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"Just the Facts, Ma'am": Stone Brings WTC to MoMA

Oliver Stone following Monday's screening of World Trade Center at MoMA (Photos: Christopher Campbell)

Oliver Stone was lacking in controversial statements Monday night following a presentation of World Trade Center at MoMA. Instead it was Albert Maysles, sitting in the audience, who attempted to spark some heavy discussion. The documentary filmmaker proposed the idea of making a film of what happened at Hiroshima. "You know, the one [where] we killed so many people," he said.

"You should do it," Stone replied, seeming to miss the point. "Let's get Paramount to put the money up for that."

For Stone to appear with this film to an audience of New Yorkers, he must have been wary of saying anything too upsetting; many of his words during the Q&A were safely limited to talk of the script, the production and the casting decisions. Part of this involved a defense of the employment of Nicolas Cage.

"As you saw from the end credits," he said, "this movie was a huge undertaking by so many, on both coasts. The sculpturing, the modeling, the visual effects, the building of those sets, the destruction of those sets was always going to be a big thing. There's no way we could have made that movie for less than it cost, and we needed a star. Nic Cage filled that perfectly. Nic ironically resembled John McLoughlin, which was bizarre. If they stand side-by-side, it looks like Nic is a movie star version of John."

But some audience members, in addition to Maysles, tried to dig deeper. At one point Stone was questioned for his inclusion of a montage displaying concerned citizens around the world -- specifically, his decision to show sympathetic Middle Easterners rather than the region's much-publicized celebrators.

"I wasn't trying to load the dice," he said. "If I felt that that had been a significant issue I would certainly have put it in. The truth is there was such a small group that were exalting. I have read counter-stories that a lot of that stuff was footage from another demonstration against Israel that was put on the air to be against America. Now I'm not going to get into a JFK-type of thing about who did what to who. But I have heard counter thoughts about that footage. Even so it was such a small group compared to what really happened. The empathy of the world that day -- there's no question."

Another person hoped to get from Stone some political opinion on the character and actions of Sgt. Karnes, a Marine who helped in the rescue of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. Having made anti-war films, did Stone have any agenda in his depiction of Karnes?

"Just the facts, ma'am," Stone insisted "That's what he was. You have to understand that in this case it's John and Will and Donna and Allison's story, and I have to want to honor their feelings. And Sgt. Karnes did what he did. So it wasn't for me to change the truth. It would have been imposition of my editorial point of view and that was not my choice. And I made it very clear in statements before the film and after film that I was very against the war in Vietnam -- " Stone corrected himself. "I mean 'in Iraq' -- very Freudian. And on the other hand, I believe that we did the right thing in Afghanistan because I don't believe in terrorism and I thought that the Afghan government sponsored it. It would be wrong for me to make him something that I wish him to be."

Stone stood his ground on the film to the end, also disregarding claims that it is too soon for such a film recreating the events of 9/11.

"We have John and Will and Donna and Allison," he said regarding the film's immediacy, "and they're alive and they're still there and you get that information and they're willing to share it. You put it on screen. The rescuers were anxious to get it out there. They're young enough to tell the story without false memories. So I think we do what we do. For me the film is, if anything, too late."

Oliver Stone and Albert Maysles chat Monday at MoMA, with unidentified onlooker

"All I can tell you," he added after the crowd expressed a bit of shock, "is that what makes me particularly proud is that I believe we got it right. I don't think we falsified anything, except maybe a couple mistakes here and there, but I think we got it right. I think it's an authentic piece of Americana that's going to be as good in 15, 20, 30 years that our kids can see and say, 'Hey I get a sense of that day, what happened.'"

Could he be overemphasizing the importance of the film? Maybe just a little bit. But he seemed to have a lot of confidence in his role in life, concluding the night with even more self-congratulation.

"In a dark time," he said, "I think that people such as myself can cast hope and put the better part of man out there for people to remember because it can get pretty ugly. People can get ugly and forget. And I've done my share of movies that were critical of our country, and I stand by them. And I may do so again. But there are many good things that Americans have that we must not ignore." -- Christopher Campbell

Posted at December 12, 2006 8:00 AM

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