True Grit: Oliver Stone on Savages and Politics

The film's polarizing ending, why Blu-rays are important investments and how the election process could be improved.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

On Monday, November 5, we got to attend a dinner with Oliver Stone the night before the election. Universal Home Entertainment invited a small group of press to dine with the filmmaker and star Benicio del Toro to discuss the November 13 DVD and Blu-ray release of his latest movie, Savages. Over the course of two hours, we got to ask Stone a lot of direct questions, so we present our own portion of the interview here. We’ll share del Toro’s comments in a subsequent article. Of course the conversation with the director of JFK naturally led to politics, regardless of the impending election. He also has the premiere of his Showtime miniseries “The Untold History of the United States” starting November 12, so there was a lot on his mind the night before Election Day.

CraveOnline: As a big advocate of shooting on film, how happy are you with the way the film was transferred to Blu-ray?

Oliver Stone: Well, actually I’m very happy. There’s nothing better in the world, in my opinion, next to going to a theater than Blu-ray. I’m not hocking Blu-ray. I’ve been saying it for years. It’s beyond Universal. It’s all the studios, those that believe in Blu-ray. Warner Brothers was one of the first to really start to push it, right? When Warren Lieberfarb was touting this a while ago. It’s like a preservation for me because every filmmaker is horrified by what happens to film. We’re all horrified by what happens in some of the theaters. The projection used to be horrible. It’s gotten better with the digital projection, no question. But the making of the film, the production value is still in the film. Film in my opinion, I probably sound like an old hat, a dinosaur but I do think film is 25% better. If you put up the best of digital and the best of film, side by side, and look with your own eye, you can see the difference if you’re sensitive on it. I hope film doesn’t die. I always think it’ll be there. I can’t believe people will give it up because it would be a shame. It’d be criminal. It’s like taking away vision from the human race, but as far as digital goes, Blu-ray is really superb.

So did you want it to stay grainy or sharpen it up?

No, it has to stay grainy because that’s what film does. We have true grit in our faces. We have skin and skin has register. So do eyes. Eyes are the most crucial and there’s not enough range in the digital versions, not enough range. So as far as that goes, you take the best you can, and digital is good. I’m very proud of all my films on digital but sometimes I had to go back and readjust them. I think in 30 years from now, when I’m gone and you’re around, I think you should check my statement out. I bet you to God that the Blu-ray will be the last hardware available to serious collectors, who will be paying $800 for a copy of your Blu-ray of Savages or maybe $1000 in that currency, whatever it is, because they’d be worth that much. Hardware is disappearing. Everyone talks about cloud computing. You trust it. I don’t. I want to have my comic book. I want to have my baseball card. Baseball cards are a good point because look at those baseball cards from the early ‘50s. They’ve gone through the roof. Movie posters.

By now fans of Savages know there are two endings in the film. Why was it important to show both, rather than choosing to just show the new ending?

No, no, no. No, because in O (Blake Lively)’s head, in her mind, it’s her story the way she tells it. She has a romantic and a rather hippy view of the world that she can be in love with two men. That was also [author] Don Winslow’s view and that in her vision of the world, two of them would lay down their lives for the other one. I didn’t buy that. I’m perhaps too old or two cynical but I think it’s a nice vision and it was her Butch Cassidy ending. But she says, “That’s the way it should’ve ended but the truth has a mind of its own.” That’s my feeling about the drug war. It goes on and on, and I’m more cynical. I think the drug war’s a disaster internationally for our country and I think the problem is you don’t catch the bad guys. They go on and they go on and they make more money and they figure out ways, and people don’t go to jail except the smaller people. At the same time, ironically, it gives the three of them a second chance, but it wasn’t done for purposes of a happy ending. It was done because that’s the way I think. I don’t believe the two of them would’ve laid down their lives for the third one, that’s all. They’re too young, they’re too inexperienced. Salma Hayek confirms my point of view when she says, “There’s something wrong with your love story, baby.” So I think one’s a romantic ending and the other one’s a realistic ending and I love double endings. They may not be as smart commercially but who knows? The Woman in the Window had a great double ending with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennet, Fritz Lang 1944. You should check it out.

Do you think the election was really as close as they said it was?

Ask Benicio. Nate Silver says no.

You would think with all the avenues we have available, internet, twitter and everything, the voters would get more savvy to political maneuvering. What would it take to get voters to be more savvy?

Well, I would suggest to you let’s get away from the electoral vote. That’d be my ultimate suggestion. The second thing I would say split the states. In other words, every state would have some kind of cap proportionate electorally to what the population was, which would be far more accurate. I think they’ve reduced the national spectrum from like 20 states, 25 states. It should be all 52 [territories] but they’ve reduced it to like 5-6 states. So why would any of us be motivated to vote? What difference do we make in California? It demoralizes the supposed democracy. It’s ridiculous the attention given to six states, and the advertising.

You got into trouble for talking about other victims of the Holocaust besides the Jews for “The Untold History of the United States.” Why can’t we even talk about other sides of history?

My quote was accurate. I said that more than 25 million soviets were killed in World War II, indicating that the degree of sacrifice in the Soviet Union is what made the difference in World War II. Serious historians will tell you that they won the war. That’s something the American people don’t even have a hint of. They swallowed up six million Germans in Eastern Europe. All the allies together killed one million. So we go into that but this is fact. This is not bullsh**, this is not dramatization. We’re really doing fact. It’s unbelievable how history is taught in this country. Don’t get me started, we’re talking about Savages.

Did you happen to see the documentary Queen of Versailles?

No, I’d love to see it.

David Siegel on camera admits buying the 2000 election for Bush. Is there no way we can prosecute that or reverse it?

How does he do that?

He brags about it. I don’t remember the exact quote.

Did you think I went too lightly on Bush in my W. movie?

No. I liked it a lot.

A lot of people did. Did you think I was soft on him?

I thought it was scathing. I was wondering about the David Siegel issue.

I don’t know that. I don’t know. We should talk about Savages.

Do you think Don Winslow’s prequel The Kings of Cool would make a good movie?

I don’t repeat myself that much. I hope you see the difference between Natural Born Killers and this one, or U-turn. I don’t want to redo myself. I moved on. Every movie is a movie experience but I’m more apt to do something completely different.