Growing up in New York City, I was surrounded by theater, opera
and ballet, and the people in those professions seemed
pretentious to me, affected and elitist," says Oliver Stone, the
director of Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born
Killers and other provocations, whose football epic, Any Given
Sunday, opens next week. "What I related to much more, besides
movies, were athletes--people who had dirt under their
fingernails, worked outdoors in the sunlight, had bruises of
honor for their physical efforts and thought in a more
intuitive, immediate way."
Stone, who ran cross-country at Manhattan's Trinity School,
calls Any Given Sunday "something like Braveheart in pads." The
film includes cameos by Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Y.A. Tittle,
Johnny Unitas and other Hall of Famers--"guys who enthralled me,
who were heroes to me as a kid," says Stone, who steeped himself
in football like a quarterback watching game tapes while working
on his first sports movie.
"I've been thinking about the sports films I've liked through
the years," says Stone, who was enthralled by Raging Bull,
charmed by Hoosiers and Field of Dreams and blown away by the
visual poetry of Olympia, the Leni Riefenstahl documentary of
the 1936 Berlin Olympics. These days, though, he thinks football
first, and that means Burt Reynolds.
"Reynolds really understood something about the football
ethos--the way he moves and talks and is," Stone says of the
former Florida State running back who starred in Semi-Tough and
The Longest Yard. Stone calls the latter film "a great movie of
its time by director Bob Aldrich. He also used Jim Brown
perfectly in The Dirty Dozen--that 100-yard death dash Brown
makes against the Nazi fort."
Everybody likes Rocky, but boxing fan Stone fell for Rocky IV:
"Dolph Lundgren in IV was like Schwarzenegger in The Terminator,
a machine. The fight scenes were well executed--not like Raging
Bull, in which the fights were more like tableaux in which Jake
La Motta achieved a brute transcendence. There's a different
tension in Rocky IV. You get caught up in who wins or loses."
Another lesser-known favorite is William Friedkin's Blue Chips,
with Nick Nolte and a 22-year-old Shaquille O'Neal. "Nolte
captured the essence of the coach, just as he did the wide
receiver in North Dallas 40," he says. The 1942 baseball movie
The Pride of the Yankees is another favorite. "That one really
struck me when I was a kid. Look at it today, and it might look
pretty staid, but I thought it was beautiful. It had the aura of
the legendary Yankees in beautiful black and white, and how
could you resist Gary Cooper's performance as Lou Gehrig?" Major
League gets thumbs-up, too: "I love David Ward's unostentatious
way of telling a story in a big, broad, Mark Twain kind of way.
As for Bull Durham, I have to laugh when Kevin Costner says in
his rattled-off litany of beliefs, 'I think Lee Harvey Oswald
acted alone,' because I cast Kevin as [conspiracy chaser] Jim
Garrison in one of his next films, JFK."
Surprisingly, he reserves special praise for NFL Films. "I
understand Sam Peckinpah was influenced by some early footage
from NFL Films when he made The Wild Bunch--the slow motion and
rapid montage that was so important to that picture," he says.
"Those guys are to be commended: It's very hard to follow a
thrown football in the air and keep it in focus. It's like
firing on an animal when you're hunting with a rifle. You have
to know how and when to lead it. Believe me, filming football as
it happens is an art form."
If baseball is a dance, football is a war. Stone, who kept tabs
on the NFL standings while finishing his film, knows which he'd
rather shoot. "Baseball may be what America aspires to be," he
says, "but football, in the end, is what America is."