buffalo skulls in the dust like Christ figures. There was a man walking backward the whole time, for three or four days, until he was totally dizzy, I'm sure. But he was looking for the vision.
Visions -- often of ancestors. Without food and water in a hot summer, you start to see a lot of ancestors. And I felt that I was witnessing a combination of fear and an act of faith at the same time, which is rare.
The sun dance was their opera and their theater event of the year. In our culture, you go to the theater, the curtain comes down, you applaud, you pay fifty bucks and that's it. But there is faith in fear. And I think in the whole event, the four days, the building of that fear was intended to induce a sacred state of belief in what St. Paul called "the evidence of things unseen." To the Indians, the thing unseen is the Great Creator of Being, Tonkasha or Tongashira. He's sacred in all things of the earth. The rocks that are our ancestors, Mother Earth, the sky, the sacred pipe that they smoke, the Indians view all things as spiritual. All our winters, the 70 or 80 winters that we pass here on earth, are as a speck in time compared to the eternity spent in the spirit world. We here in this room really are ghosts, secondary to that spark.
For them, the Holy Spirit very much exists, but it exists in ritual. A byproduct is art, and art exists for them only if it is holy, blessed with the spirit. Because art, cultural or whatever, is meant to heal, to bind the tribe together on an annual basis to revive mourning and tears and pity and horror and joy. Those things the Greeks called catharsis, the sharing of pity and terror and joy with all. A bond exists between the onlookers and the pierced ones. They give their flesh as offerings as Jesus did. We watch and we are moved by the sun dance's sacrifice, and after four days, we once again commit ourselves to things of the spirit.
I might be presumptuous, but this is what I think movies are for in our culture, or at least what movies should aspire to: A coming together of our tribe. Drama as catharsis, as release, as reaffirmation of the power of the spirit. Films, I feel, should be like the great Hindu and Buddhist ideographs I saw on the temple walls of Southeast Asia. Massive paintings and murals telling the common tales; well-known tales of danger, fear, death, heroes, elephants, love, the birth of children and new kings, new dreams. They worship dreams. Holiness in art, ritual, entertainment...
I sometimes think that America, unlike the Sioux or the Buddhist societies I've seen, is torn by too many opinion-makers that divide us into a quarrelsome Athenian society where individual artistic achievements are suspect as attempts to enrich ourselves, or as political propaganda statements. If art exists as spiritual revival for the country or the tribe, then it must include controversy, because art must challenge the thinking and fashion of the time and of society. Art must peel back the lie. Often the official lies, as you know, are confused in our history books with the truth.
In our culture I often find the artistic is denied; the concept of catharsis is secularized. All meaning is over analyzed. The truth of the time of a working-class boy, Born on the Fourth of July, losing his legs in Vietnam and being angry about it, or a young president, Kennedy, being assassinated for a viable motive is just too sentimental or too controversial for our opinion-makers, our cutting-edge magazines, our secular newspapers. Very rarely, in my experience, can a movie break through this secularization of thought, this barrier of repression in our culture. The news must be made by journalists... We have, I believe, confused art, the spiritual basis of art, with media. Media as hysteria, media as propaganda, the skin of events only. We have taken the Hindu wall paintings and stripped them of religious and spiritual meaning, for our propaganda purposes.
This is frightening if you consider all the implications, because it puts us in a realm of 21st-century human beings who will not really be in touch with themselves. We'll be cybermen and women, artificial intelligence moving on fast-forward. It will probably be exciting but we may not be in touch with who we really are in our essence, our primal essence. I sometimes wake up and wonder how to make it through another day of belief. I feel as many of you might, stripped of spiritual meaning, of a place in the world. Sometimes we hear the earth is shot and the species is going to mutate into weird beings with plastic lungs, dying for food. The waters are dying. Progress itself is now suspect. Why do we breathe, why do we procreate? My generation, I think, is facing the most depressing moment in time. The question is why survive, why? Except finally because it is all we know.
