As part of this weekend’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center launch, Oliver Stone stopped by the Walter Reade Theater on Friday night for a chat with Scott Foundas following a screening of Alexander Revisited, a re-cut version of his 2004 historical epic starring Colin Farrell and Angelina Jolie. The project extends the film’s running time to over three and a half hours and includes an intermission like the big screen studio spectacles of yesteryear. “There are still things I’d like to change,” confessed Stone, despite the painstaking attention and detail he exerted on the film’s final cut.
In many ways, Alexander is a film that Stone has been wanting to make his whole life. During his time as an NYU film student, when making feature films seemed like an impluasible feat, Stone recalled fantasizing about going back in time to Alexander’s age with a camera and coming back to Greenwich Village with documentary footage. Stone was finally able to get his chance at the epic tale, but only after having established himself as a top director. Even then, getting the film made proved to be a challenge in itself. “We shot in 100 days on 3 continents through independent financing from several different coutnries,” said the director. “The only reason we got it financed in the first place was because we came on the heels of movies like Gladiator and Troy.”
Financing wasn’t the only hurdle the filmmaker encountered. Stone was faced with the task of constructing a narrative structure that would do justice to Alexander’s life. It proved to be a complicated task, as Alexander’s life doesn’t really fit comfortably into a traditional narrative. “The logical thing would have been to make into a TV series,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have the same impact on a small screen and I don’t think we could’ve gotten away with shooting what we did on a TV budget.”
On casting the film, Stone revealed that he first approached Heath Ledger for the lead role in 2003. The late Australian actor turned down the opportunity to star in the film, telling the director he wasn’t keen on playing a character he considered to be an imperialist. The imperialist issue would stick with the film though its release, a reputation Stone considers to be unfortunate. “I couldn’t think of a worse time to release the film than the same year that George Bush set out on his own invasion,” confessed the director. Stone took a positive spin, however, when asked about the film’s dismal reception among critics and audiences upon its initial release. “I’ve had failures before…Nixon, Heaven & Earth…those were big movies that didn’t do well,” he explained. “But Alexander is a good example of not giving up. How does that quote go? ‘The defeats are also victories’? I think it was Alexander who said that,” said Stone, interrupted by a moment of doubt. “Or maybe it was Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, I forget…”
Pictured above: Oliver Stone at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Friday. Photo courtesy Godlis.