We gave it a B-
Never mind Demi Moore’s daring Top Ten list ecdysiast act on Letterman a few weeks back: The striptease of the month is Oliver Stone taking it off, all off, for biographer James Riordan in Stone: The Controversies, Excesses, and Exploits of a Radical Filmmaker. In fact, not since Brian De Palma took a career bungee jump while shooting The Bonfire of the Vanities, allowing Julie Salamon to chronicle his every foible in The Devil’s Candy, has a director offered up so many personal and creative travails for such explicit dissection.
The result offers enough spectacle to fill a month of daytime-TV talk shows, a phantasmagoria of act-out behaviors and rambling rationalizations. (”If I were the sweetest guy in the world,” Stone asserts in typically martyred fashion, ”[the press would] still be saying I’m a monster.”) As Riordan’s 573-page chronicle details, Stone’s extraordinary anguish at his parents’ divorce when he was 16 ushered in a lifelong predilection for brooding on self-inflicted wounds, the deepest of which he gave himself by volunteering to serve in Vietnam in the late ’60s.
By now, it’s hardly news that Stone addressed some of his combat traumas by making Platoon, but Riordan also points a zoom lens at less-documented demons. How fervently did Stone embrace drugs? Enough to kick down a hostess’ bathroom door after winning an Oscar for his Midnight Express screenplay because he was too high to find the doorknob (one of many substance-abuse escapades). How paramount are his, um, physical needs? Enough to make him cheat on his second wife, Elizabeth, for 12 years while denying any infidelity. Huffs Stone in hindsight: ”Elizabeth has a very condemning attitude…she…drove the stake into the heart of the marriage by insisting on being right and trying to fix blame to the indiscretions that came out.”
If Riordan were a more discerning acolyte, he might have shaped Stone‘s avalanche of personal rumination and career reportage into a well-integrated portrait. Instead, he’s content to play critical apologist for such misfires as Heaven and Earth, eager to show how Ollie’s ”enemies” and ”detractors” just don’t understand his best intentions. (No wonder Stone empathizes with Richard Nixon, a fellow world-class paranoiac). Still, if you’re hungry for raw material about a gifted filmmaker’s obsessive methods, Stone is solid stuff. B-