As a filmmaker I have always responded as a dreamer, not as a doer. I don't build houses, I don't make the waters run, pump electricity, explore the universe, doctor people ... all I do is dream. I make some semblance of those Hindu wall paintings that I hope people like because it reflects a dream of theirs. I try to go to the secret heart we all have, the collective unconscious. But the price I pay is that life increasingly seems to me but a dream, a psychological delusion and metaphor, all symbol, that I have witnessed in my lifetime.
...I guess I sound pessimistic, but in my heart, being a filmmaker and taking dramatic license, I am most optimistic. I do feel the media can be used for good purpose in the 21st century. I do feel that a golden age could be upon us. A higher consciousness, so to speak, through computers and communication...
We must, in our daily lives, struggle to keep our consciousness growing. I sometimes feel like my children, young people, are only getting film sequels, robots, sound-bytes, created by cynical people. I feel that the minds of my children will perish in a sleepwalk through their adult years from the suburbs to the car to the golf course to the office. Devoid of a sensibility to look beyond their own lives to reach out to others. To trip over a homeless person in the street without noticing because they will be unable to deal with the reality of suffering. Nothing wrong with suffering, suffering is good. The Indians say, "Walk with the pain of the world." It is good to be exposed to suffering, not to run from it, not to keep it at arm's length through some expensive government program that we can ignore. It is good to make it part of your everyday life, like the Indians do in Calcutta.
...I choose to believe, in the back-burner of my mind, in some old movie hero besieged on all sides by enemy swordsmen, who by some inner force and greater love conquers his adversaries against all odds... If adversity is big, and it is, then I choose to believe that man is bigger than his adversity. In the words of Andre Malraux, "The 21st century will either be spiritual or it will not be."
Oliver Stone's path toward greater spirituality seems to have begun when he was a soldier fighting in the Vietnam War (he had volunteered for duty). In recounting this period of time, he describes that he himself had come close to losing control to rage and anger on a few occasions. Then one day he saw two American soldiers raping a Vietnamese village girl. He felt they would probably kill her. He broke it up and made them let her go. From: Riordan, pages 60-61:
This step toward rationality and basic human decency soon led to others. Stone realized that the price of his insensitivity was the diminishing of his creative passion. He might have had to ignore this part of himself to survive in Vietnam, but he had gone beyond that. He was choking it to death. There, amid the madness of chaos and sudden death, he resolved that he would never let this part of him come so close to dying again, no matter how much pain it might cost him.
Fittingly, as he became more convinced of the need for sensitivity in his life, Stone began to notice the beauty of Vietnam. he began to cultivate an appreciation of his human qualities. He even bought a 35-millimeter Pentax and began shooting some of the scenes around him. "I was just starting to use my eyes, my visual sense," Stone says. "There were so many images. Being on the 'Street without Joy' [the rue sans Joie] with all those cathedrals and Buddhist temples, the old ruins just there in the jungle... it was a time of many pictures, rolls and rolls. When they didn't get wet, they came out beautiful. I started to tell stories through pictures more than writing. I'd always been a writer before, but I started to visualize the Vietnam War."
This proved to be a key development in Stone's decision to become a film director... Stone completed his tour of duty and was discharged in late November 1968. After fifteen months he left Vietnam with a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, signifying the multiple awards of the medal for the two times he was wounded; a Bronze Star for combat gallantry; and lots of painful memories that wouldn't go away...
For all the horrors of his season in Hell [the Vietnam war], Stone had somehow gotten what he came for. He had shattered the aristocratic business life laid out for him by his father. His parents would no longer be able to shape him, for he had broken the mold. "...I realized that combat is totally random. Life is a matter of luck or destiny, take your pick... I was never a religiou sperson, but I became spiritual in Vietnam. Organized religion is for people who fear Hell, but true spirituality is for people who've been to Hell. Possibly, I was saved for a reason. To do something. To write about the experience, maybe. To make a movie about it."
In his stream-of-consciousness autobiographical book A Child's Night Dream, Stone wrote (Riordan, page 37):
I was conceived by my father, born of my mother, suffered under both, was crucified dead and buried the third day I rose again from the dead and ascended unto heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the father fiction from whence I shall come to judge both my mother and my father, amen, o wicked child boy! . . . Father said, it's a rough world kiddo, none of us get out of it alive...
