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Honorary Degree Ceremony - March 2016

Oliver Stone, Hon DLitt

At a special awards ceremony on Friday 11 March 2016 Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Warwick, presented Academy Award-winning Director Oliver Stone with an Honorary Doctor of Letters (Hon DLitt) from the University of Warwick.

Oliver Stone receives honorary degree from the University of Warwick

Oliver Stone receives honorary degree from the University of Warwick. (L-R) Oliver Stone, Dr J E Smyth of the Department of History, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Croft

Biography

Academy Award-winning Oliver Stone has written and directed over 20 full-length feature films, among them some of the most influential and iconic films of the last decades. Some have been at deep odds with conventional myth – films such as Platoon (1986) the first of three Vietnam films; Born on the Fourth of July (1989); JFK (1991); Natural Born Killers (1994); and Nixon (1995).

Oliver Stone was born in 1946 in New York City. At 19, he wrote a novel about his youth, "A Child's Night Dream", which was published in 1997. He served in the US Army Infantry in Vietnam in 1967-68, and was decorated with the Bronze Star for Valor. After returning from Vietnam, he completed his undergraduate studies at New York University Film School in 1971.

His films have reached wide, international audiences and have had significant cultural impact. They include Salvador (1985), deeply critical of the US Government’s involvement in Central America; Wall Street (1987), an exposé of America’s new capitalism; World Trade Center (2006), a true story of two 9/11 survivors; and The Doors (1991), a poetic look at the 1960s and Jim Morrison’s ecstatic music.

Other films include Any Given Sunday (1999), an unconventional view of the world of American sports; epic historical dramas Alexander (2004), and Alexander – The Ultimate Cut (2014); W. a satirical view of former US President, George W. Bush; and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010), a realistic sequel about the 2008 financial crash and Gordon Gekko’s fate after prison. His series of crime-related films includes, in addition to Natural Born Killers, U Turn (1997) and Savages (2012), both dark in tone and humour.

Oliver’s written screenplays, though not directed, gave him an early taste of the difficulty of his ideas. An uproar greeted Midnight Express (1979) which grew with Scarface (1983). He also wrote Year of the Dragon (1985) and Conan the Barbarian (1982), and has produced or co-produced films including The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), Joy Luck Club (1993) and Reversal of Fortune (1990).

His documentaries include three on Fidel Castro [Comandante (2003); Looking for Fidel (2004); and Castro in Winter (2012)]; one on South America, South of the Border (2009), featuring Hugo Chavez and six other Presidents in a continent undergoing huge social changes. He also made Persona Non Grata (2003), focusing on Israel-Palestine relations. His latest work The Untold History of the United States (Showtime, 2012), five years in the making, is a 12-hour interrogation of the conventional, triumphalist narrative of US history.

Oration

"Mr. Vice Chancellor, Members of the University, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It’s been said that politics not baseball is the American national pastime. But the Hollywood film industry’s batting average on producing serious political films breaks no records. With one stunning exception: our guest today.

Oliver Stone was born in New York City, the son of a stockbroker, and he could have had a lifestyle not unlike Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero of Oliver’s acclaimed 1987 film, Wall Street. Instead, Oliver dropped out of college and volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War. His combat experiences earned him a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, but it was the death toll of the working-class black and white soldiers around him, the horror of veterans’ postwar readjustment, and American imperialism in action that truly shaped his career as a writer and director.

His breakthrough as a screenwriter was Midnight Express (1979), and won him the first of his Academy Awards. His creation of Tony Montana in Scarface (1983) redefined the American gangster. By the mid-1980s, Oliver combined his writing and directing talents, releasing the acclaimed Salvador and Platoon in the same year. Born on the Fourth of July (1989), The Doors (1991), JFK (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), Nixon (1995), Alexander (2004), and W. (2008) followed, making him Hollywood’s most politically engaged filmmaker.

As a producer and executive producer, he has championed films as diverse as South Central (1992), The Joy Luck Club (1993), and The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996). His work as a documentary filmmaker, harkening back to his innovative work on Salvador, focuses on Latin America. Oliver’s acclaimed trilogy on Fidel Castro, his sympathetic examination of progressive socialist governments in South of the Border (2009), and, most recently, The Untold History of the United States (2012), have argued for a more critical, global understanding of the Americas. Although Oliver’s career as a screenwriter has redefined the language and look of history, his 750-page book, co-authored with academic Peter Kuznick, used more conventional methods to argue for a public rethink of the way we teach US history.

Oliver has won three Oscars, five Golden Globes, and been nominated or awarded just about every other film accolade imaginable. He’s been called one of the most influential revisionist historians of the past four decades and a dangerous menace by ideologues and historians. He does pose a danger to those who refuse to acknowledge the United States’ history of imperialism, corruption, and obsession with violence. His next feature release, Snowden, is certain to make the establishment nervous.

In the face of the widespread controversy many of his films have generated, Oliver has commented: “Either you’re born crazy or you’re born boring.” Today, cineastes around the world are grateful that Oliver’s touch of madness has given us some of the sanest, most powerfully unblinking portraits of American culture ever committed to film.

It’s a privilege to honor his work in cinema, history, and politics.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, in the name of the Senate, I present for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Mr. Oliver Stone."

This oration was given by Dr. J. E. Smyth, Department of History, University of Warwick