The 50th Chicago International Film Festival continues this week after a rousing Sunday night visit from maverick filmmaker Oliver Stone, in town to present two very different yet seminal pictures, the controversial Natural Born Killers and his one-reviled, now better appreciated Alexander.
Stone stopped by the red carpet to discuss revisiting Alexander on this fourth version and what he calls The Ultimate Cut, “because I couldn’t think of any other word to call it.” Admitting he “screwed up” with his initial theatrical cut due to deadline and studio pressures (“It needed to be under 3 hours and they were unhappy with his sexuality”), the picture has lived with him for decades and he’s now happy with what he calls the final, final version: “It’s not perfect, but I love it.”
The master writer and director, creator of Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, Salvador, Wall Street, JFK and so many other seminal modern movies which often function as social and political treatises, spoke of the current American movie climate and its appetite for such substantial movie commentaries. When I asked Stone about why they have all but disappeared, he told me “No one wants to see anything that isn’t pro-America anymore. Those movies couldn’t be made.” He shared his thoughts on where we are today in terms of how we look at history, including schools today that want to revise modern political history, removing jingoism to become more palatable.
He also spoke of the controversy surrounding Alexander’s sexuality, roundly scoffed at when the film was released in 2004, and we wondered whether today’s social climate would render the film’s fraternal and sensual male-male relationships a moot issue.
On the subject of Colin Farrell, the fine Irish actor and movie star who seemed an unlikely choice to play the heroic Macedonian king, Stone knew that Farrell (his second choice after Heath Ledger, who turned the film down, rejecting the character’s “imperialism”) was ultimately the right actor for the job, because “He has this sensitive and feminine side, like a poet,” something important for his emotionally drawn portrait of a character some wanted to see as merely a warmonger.
The festival line-up continues this week with a collection of films starring the great Isabelle Huppert, including Comedy of Power and White Material, as well as Wednesday’s Festival Centerpiece pictures, The Last 5 Years and St. Vincent, the new Bill Murray comedy making its Midwest premiere at CIFF.
Tomorrow night will see a tribute to formidable Kathleen Turner, a movie star bar none who will join CIFF for a career retrospective. Turner, this year’s CIFF International Competition jury president, was one of the biggest A-list stars of the 80s—the last era for real movie stars—with hits like Body Heat, Romancing the Stone, Prizzi’s Honor, The War of the Roses, Crimes of Passion and her Oscar-nominated work in Peggy Sue Got Married.
And Wednesday will feature writer-director Richard LaGravenese (screenplay for The Bridges of Madison County, writer-director of Living Out Loud, P.S. I Love You and Freedom Writers). LaGravenese will introduce his new picture, The Last 5 Years, a poignant musical starring Anna Kendrick, to the CIFF audience.
ChicagoFilm will be bringing you updates throughout the festival, including interviews with Kathleen Turner and Richard LaGravenese, as well as some key films and happenings coming up next. For more information, including showtimes and tickets, visit the Chicago International Film Festival.