Oliver Stone's collaborator Richard Rutowski recalls the time they were doing research together for the prison film Baby Boy. From: Riordan, page 107:
"Oliver would do things that other people just wouldn't do. Most people live by the rules, but for Oliver the rules are a guideline. It's not that he disrespects the laws--not the laws of nature, the laws of God, or the laws of the state--but he has a curiosity about breaking the law. It's like an exploration, a spiritual exploration in a way, and I think he's suffered from it a lot. He's done a lot of things he's regretted. But it's one of the things that makes him such a unique artist."
...While touring the prisons, Rutowski says that he and Stone encountered a lot of corruption. "...Some of these prisoners were totally into their dark side and cultivated their darkest impulses--rape, torture, and murder were what got them off. They didn't believe there was any redemption possible for them. They were not coming out, and they were trying to spit in the face of God. But the impulse killers were very moral and religious. Most killed only once, and it was out of passion."
A key element in Stone and Rutoski's relationship became the spiritual quest. Closer to Aldous Huxley, Carlos Castaneda, and sixties acid trips than religious orthodoxy, the quest centered on expanding the mind to understand the spirit. The goal, as with all such quests, was to discover the purpose of life; why things happen the way they do. "We were trying to unravel all this [stuff] that happened to us," Rutowski sas. "While Oliver was in Vietnam, my wife died very young of cancer and I had a lot of near-death experiences. We wanted to know what the point was of all this; how w were supposed to assimilate it and grow."
The sexual depravity that Oliver Stone witnessed his parents engaged in while he was a teenager further illustrates the degree to which his parents were not actively practicing Judaism, Catholicism, or any other religion. Oliver Stone's mother first took him to a nudist colony when he was nine years old (Riordan, page 12). When Oliver was eleven years old, his mother was thirt-one and his father was forty-seven. His father began to have an increasing number of extramarital affairs. Oliver was unaware of this at the time. When Oliver was fourteen or fifteen years old, his mother began taking him to nightclubs. While at Hill School, Oliver's father continued having extramarital affairs and the lifestyle of Oliver's mother's friends became increasingly decadent, as they imbibed in the sexual "revolution" of the 1960s. (Riordan, page 24).
After his parents divorced, Oliver found that his father frequently had prostitutes and call girls visiting at the house when Oliver was there. Often they were visiting socially. Apparently some of these women, if it had been many years since Oliver's father had actually hired them, liked to visit socially because they thought Oliver's father was interesting and funny. When Oliver was fifteen year old, his father arranged for him to lose his virginity with a prostitute (Riordan, page 30). Riordan, page 30:
There is little doubt now that Lou's gesture, though made with good intentions, helped to cripple his son emotionally for quite some time. Part of a boarding school circle that rarely mingled with the opposite sex, Stone was an emotionally underdeveloped teenager, and the experience made a profound impact.
Oliver's mother returned to New York City, where she rented an apartment and Oliver began visiting her often. There was a constant parade of prostitutes and homosexuals in his mother's apartment. Men and women hit on him. He frequently found there was rampant drug use, nudity, and group sex at his mother's apartment. When Oliver first walked into his mother's apartment and found her half-dressed in bed with another man, he was shocked, but his mother was very casual about it. Oliver's friend Roger Kirby, who was with him a the time, recounted (from Riordan, page 31):
...his mother said, 'What's the matter? Haven't ou ever seen someone in bed before?' The truth was that I hadn't. Not like that. Oliver's mother had a tendency to be more like a peer than a parent. After his father was gone, she was amazingly canddi with him. There was no subject she wouldn't broach. Then, other times, she acted like she wasn't interested."
Oliver Stone's experiences with his parents and sexuality had a strong affect on him, and made it difficult for him to relate to women as peers. From: Riordan, page 32:
[During Oliver's senior year at Hill School, he] felt far too traumatized about sexual attraction to deal with women very well.
Roger Kirby comments: "I don't think Oliver ever dated anybody. He had this circle of people [many of them call girls] whom his mother would make available to him directly or otherwise. But I don't think he could relate to the female equivalent of a Hill person [i.e., somebody of similar social standing who had attended a high school similar to his own], and those were the kind of people he saw. I think the first real relationship he had was with his first wife several years later."
