Allan Hunter talks to Oliver Stone about his film the painful study of an American war—journalist in Central America discovering the truth about his life.

In Hollywood parlance there are two career extremes; you are either hot or cold. In the early 1970s as a Vietnam veteran and film school graduate Oliver Stone was about as chilly as they come. (‘(‘ouldn‘t get an agent. couldn‘t get anywhere. couldn‘t get arrested!) Then he met Robert Bolt. acquired a decent agent and won an Oscar for the script of

M {ding/11 Express; the thaw was setting in. Then. he directed the psychological horror story The Hand. which was unjustly laughed off the screen. and further blotted his copybook with the blood-drenched Scarface; ice was quickly reforming. Now. he has written and directed .Salvador. a searing and provocative study ofjournalists under fire. and Platoon. a gut-wrenching dramatisation of his experiences at war. The man is currently inflammable.

Platoon is taking America by storm. having opened there just before ('hristmas to rave reviews and outstanding box-office returns. However. it was Salvador that first signalled Stone‘s emergence as a major directorial talent. Based on the experiences of photojournalist Richard Boyle. Salvador is described by Stone as ‘an extension of the truth but I think not a violation ofthe truth. I‘d been interested in his character for a movie about a journalist. a second-rate type who was a gadfly but got the truth. I didn‘t know where I was going to set it but I always thought of Afghanistan. 'l‘hen Richard showed me what was basically incohate material: pieces that he‘d written from six different trips. And I read through it methodically on an airplane and it just dawned on me that it was great raw material fora drama.‘

Anything with even a suspicion of political content is considered box-office poison in the corporate world of the Hollywood studios and Stone knew that it would be difficult if not impossible to secure financing for the film that he wanted to make. With this in mind. Salvador was originally envisaged as a low-key. documentary-style drama in which Boyle would play himself. ()ne doctored version of a script even

received approval from the Salvadorian authorities who. to a man. had salivated over Scarface. However. as Stone researched further. his vision ofthe film changed. "l’he more I delved into it and found out about the history of El Salvador. which I hadn't known

James Woods (left) playing Richard Boyle, ‘a gadlly who got the truth’, in Oliver Stone's lilm Salvador.

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about. from 1980 to ‘82 with the murder ofthe Archbishop. the killing ofthe nuns. the American involvement with the Death Squads all this was the stuff of Shakespeare and nobody had done the material. It was a natural and I went right to it like a ferret. We knocked out a screenplay in six weeks. That was very quick.‘

Even with an excellent script nobody would touch Salvador with the proverbial barge pole. Stone however merely decided that the truth had to be told and his film would be one way of conveying the Salvadorian storv. ‘There is a terrible cowardice among the American studios and I knew that they would not make this. In my experience over the last four years there has been very little market for drama in the United States. Unless you are Sydney Pollack and Meryl Streep you don‘t get a drama made. especially my kind ofmaterial which tends to be abrasive and controversial and deals with minorities. So. I had a hard time ofit but I got lucky in that I found a British company that loved the script and made the movie as it was written. Hemdale made no

ridiculous demands. they were wonderfully liberal about it .‘

Salvador was filmed on an exacting schedule and a parsimonious budget ofS-I.S million. It was written. produced and ready to be screened within a calendar year and that sense of urgency and immediacy is certainly communicated in the final film.

In many ways Salvador seems unrelated to Stones previous work as neither ( 'omm the Barbarian nor Year oft/1e Dragon would have prepared one for something with a liberal conscience. Salvador is stingineg critical of many aspects of American foreign policy and its sacred image as democracy‘s defender. Stone explainsthat it is all part of his own political development and that the man who once volunteered for duty in Vietnam has now acquired a healthy sense of suspicion when dealing with the actions of his country‘s leaders.

In America. unsurprisingly. Salvador faced an uphill struggle for attention. With masterly understatement. Stone recalls its reception as. ‘lnteresting. The liberal press gave it great reviews. The conservative press tended not to