Book Review: The Oliver Stone Experience Leaves Nothing Unturned

“It’s an Oliver Stone movie about Oliver Stone, but in the form of a book.”

That’s the pitch author Matt Zoller Seitz used to describe The Oliver Stone Experience to his own subject. It’s apt: Seitz’s auteurist biography is kaleidoscopic in its dispensing of intimate photographs, archival images and pop culture iconography. Just as Stone’s own kinetic editing explodes in his films, so does the book conflate dynamic interviews and critical analyses with taut narrative urgency.

A mammoth tome, The Oliver Stone Experience is comprised of fragments that detail Stone’s youthful beginnings and each subsequent era of his life and artistic growth, from his time in Vietnam to the making of films like Midnight Express, Platoon, Wall Street, JFK and his latest, Snowden. Stone himself—whom Seitz says introduced him on occasion as “my biographer,” which “flattered with trust as it terrified with responsibility”—contributes an excerpt to the book’s first chapter, and is joined by such venerable film writers as Jim Beaver, Kim Morgan, Alissa Wilkinson and others in a supporting cast of commentators on his endlessly scrutable life and work. Stone’s pronounced worldview—his contentious insights on Americanism—manifests itself not only in his filmography but in his preferred topics of discussion. Seitz’s success lies in effectively bringing to light the ways in which Stone is as much product of his environment as he is a dissenter from it.

Oliver Stone, Cameron Diaz and James Woods in the Miami Sharks locker room, during the making of Any Given Sunday (1999). Courtesy of Abrams

Oliver Stone, Cameron Diaz and James Woods in the Miami Sharks locker room, during the making of Any Given Sunday (1999). Courtesy of Abrams

The Takeaway: For critics and fans, the strong rapport between author and subject might be a justified means to an end. For indie moviemakers, that rapport in itself may well be substance to be studied. For those who see social consciousness as a prerequisite to moviemaking, this is essential reading.

U.S. Reader Giveaway

We’ve partnered with Abrams to give one randomly chosen winner a copy of The Oliver Stone Experience. To enter, answer this question: “How many Academy Awards did Stone’s 1986 film Platoon win?” Send answers in an email to assistant@moviemaker.com with the subject line “Oliver Stone Giveaway.” One winner will be contacted on September 15, 2016. MM

 

The Oliver Stone Experience by Matt Zoller Seitz is released by Abrams on September 13, 2016. Hardcover; 480 pages; U.S. $50. Can. $55. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Fall 2016 issue.

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