While teaching English in Vietnam at the age of nineteen, Stone frequented prostitutes. From Riordan, page 34:
Never having had the opportunity to form real relationships with members of the opposite sex, Stone found himself strongly drawn to prostitutes. "I developed the attitude that prostitutes make public the private, and in so doing dispensed a for of divine grace," Stone says now. "It was a feeling that they didn't care who you were and that they didn't judge you, so there was not a lot of emotional baggage attached to having relationships with them. I know now that isn't true for a lot of them, especially most American ones, but I don't have the attitude that they're something to be condemned or that we're better than they are. We don't know their circumstances I can relate to the classical approach, where the prostitutes were temple maidens who had given themselves over to benefit the gods and the community around them. Sort of like a holy release to satisfy the rage in man."
Riordan, pages 155-156:
When [Oliver] Stone told Wagner that Platoon and Salvador were being made by Hemdale, she asked to see the Salvador script. Finding that another powerful work, she then helped bring James Woods, who was also represented by CAA, into the project. Woods describes meeting with Stone to discuss the film. "He originally approached me to play Dr. Rock," Woods recalls. "But when I read the screenplay, I got excited about the idea of playing the lead because it was such a great role. So when we met, I asked who he had in mind for the lead and he said Marty Sheen. Now, I think Marty's a great actor, you know, but hell, I'm up for a role here so I'mgoing to cut his legs ouit from under him if I can, do what I have to do to get it. So I dais, 'Martin Sheen, huh? Oh, he's a great actor. He's kind of religious, isn't he?' And Oliver goes, 'Well, yeah, a bit.' And I go, 'Gee, I'm surprised he didn't have a problem with some of the language here. It's pretty strong.' And Oliver says, 'Well, he did have a few things that bothered him.' So then I say, 'Oh . . . I see. I thought you were going to do this thing for real . . . go all out? I mean, if you're just going to do another bullsh-- Hollywood picture . . .' And then Oliver stars assuring me that he wants to do the thing for real, so then he decided to cast me for the lead. The point being that this was all a dog and pony show which every actor goes through to get a part, but this time it worked."
Riordan, pages 164-165:
One of the greatest scenes in the movie, and the one most referred to when [James] Woods's Oscar-nominated performance is discussed, is where Boyle [the character played by Woods] goes to confessoin for the first time in thirty-two years. "I remember the day we were shootin the Romero assassination scene at the church and Oliver said maybe you should do a confession," Woods recalls. "And I said, 'Oh really? First of all, let me tell you something, Oliver. You don't go to confession on the morning before the Mass. And he says, 'Well, they won't know the difference.' Right. There's like eighty million Catholics in the United States but they won't notice. Sure. And the irony is, they didn't. He was right. That's what's so aggravating about him! So I asked him for the lines, but he said, 'I don't want to give you the lines. I want you to just look into that dark murky soul of yours, into that weasel soul of yours, and come up with whatever you want.' And I said, okay, fair enough, but I don't want you around.
"So Oliver didn't say anything, but he did listen while we improvised the scene. We didn't even do a rehearsal; what you saw was the first time it came out of my mouth, just total improvosation. I just used the whole thing to get back at Oliver. Just about everything I said was getting back at him for stuff that happened during the film..."
Riordan, page 134:
...1984... Searching desperately for a project he could direct, [Oliver Stone] optioned a book entitled 8 Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block, with the intention of developing it. A producer named Steve Roth became interested and Stone made a deal with him on condition that he would be allowed to write and direct the film once the financing came through. But that was not the way it worked out; they had a hard time getting the money and Stone was dropped as the director of the project. Hal Asbhy [a Mormon filmmaker with many critically acclaimed film credits as director and film editor] eventually directed a mutation of the script.
