Meeting with the American director, who is presenting the documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass in Cannes.
Oliver Stone has not finished with the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: thirty years round after his JFK starring Kevin Costner, the director reopens the case in a documentary titled JFK Revisited, which intends to demonstrate, using the latest declassified documents, the existence of a plot behind the death of the American president.
Where were you when you heard of JFK’s death?
I was 16, I was in boarding school, and the whole school closed, we watched TV over and over for 2-3 days. But at the time, I wasn’t thinking of a plot at all, I couldn’t see anything beyond the surface, I just stood by what I was told. Then a few years later I went to Vietnam, which is intrinsically linked to the Kennedy assassination… I wrote a book of memories last year (In search of the light, Éditions de l’Observatoire) and I talk about the great lies that have punctuated my life. First, there was that of my parents: I thought we were a happy family and everything fell apart (because of their divorce – editor’s note). Then there was Kennedy, another lie. A huge lie. It was not the first in American history. There were others afterwards: in Vietnam, in Iraq… America suffocates with its lies. We are professionals in lies. It’s the Wizard of Oz! Bluff! That’s why the real question isn’t “Where were you when Kennedy was murdered?” But “Who had an interest in killing him?” ” For which motive ?
This is the question you ask in this documentary …
His foreign policy pissed off a lot of people. Detente with Russia, detente with Cuba, policy changes vis-à-vis Africa, Latin America … Kennedy had to fight against the partisans of a hard line within his own administration, within the army, within the CIA. He must have fired Allen Dulles, because he had lied to him about the Bay of Pigs. At the time, it was huge, it was not okay to fire the head of the CIA! The most important thing is that Kennedy wanted to disengage from Vietnam after his potential re-election, in 1964 … But he was never able to go that far. He wanted peace and it didn’t please.
At what point in your life did you begin to doubt the official version of JFK’s death?
In 88-89, when I was given the book On the Trail of the Assassins by Jim Garrison (the prosecutor played by Kevin Costner in JFK – editor’s note). It was the first “official” who expressed the idea that the assassination was problematic. I didn’t know much about the case until then. I met Jim, other people who knew about the file, and I decided to do JFK. I envisioned him as a murder mystery, a conspiracy film. My model was Z. I had loved Costa-Gavras since film school, ever since he and Yves Montand came to show us the film at New York University.
A big three-hour film around a controversial political thesis… This is typically the kind of film that people say no one would finance today…
The film ended up being bigger than I initially imagined. And I did not imagine that it was going to be so much debate. The critics liked it rather, to tell the truth, Roger Ebert said: “I don’t know if this film is telling the truth, but it is right in what it says about the time, the atmosphere and the our feelings for Kennedy. The film was however attacked by the Washington post, Newsweek… The usual suspects. The New York Times was really fierce, they published at least twelve articles against the film! I found myself in a nest. Six months after the film came out, I was still defending it. But it’s a never-ending story. It is since that time that I have been accused of being a conspirator.
And JFK Revisited is today a kind of documentary sequel to JFK…
Yes, JFK paved the way. You know that my film, at the time, led to the opening of a third investigation, which took place between 1994 and 1998. Interesting things had come out of it, but the media did not talk about it, because ‘there was nothing sensational enough about it for them. The interest of this new film, today, is to be able to show all the pieces of the puzzle, so that people understand. I want the youngest to continue to be interested in this story.
Between your Memoirs and this return to the JFK file, we feel in you a desire to look back, to take stock. Are there other works that you would like to revisit, in one way or another?
Not really. I had regrets about Alexander, but I reassembled it in 2007, and I really like this version, the structure is very different. The DVD sold very well indeed!
Your book stopped in 1987, at the time of the triumph of Platoon. Will there be a volume 2?
I would like. I have a lot to tell. But the book did not sell very well in the United States, it was complicated because of the Covid, I was not able to do book signing sessions. I did not like my editor very much, I have to find another one. But the book went well in France, in Italy …
We saw you recently on Arte in a documentary on Michael Cimino…
Oh, Cimino, you love it, you French people! Him and Marty (Scorsese) and Brian De Palma. (in French) “Brian De Palma is a God”.
In this documentary, Tarantino lists the five greatest thrillers of the 80s in his eyes: Los Angeles Federal Police by Friedkin, The Sixth Sense by Michael Mann, Scarface from De Palma, Year of the Dragon by Cimino and Eight million ways to die by Hal Ashby. It turns out that three of them, the last three, are written by you …
Eight million ways to die in the top 5? It kills me, that! This is one of the worst movies of all time! Well, Quentin has his own tastes… The problem with a lot of American directors is that they are interested in cinema, but not in the world. Me, my mother was French, so I was always interested in what was happening outside the United States. I have traveled a lot, in Vietnam and elsewhere. I want to know the world, to understand how it works. But good for them, it allows them to be able to work in the American system. If you become critical of the American system, it’s harder to get what you want. Snowden was torture to finance, we had to seek funding in France and Germany, before succeeding in attracting the Americans – and again, it was a small distributor. There were a lot of setbacks. But hey .. I still managed to make 20 films and 9 documentaries. (Silence) Eight million ways to die in the top 5… My God!
Do you really hate this movie?
It is irregardable, I say it in my book. I went on the set, it was amazing, they were spending more money on dinner than I had spent on filming Salvador ! The set was huge, the budget completely exploded, Ashby chatted for hours with Jeff Bridges, blah blah blah… And they were making one of the worst movies in the world! Sure Year of the Dragon, I have some reservations too, but I think my criticism is justified. Mickey Rourke’s performance is interesting, but way below what Pacino does in Scarface. Because with Year of the Dragon, Michael Cimino wanted to redo Scarface and even more brutal. This is also why he called on me.
Do you think the French are doing too much with Cimino and De Palma?
Honestly, yes. I really like some De Palma films, I enjoy them a lot, but the problem is that he is not interested in reality. Me, I like it when it’s believable. I saw on the plane 36 Quai des Goldsmiths, this is an excellent thriller! I love Claude Sautet too. A man, a woman, around a table, having dinner, it’s beautiful, it’s the essence of life!
There is a very moving documentary on Val Kilmer, your actor of Doors, which has just been shown in Cannes. You saw him ?
Not yet. I just met the directors. Val deserved a tribute, he was a very good actor. I enjoyed working with him. Well, no, not liked it, but it was good in The Doors.
Wasn’t it fun?
Not at all. He was very demanding. I respect him, and we ended up becoming friends. It’s complicated to make movies, you know. You don’t have to get along well with everyone.
JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, by Oliver Stone. Coming soon.