Oliver Stone hits town


CHAMPAIGN — Oliver Stone said his anti-Vietnam War movie “Born on the Fourth of July” opened on the worst possible date — Dec. 17, 1989.

Three days later, President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. troops to invade the Panama Canal to take out Panama’s military dictator, Manuel Noriega.

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“The day it opened, there was a tremendous resurgence in patriotism. Everybody was excited,” Stone told the Ebertfest audience Saturday night after film critic Matt Zoller Seitz introduced him.

Stone, who received a standing ovation, said he was concerned that “Born on the Fourth of July” would tank.

It didn’t.

“It survived the invasion and did well around the world, but it had a rocky beginning. I hope you enjoy it,” he told the audience.

Before he motioned the crowd to sit, Stone stood at the podium on the Virginia Theatre stage, smiling and looking around the house.

“What a lovely pleasure to be here in Champaign,” he said. “Twenty-five years — it doesn’t seem like it. This will be a true test to see it with an audience to see whether it stands the test of time.”

The movie stars Tom Cruise as Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, a U.S. soldier who returns home paralyzed and in a wheelchair. The performance brought Cruise his first Academy Award nomination.

Stone, who had been a decorated infantryman in the war, co-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, basing it on Kovic’s bestselling autobiography of the same name.

The movie is considered part of the three-time Oscar winning director’s “trilogy” of films about the war. It came after “Platoon” and before “Heaven & Earth.”

“Born on the Fourth of July” garnered eight Academy Award nominations, winning for best director and best film editing.

Stone was to return to the stage after the screening to talk about the movie and take questions from the audience. Ebertfest ends today with the screening at noon of “Bayou Maharajah,” a music documentary about the late New Orleans musician James Booker.

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