Riordan, page 142:
To make things even worse, Stone discovered that Hal Ashby, who had been attached to direct 8 Million Ways to Die, had ordered a rewrite on Stone's script without even telling him. "He gave it to Robert Towne behind my back," Stone says. "Robert later called me and was very nice about it, but it wasn't his fault. Hal wanted it totally changed. He was on a completely different wavelength than I was. I remember going over on their set in Malibu and seeing this L.A. crew driving up in Porsches, eating shrimp barbecue. It was just rich and decadent. They were way over budget. Hal and Jeff Bridges would sit in the trailers for hours and talk about the script. And Hal and the producers were fighting like dogs and cats. They were going to take the movie away from him. That's the reason I work in overdrive when I direct. I have this nightmare image of that set."
Riordan, page 169:
When [Oliver] Stone came back to the States [after filming Salvador] he discovered that 8 Million Ways to Die [which Stone wrote] had been completed while he was shooting in Mexico. "I hated it," Stone says. "It had already been credited or I would have taken my name off. I wrote a script that took place in New York and Hal Ashby changed it to L.A., but that was minior compared to everything else he changed. He changed the feel."
The main character in Oliver Stone's film Wall Street was, in earlier drafts, Jewish, probably inspired by Stone's own Jewish stockbroker father. Riordan, page 226:
The script was originally called Greed, and in Stone's original draft, the lead character was a young Jewish broker named Freddie Goldsmith; but Stone decided to drop the Jewish angle and change the name to Bud Fox because he didn't want to add to the mistaken idea that Wall Street is controlled by Jews. He also had Charlie Sheen in mind for the role and knew Sheen's laid-back manner would prevent him from being convincing as a nervy, excitable Jew.
About the filming of Oliver Stone's film The Doors, from Riordan, page 321:
Stone's excitement grew as he watched [Val] Kilmer begin to master the role. "At times I'd see Val's face glint in the sun and I'd say, 'That's Jim [Morrison].' And he's there for that moment. But it's never quite exactly Jim. A movie is only a reflection, a painting on a cave wall. I know this will sound strange, but I feel the director should not dominate a movie--the idea should. The directors should be kind of the Shaman around the stones and the fire, trying to get the idea to spread. And with all the actors so far, it has happened. The great moment is when it comes--there's an electricity when you know the performance is going to work."
Richard Rutowski says Stone's attraction to the idea of the Shaman is very natural. During The Doors, he became more involved in Native American culture, but Rutowski says his interest went beyond the film. "He and I have taken a lot of psychedelics together," Rutowski notes. "I took him to South Dakota and we did a couple of Peyote ceremonies there with some very radical, wild medicine men. Real thieves, steal your wife, take your money, and leave you on the highway kind of guys. The Shama is really a model for Oliver's life. All Shamans talk about facing death, insanity, and disease. They believe that a man cannot have true understanding of other men and compassion without suffering.
"It's through suffering and realizations taht you gain compassion," Rutowski continues. "If you look at Oliver's life--he came from a very wild mother and a conservative father... his mind being as perceptive as it is, he begins to direct his energies into a form that allows him to understand what happened to him. The movies are a great vehicle for that, and he catches on through these exposures that there's some kind of high knowledge, something greater; that nature's laws and God are somehow intertwined. Oliver uses film in a personal way. It's an exploration."
About the filming of Oliver Stone's film The Doors, from Riordan, page 340:
[Val] Kilmer's reaction seems to be one of relief that the project [The Doors] was over, but as far as Morrison goes, he too gained a more profound understanding. "He had a sincere search," he says of Morrison. "He may have chosen some of the wrong tools, but I think he tried to keep open an avenue of hope through spirituality. But I also think he was a bit of a cop-out because he was deathly frightened of committing to a practice, a condition, a way to behave, something to live for or live out of. I think cool was very important to him, and I've always battled that vanity. I think I've found through playing this character an opportunity to reexperience some of my life, to reevaluate. It seems to have strengthened things I have always believed . . . in God, and a reality that's a foundation for living. To put yourself on the line, to confront that . . . that fear."
About the filming of Oliver Stone's film JFK, from Riordan, page 374:
...his assistant at the time, Kristina Hare, says. "Once he starts he's in a sort of Zen state, very methodical..."
