Hollywood filmmaker comes to Durham University
Academic research goes to Hollywood
On March 10th, leading filmmaker Oliver Stone visited Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study to meet with classicist Dr Ivana Petrovic, whose research, engaging with his depiction of Alexander the Great, was included in his DVD Alexander The Ultimate Cut, released in 2014. He described how he first discovered her work in the debates that followed the release of the first version of Alexander:
A German publisher put together a series of essays from Classical scholars. Ivana was one of them. And her article on the mythical side of Alexander, the quest for finding an identification with the many heroes of Greek mythology… and how that repeats through the generations, was her theme, as it was one of my themes in the movie… I really identified with her article
In the evening, the Institute of Advanced Study hosted an event with University staff, students and members of the public, in which Stone discussed Alexander with Dr Petrovic and fellow Classics scholars, Dr Andrej Petrovic and Dr Ed Richardson, and explored his more recent films – including the soon-to-be-released Snowden – with Dr Gleider Hernández from the Law School.
In Conversation with Oliver Stone
Stone draws on research to underpin films that have often explored complex issues – political conflicts, issues of social justice and the challenges of modern democracies. He is determined that all of his films should be based on serious, in-depth research, and most importantly by independent and imaginative thinking that goes beyond the conventions:
Oliver Stone visit to Durham University March 2016
The Institute of Advanced Study hosted an event with University staff, students and members of the public, in which Oliver Stone discussed Alexander with Dr Petrovic and fellow Classics scholars, Dr Andrej Petrovic and Dr Ed Richardson, and explored his more recent films – including the soon-to-be-released Snowden – with Dr Gleider Hernández from the Law School.
There’s orthodox research, which just goes by the book, accepts some of the clichés that are written, and accepts sometimes the untruth as true… but I am always exploring. My mind tells me where to go, in terms of going further than the orthodox history, and I reach places that are not normally thought of… I need to know the facts. Whatever the orthodox history is, I certain read it first, as I did the Warren Commission, in the JFK murder… but as we know from history, there are lots of conspiracies: a lot of dirty deeds go unpunished, as well as unrecorded and unknown, and I think we have to be aware of that if we are smart. And Durham captures that spirit of the underground… the unorthodoxOliver Stone
World Leading Films
Central to Stone’s films is his vision of ancient and recent historical events and the role of individuals in them. Stone worked for more than a decade to depict one of Classical Antiquity’s most fascinating individuals, Alexander the Great, a figure who – as part of the sociocultural history of the Hellenistic epoch – is a key topic of research for staff in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at Durham. As Ivana Petrovic observed:
Precisely because the ancient records provide a fragmented, ambivalent portrait of him, the figure of Alexander the Great has always been open to different interpretations, often serving to express the aspirations and/or horrors of a generation or an individual: Alexander the imperialist; Alexander the tyrant, Alexander as a promoter of the brotherhood of men… Stone’s film, Alexander, mirrors the complexities and paradoxes of the ancient narratives and modern interpretations of this remarkable figure, and provides a sophisticated and thought-provoking vision. As Classicists we engage with the literary and material culture that reaches across many centuries to inform our understanding of what it means to be human. Oliver Stone does this as creative artist. In our conversation with Oliver, we discussed the limitations and the freedom that an artist brings to interpretations of Antiquity, his use of source material, and his understanding of heroism and the role of individuals in history.
Exemplifying the determination and passion needed to produce outstanding work, Oliver did four versions of his film Alexander to bring scholarship and film-making together successfully. As he said:
I did four versions of Alexander because I was haunted by the fact that I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to achieve until I reached the third version, which was five years later. Ten years later I released a fourth version just to make it even better… You have to dig, and sometimes you have to be a scholar with a movie. But you can’t do it in front of the public: you have to do it and then come to the public with an exciting vehicle that’s entertaining and all those things, and simplifies, but at the same time keeps the spirit of the history, so that in some ways it clarifies – it gives you the spiritual moment in history and entry into what really Alexander meant: what this was about, what that was about – it gives you the meaning of it.
As well as creating portraits of major figures in films such as Nixon, JFK, and W., Oliver Stone’s films also engage – often controversially – with political and social complexities, such as drug trafficking (Midnight Express and Savages); violence as a media spectacle (Natural Born Killers); and the war in Vietnam (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July).
Stone’s recent interest in issues of global security and data protection is explored in his current project, a film about Edward Snowden.
Researching Complex Issues
Oliver Stone was in Durham as the guest of the Institute of Advanced Study, the University’s flagship research institute. Directed by anthropologist, Professor Veronica Strang, the IAS is committed to cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, bringing diverse disciplinary perspectives to bear on complex issues. As Professor Strang said:
For films to be politically and socially powerful they need to combine the filmmaker’s talent for ‘showing and telling’ with rigorous research. In engaging with the big issues facing human societies, there is excellent potential for filmmakers to collaborate with academics in a range of disciplinary areas. The IAS’s role, as an interdisciplinary institute, is to support these kinds of creative partnerships, and we were very delighted to welcome to Durham a world-class filmmaker whose work is informed by the insights and evidence provided by world-class research.