There’s been some fanfare here at Boston College over some new and exciting projects in the arts-bands, aspiring filmmakers, a cappella groups, creative thespians. All of which is well deserved and indeed exciting. We’re a talented and ambitious group of students, and that should be acknowledged and celebrated. It’s something we should acknowledge more often, not in the way the faculty and administrators pat us on the back as “the most talented group to come through BC,” but in going to more events, crediting good work, and ultimately, challenging each other more often and more rigorously.
Oliver Stone is set to speak on campus this Saturday in conjunction with American University historian Peter Kuznick, addressing their “The Untold History of the United States” documentary series. The event is free and at Robsham Theater. And as you’ve hopefully acknowledged, Stone’s appearance here at BC comes at a very interesting time for this budding artistic community.
Stone remains one his generation’s most controversial yet productive filmmakers. He wrote and directed Platoon in 1986, the best Vietnam War film and one of the top five war films of all time. He’s continually taken on the legacy of presidents in JFK, Nixon, andW, as well as capturing Wall Street in the aptly named Wall Street and professional football in Any Given Sunday. Stone is an unflinching director, never shying away from subject or style. Stone works under the assumption that his films matter, that the stories a filmmaker tells matter. But how is he different than any other filmmaker, the great many who strive to create something true and honest (save for the Michael Bays of the industry, of course)? Stone’s different in that his films and his subjects are often intrinsically connected. In Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, the subject of Wall Street works behind the character of Jordan Belfort. It’s a setting for Leonardo DiCaprio to snort cocaine and other ungodly acts of id. But in Stone’s Wall Street, Gordon Gekko and Wall Street go hand in hand
Most filmmakers and artists would insist that their work matters. Stone’s films, however, matter in a different way. His characters are usually pitted within a greater struggle-a war, a conspiracy, the economy, and must define themselves in relation to this struggle. How will Chris Taylor, the central soldier in Platoon, confront the horror of war? With grace and goodness like Sergeant Groodant (William Defoe) or with brutality like Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger)? This dynamic replays itself in most of Stone’s work, and in doing so, he asks the audience to define itself within these greater movements time and time again. Stone’s films matter in a different way, because unlike most, they ask the audience to face the same crises his characters face-war, greed, and power. For Stone, a film should make the audience think. It should challenge the viewer.
Lately, however, Stone has traded the feature format for the documentary format. He’s working in a more direct manner now, confronting the previously undocumented and sometimes unsavory aspects of recent American history. He has called the project his most ambitious yet. He’s more direct now-using facts, not characters.
So how does this affect us? Oliver Stone comes to campus. Some go. Some don’t. Those that go get to say they saw Oliver Stone once. Maybe their parents are impressed. Maybe they’re not and are worried that because their child lost three hours on a Saturday, he or she won’t get an internship this summer, and thus be forever homeless.
But Oliver Stone coming to campus with his message that art can work toward a greater message-awareness is critical to the burgeoning artistic community we have here. So we can challenge each other to be more aware of the power of our art, and its ability to inspire and inform. Hopefully, we can make some friends and money along the way, but we keep in mind that these projects can mean more than we think. Obviously, Stone is at a different point in his career as an artist than most of us are which probably gives him more responsibility in his endeavors than college students still trying to hone their skills and develop their voice. His work should remind us, however-agree with it or not-that as we develop these technical skills, we must also develop the desire and skill of injecting meaning into the art we create.