About Oliver Stone's film JFK, from Riordan, page 408:
The question of who actually fired the shot that killed the President is answered by Joe Pesci as the deranged David Ferrie, who says, "You just don't get it, do you? Even the shooters don't know." We learn that there may have been riflemen in as many as three locations, but we never learn who was where and who missed and who fired the killing shot... The issue is left open-ended and becomes almost Zenlike. Much of JFK is in the Rashomon style, after the Japanese film classic that juxtaposed different scenarios of the same event.
Jane Hamsher, producer of Oliver Stone's film Natural Born Killers, describes the director. From: Riordan, page 506:
"...Somebody really has to worm their way into your psyche and push your buttons and disturb you in order to make you start looking atthe world in a different way. That's what Oliver does, and he's very gifted at it. He's like a Zen master, full of apparent contradictions, who will never let you rest on firm ground. As a result, you're always going for something deeper...
About Oliver Stone's film JFK, from Riordan, pages 390-391:
Though virtually all of the actors involved in JFK said they received much more positive reactions than negative, most also came under the gun a few times as well. Even [Tommy Lee] Jones, though nominated for the Oscar, got a little negative feedback. "There were phonecalls from certain journalists, representing certain special interest groups, wanting to know if our intentions were homophobic, to which I said, 'No. You know better than that.'"
Since so many of the conspirators in the film [JFK] were homosexual acquaintances of Shaw, there was some antagonism among the gay community, but Stone argues that it was essential to show these elements to link Shaw with his alias in the community, Clay Bertrand. "The homosexual connection in JFK was a necessity," Stone maintains. "That was the way it happened and I needed to show the chain of evidence. I got a lot of sh-- in the press and from the homosexual community for what they call 'gratuitous characterizations in JFK.' But it wasn't gratuitous. It was done because it is part of the crucial chain of evidence which establishes that Clay Shaw was really Clay Bertrand, who shows up several places in the story with evidence. And when Shaw was arrested, he signed 'Clay Bertrand' as his alias. That's what all these homosexuals knew him as. That's why we showed the party, because it's the only room where Perry Russo ran into him. The parties were S&M [sadomasochism]. There were several witnesses to this."
Often Stone seems genuinely not to understand why he is attacked, and this is one of those areas. "They said I made all the bad guys gay . . . that's horsesh--. That was what I was attaacked for when I wanted to do a film about Harvey Milk. Some of that stuff was vicious. One insane, well-known critic wrote as if the only reason I made JFK was to degrade homosexuals."
About Oliver Stone's film JFK, from Riordan, page 414:
Many political cartoonists also responded to the overkill in the media [the coverage and discussion of Oliver Stone and JFK] by depicting Stone as the victim. One of the best was by [Mormon editoral cartoonist] Steve Benson in the Arizona Republic, showing Stone as Lee Harvey Oswald in the classic execution scene with Jack Ruby, labeled "Media Critics."
Riordan, pages 429-430:
It was around this time  that Stone went to Brazil with Richarsd Rutowski on another of their self-discovery adventures. These trips, which seemed to be part getaway, part loosely based research for one project or another, and part spiritual quest, were becoming more frequent. "We went to Brazil to explore the idea of the doors of perception," Rutowski says. "The American Indian and the Shamanistic path seemed most available to me and also very functional, so we went to Brazil and tried something called ayahuasca. It's a herbal medicine that the Indians give in South America for healing. It's a tea you drink that's made from the tallest vine in the jungle: when you drink it, you get a vision of your weakest point. For me, because I had so much death of loved ones and a feeling of abandonment in my past, I wound up being afraid that anyone I loved would leave me or die. You can have very powerful visions on it: you could be thinking about sex or your car or God or whatever and it will lead you to the realization of the inner connectedness of everything. The thing that keeps you from getting to the light are your fears and your pain, and the ayayuasca takes you through the fear and pain to their source, their seeds. It demystifies these problems. They no longer have the same power over you. As corny as it sounds, the vehicle to the light is love."
Both Stone and Rutowski tried the ayahuasca in the jungles outside Rio with a Paz e Luz (Peace and Light) cult called the Oniao Do Vegetal. Rutowski believes it helped them better understand not only themselves but each other as well. "I've always said truth without compassion is brutality, and I think that Oliver has always focused on truth, but it used to be more brutal and wouldn't help anyone because they were too affected by the pain it caused. He lacked compassion."
