By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After I left Yale the second time and finished the novel — I was writing the novel instead of going to class, and that’s why I flunked out — my father was supporting me, and that’s an impossible situation: 19 years old, your father is furious at you for the tuition that he’s lost, and you’re living in his apartment trying to finish a novel. It’s like Jack Kerouac moving back home with his mother. But I really believed in it: I was insane with passion. It was the only thing I had. I had no woman friends in my life. I had nothing to support me beyond that. And when that failed, I went into the Army with the idea of “Let God sort it out, whoever I am.” It’s egregious to think that you can be on the level of Mailer or any of your heroes — Hemingway, or Joyce; I was into Joyce heavily at the time.
Part of the fun of watching someone like you working without a net, from a distance, is charting the rises and falls of your career. And sometimes there are films that don’t hit right, that suffer because of the moment or the context — the sky around it, as you put it. I’m thinking specifically ofNixon, which was a commercial failure, but seems to get more sophisticated every time I see it. Or, more recently,Alexander.
I’ve had three big setbacks, in terms of being completely dismissed: Heaven and Earth, Nixon — by many people, at least — and Alexander. On Alexander, it was just devastating, because in America and England, the numbers were so tough. It wasn’t just that people didn’t like it. It was ridiculed. It was destructive criticism. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world we were connecting, we were among the top 20 films of that year in the foreign market. We did better than four of the five Oscar nominees abroad. It was well respected.
Why didn’tAlexanderconnect? Do we agree that it didn’t connect with English-speaking audiences?
I like the director’s cut better than the first version, because I had more time to prepare it. And the structure is different. It wasn’t because of the homosexuality — that’s a red herring. The mother’s back story and father’s back story, which are really essential, don’t come in until later. We’re doing a third, expanded version now — we’re going all out. This is not for theatrical; it’s for the people who love the film who want to see more of it. It’s the Cecil B. De Mille treatment — three hours and 45 minutes. What I’m doing is going back and showing the whole thing in its sumptuousness, really going with the concept that it had to be an old-fashioned movie, with an intermission, like a road show. Be a showman, instead of trying to be a responsible filmmaker. Go all out on this one. This is my Apocalypse Now, my De Mille epic. [The first time] I was trying to step up to the plate, so to speak. I should have pulled it back, taken an extra year like Marty did with Gangs of New York. But it would have cost a lot of money.
InOliver Stone’s America, the documentary included with the DVD box set of your films, you say, “I’ve always admired Alexander because of the momentum and the speed with which he traveled and conquered. In my small metaphoric way, I would say the countries were films, and I moved through them like him . . . he’s striking everywhere. I think it was great. We had a great run. But it’s definitely a new phase.” Is Alexander the figure you most closely identify with?
I am a Method director to a certain degree. I do become part of what I shoot. And I think with Alexander, the perception is of hubris, certainly — “Alexander the Great? Who the fuck is he? He thinks he’s Alexander.” I could see that coming. But I always knew who Oliver Stone was. I never lost track of that. And I made the film humbly, in 94 fucking days on three continents. I ran the crew like I always run the crew. Nothing changed in my habits. I walked in the deserts, we shot in a sandstorm once, and it was the same old Oliver who did Salvador. Hubris is taking 110 days on some stupid comedy. That’s an insult to filmmaking the way I was raised. I’m sticking to NYU principles, and I still do to this day. Movies are a tradition; we didn’t invent it — we take it from somebody else and pass it on.
But withAlexander, you faced a challenge like you’ve never faced before, because no matter how bruising the attacks onJFKandNixon, your core audience was always still with you. For whatever reason,Alexanderfailed to connect with an audience.
Yeah. In America.
In America. I don't wish to judge it; this is an empirical observation.
No, it didn't connect. Alexanderis the high point of my life, and it always will be. I’m not asking for universal love on that; it’s just impossible. It’s not paced to the American style, nor is he a conventional hero. He’s filled with doubts. But Alexander is a beautiful story, and I think I did him well. I mean, I wouldn’t have released it [otherwise]. But I can’t give up; I would never give up. I would be all wrong in my assessments of myself as I work. You have to hear your own self, follow your own drama, or whatever Thoreau said long ago at Walden Pond. [“Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.”] Alexander was a huge setback for me, and it certainly hurt me in this business. But you have to understand that people have been saying bad things about me for years. I don’t listen; I have to try to keep going.