By John H. Foote
The moment I opened the package containing my copy of Oliver Stone’s new book “Chasing the Light”, a memoir, I devoured it. Putting it down was just never an option, and one day after opening the book, sadly, I was finished. So I promptly read it again.
“Chasing the Light” is an astonishing book, so why would I be sad when I finished? I wanted more, much more.
Stone tells his story of his journey through surviving the jungles of Viet Nam, his conflict with his father, and his up and down and soaring ride through the very different jungles of Hollywood. He talks in an entertaining, very compelling voice about his rise in the seventies, virtually overnight to becoming both an Academy Award and Golden Globe winning screen writer for Midnight Express (1978). The film was based on the experiences of Billy Hayes, a young American busted at the Turkish border with hashish and sentenced to life for his crime. Stone painted a horrifically accurate portrait of the prisons in Turkey, drawing sharp criticisms from some critics, high praise from others.
Midnight Express was a thundering success at Cannes, then hit big at Toronto’s emerging Festival of Festivals (later renamed TIFF) before being nominated for six Academy Awards and winning Best Picture at the Golden Globes.
Stone won the Oscar for screenplay adaptation, and overnight was the most sought-after Screen writer in the business.
He followed Midnight Express by writing the adaptation to Born in the Fourth of July for Al Pacino in 1978 with intent on a release in 1979. Watching Pacino gave Stone shills, as the actor tortured himself to bring the character to life, only to have the funds for the film snatched away, the studio fearful of the film Coming Home (1978) in which a Kovic-like character is a main narrative.
As a Stone surged through the film business so did cocaine and very quickly, Stone was an active participant. It must have helped him understand the lead character in his next film Scarface (1983), initially to be directed by Sidney Lumet featuring Pacino … again. Lumet withdrew, bothered by the violence in Stone’s script, but Brian De Palma had no such qualms and quickly signed on. The film opened to scathing reviews but through video became and a cult classic and now stands as a masterpiece in its exploration of wretched excess.
After working with disgraced director Michael Cimino on Year of the Dragon (1985), Stone was given the chance to make two films back to back, one of them his long-awaited Platoon (1986) which explored Vietnam as he saw it. First he made Salvador (1986) with the arrogant, insecure but brilliant James Woods as war correspondent Richard Boyle in a ferocious performance. Stone writes with furious honesty about the experience of directing two films back to back, then having them released in the same year.
Salvador found an audience after initially bad reviews while Platoon exploded out of the gate.
The book ends on Oscar night, 1987, when Stone was finally crowned Best Director and Best Picture for Platoon, ending the comic book mentality that had started in Hollywood with Rambo and Chuck Norris. Gritty and bloody, Platoon was an honest film, and Hollywood embraced both the film and its young director.
I wanted more. So much more.
I wanted to read about getting Tom Cruise to the heights he did in Born on the Fourth of July (1989), finally made 10 years later, his life being threatened for JFK (1991), I wanted to know about every other film he has made and those he did not make.
Perhaps Stone will honour us with a sequel because this was among the finest autobiographies written by a film director.
Brutally honest and written with honest passion.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.