Stone's second in-depth experience with ayahuasca came back in America in July at his newly completed home in Colorado. "He saw himself laying in a crib," Rutowski says. "His mother was standing over him and it was very loving and it was very secure. Then he began falling, dropping down and down underwater. His mother was reaching for him as he was drawn down into this darkness, but she couldn't get him. He was underwater and down there were the most ghoulish demons, and wrathful creatures. Then he saw the light. He saw an exit, or he saw safety or sanctuary, and he was fighting to get to it. For me, that's Oliver in a nutshell. If you look at his life, this guy's gone and taken the journey and now he's trying to get back to the light."
Stone describes the effects of the ayahuasca: "It gives you visions. Not necessarily the Wagnerian kind--sweeping clouds and red dawns and sunsets. They can be subtle. I often make major sojourns to my childhood, and work my way through into evil caves, dark caves. Sun, light, water and snow, flowers and music. It's like being reborn, but then I come back to what I know and think about the things I don't know. It doesn't answer the questions, it only enhances the mystery for me. It does give me a certain faith in the spiritual mechanism called the mind. And it becomes increasingly spiritual the more you do it. I don't see it as a drug; I see it as a healing medicine. I consider LSD a chemically synthesized drug with very powerful spiritual overtones, but nothing compared to the purity and the innocence of peyote and ayahuasca."
Riordan, pages 481-482:
 Mirroring the turbulence in his personal life [Stone's marriage to Elizabeth was breaking apart, headed for divorce after she learned of his long years of infidelity and numous affairs], Stone now embarked on the most violent and turbulent film of his career--Natural Born Killers. It was a fictional story of a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde who are turned into living legends by the tabloid press and "reality" TV shows. Though it contained elements of black comedy, it was a dark and disturbing project. Part of Stone's attraction to the theme was no doubt his natural bad-boy tendency. It seemed that every time he did something the world might accept as fine and noble, he felt an almost compulsive need to do something it would disapprove of. Now, after the spiritually uplifting Heaven and Earth, he was clearly drawn in the opposite direction.
I felt attracted to it out of instinct, but I never know exactly why," Stone says. "I know that starting to work on it has brought some turbulence up to the surface. Elizabeth said, 'Why are you making this movie? It's immoral. I don't want my son to be in it.' It's true that . . . there's a demon in Natural Born Killers. There's a demon that drives it. I can't understand it exactly . . . but it captivates me."
Riordan, page 105:
[After receiving an Academy Award nomination for writing The Deer Hunter,] Stone began moving forward on several other projects as well. One of them was based on Baby Boy, a book... about two men in prison. It was while doing the research for this project that Stone met Richard Rutowski, who has been his friend and associate ever since (Rutowski later co-wrote Natural Born Killers with Stone and David Veloz).
Riordan, pages 485-486:
When he's pressed for time, Stone likes to develop a good first draft with another writer and then come in and do the rewrites himself.
Jane Hamsher describes how this step took place on Natural Born Killers: "Oliver wanted to do some rewriting on the script, so he called and said, 'Jane, I want you to get one of your wild and crazy friends to work with Richard [Rutowski] and me on the rewrite.' I really had to scratch my head because he wasn't offering that much money. There was one guy, David Veloz, who was just out of film school but had written a couple of good screenplays and had the sensibilities to write extreme material that still retained its humanity. [Veloz was a Mormon, having converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in high school.] It turned out to be a very long and arduous process for Dave. He'd get these weird calls from Oliver in Thailand at all hours of the night--he was now on what we refer to as the 'Oliver Stone roller-coaster ride.' Oliver would goad him, punch his buttons, rake him over the coals about what they'd written, barely listen to anything Dave had to say in his own defense, and then they'd do it again. Dave would call me and I'd do my best to help him draw some sense out of the contradictory things Oliver would tell him, and all the time I'd be thinking, 'Sh--, I'm glad this sn't me.' Little did I know, my time would come. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Dave wound up contributing some very good stuff, and Oliver rewarded him by giving him some other projects so that he could make some decent money. It established his career."
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