APRIL 28, 2011
Reponse to Part I of this interview has been overwhelmingly favorable. Thank you, one and all.
Before continuing, I want to remind readers that the picture we’re discussing is Alexander Revisited: The Final Version," not the "director's cut." The iteration known as "director’s cut” was made in 2004, at the time of the Alexander’s theatrical release. Only after years of deep reflection and hard work in his editing room did Oliver Stone release the extremely moving Final Version, exclusively on dvd, in 2007. It is now available on iTunes and "on demand." Make sure you see the right one.
Prior to the end of this post's first part, Alexander’s director spoke about the great pre-1960’s “road show” movies, which were exhibited with intermissions. Such breaks, he pointed out, enabled viewers to digest what they’d seen in the first two hours and, thereby, have a heightened experience of the end of the film. Mr. Stone remarked that this was before Hollywood studios were gripped by “incessant screaming about grosses and running time.”. He continued:
Because of the flexibility of the dvd format, I could add an intermission. No one at the studio could object to the length of a film viewers would see in their own homes. And you need that breather in order to absorb a complex narrative with so many characters. In the first part of the movie, Alexander gets all the way to the Himalayas, to the Hindu Kush, and he sees that Aristotle’s map is wrong; these mountains are not “the end of the world.” His response is, “We must get to the end.” He didn’t know where or what that was, he just knew he had to get there. This was Alexander’s nature. He was always going further out. But the end he sought was really inside -- in himself. Anyway, he gets to the Hindu Kush, and that’s the moment to pause and walk out. You can walk out for a week, for an hour, or for just 20 minutes, which is what I suggest. But you can definitely view it a day or a week later.
Yes, taking a break there feels very organic.
If I’d had the guts, which I didn’t -- this is all in hindsight -- I would have gone to Warner Bros. and said, “I want to make a two part movie, like Tarantino did with Kill Bill. Just trust it.” But I didn’t. That would have been the gutsy thing to do. 2 hours for the first part, an hour and 34 minutes for the second part. Or put them in separate theatres at the same time, since they didn’t want to do road shows anymore.
I should have done it with JFK, but I wouldn’t have won that battle either. The intermission would have been right after the scene with Donald Sutherland and Kevin Costner in Washington, D.C., which is chock full of byzantine, new information, all of it coming at you very fast. There’s a natural break there.
There is. I rewatch JFK a lot and often stop there for a breather.
The film was released that way in Holland and a few other countries, but not in the U.S. Yet it makes sense. We should have the road show back. That’s why I actually put an “intermission” card on the dvd.
Which is great. You even have music accompanying the card.
It’s a protest against the studio system.
And an entertaining one... Now, since you brought up JFK, I want to ask about something that links it with Alexander, and with Nixon and Natural Born Killers -- namely, horse symbolism. These animals seem to have a deep meaning for you. In JFK, there’s a racetrack scene with Jack Lemon and thundering horses. In Nixon, there’s another powerful, violent and frightening scene at the track. And in Alexander...
There’s the power of Bucephalus (Alexander’s steed).
Yes. Do equines have a specific and consistent symbolic content for you?
I can’t say that they do in that way. Subconciously, of course, they do mean something to me. There’s certainly the aspect of “the beast” in the power of horses. Nixon, because he’s scared, views the beast as something inside himself and something inside the state, inside the country. The same thing is true for Jack Lemon’s character. He’s terrified when he’s talking to Costner. The pounding of the horses hooves reflects that. It’s a sinister thing. There’s tremendous, fearsome power in the horse.
In Nixon, at the end of the scene in which the he chats with student demonstrators, Anthony Hopkins refers to the system as "a beast" -- one over which he has no control. It’s a shocking moment. You realize Nixon’s not running the system, it’s controlling him... and he knows it.
Whereas Alexander seems to conquer the beast. His fear of Bucephalus at the beginning of the story was very important. When he gets on the wild, bucking horse as a young boy, he wins his father’s approval for the first time. And it’s a wonderful scene, based on history. He could see that the animal’s wild behavior came from fear of its own shadow. So he rode it toward the sun, preventing it from seeing its shadow, and calmed it down. I love that scene. Alexander rises above the Jack Lemon character and above Nixon in that moment.
Through astute observation...
And by overcoming his fear. The whole movie is about the conquest of fear. Alexander believed that if you could conquer fear, you could conquer death. So he did subdue his own terror. I think he was one of the most courageous men who ever lived, for that reason.
In the movie, Bucephalus is killed at the end, during the battle of Multan -- in a scene where the horse rises and, for a breathtaking moment, holds his own against an elephant. In reality, Bucephalus was killed earlier in Alexander’s life. But the film takes some artistic license. It seemed poetic to show that the grievous wound from which Alexander never recovered was inflicted by an arrow that hit and passed through his steed. This beautiful animal, which connects him to his father and to overcoming fear as a child, dies, of course. Only then is Alexander, finally, ready to go home. His troops are happy to return and get rich. But Alexander himself is a dead man at this point. He’s ready to go back to Babylon; his death is foretold.
The shot of Bucephalus and the elephant facing each other is one of the most stunning in the movie, with the horse relentlessly moving forward and rising against a towering, gargantuan beast. I get chills thinking about it.
That shot was amazing. And it wasn’t digital. It was real.
The horse was astonishing. So was the elephant. It was as though we willed the moment, with both animals rising on their hind legs. The horse was a Spanish breed, which we found in the Netherlands. We brought four of them to Thailand for that shot. And Colin was actually riding the horse. Amazing!
At this point, unfortunately, the interview had to break off. Oliver Stone had graciously given me more time than had been scheduled, and people with whom he had to meet were waiting. During our dialogue, it was clear that his willingness to share carefully honed, fascinating ideas as well as his precious time reflected a great generosity of spirit -- one that infuses his work. Mr. Stone clearly loves his actors, his crew members and the very process of filmmaking. His unstinting nature and his passion have made Alexander Revisited: The Final Version a stunning, rich and deeply moving film.