Oliver Stone Tells Spike Lee About His Own Original Pitch for ‘Da 5 Bloods,’ and Why He Couldn’t ‘Solve’ It

There was no one else to go to, everyone else said no. Lee: They did, they were great.
The truth is, I hoped on the intelligence of the movie going audience, that first it might be a shock. But they would get it, they would understand that these guys are playing themselves. So again, I wasn't sure. But like my brother Marlon Brando, from "Guys and Dolls," I rolled my dice and said "luck be a lady tonight," I don't sing and it was the snake eyes. When you think about it, these men are going back to Vietnam 40 years later, so in their mind they're there at as 17, 18, 19 years old.
Stone: Yeah. Today I just got the word that National Geographic said no.
I sat through that movie, I didn't know what the fuck was gonna happen next. Nothing cliched. You're taking taking enormous chances with this movie. And that is, that's amazing. Some things don't get resolved, but that's okay. And you don't give a fuck. Because you really keep everybody up, you keep me off balance. You're flying very fast. I mean, you really fly. Nothing predictable. I did not know.
Stone: I have not found a home yet, I just haven't. I guess it's been such a rough journey that sometimes you get… I haven't been inspired either to make a film.
Let's have a drink sir. Lee: I have to see it in Cannes, where I'll be president of the jury.
With the Delroy he goes through an amazing transformation. "I'm fucked up. He knows it from the beginning, he references it at times he brings it up. Stone: The difference is, of course, Bogart dies, the same paranoid selfish motherfuck. He knows something's wrong with him. I can't adapt."
And you got "Heaven And Earth." Have you thought about, "Can I go back one more time?" Or are you done? You've done the trilogy, "Platoon," "Born On The Fourth of July," which I think is [Tom] Cruise's best performance, in my opinion.
The producer Lloyd Leven had this kind of crazy idea, I forgot if it was a script or a treatment. And they get together and they bond and they go back to find the treasure. Stone: As you know, I worked on the project before you came into it. But things go wrong, as in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" greed emerges all kinds of problems emerge. But I liked the idea very much of going back to Vietnam as an older man and taking on this "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" kind of feeling, going for these old guys who never had success in life back in the world.
I know you're very busy. I went to NYU because of [Martin] Scorsese and Stone. Spike Lee: It is my honor and pleasure to be having this discussion, this dialogue, this conversation of one of the great filmmakers of all time, my NYU brother, Oliver Stone. I want to thank you for doing this. The two S's.
Read the conversation below and watch the interview above.
You don't have to think about all the, "Does that plot point hang together or that plot point," it hangs together in the sense of its poetry. You have accept it on these conditions. It's probably not realistic in the sense of that that happened, that happened, that happened. But that's part of the style of the movie, it's grand guignol. It works for me.
How can you go and prove that it's true? Where are you going to find this information except in this film? You have to have some imagination here. Stone: They said they did their fact check. If they do a fact check, according to conventional sources, of course it'll come out like this is not true. Yeah. It's very, it's very tough.
I went I went to NYU grad film, undergrad with the Morehouse College. Ang Lee and Ernest Dickerson were my classmates, class of '82. Lee: My thesis film won the student cameo award.
And I love it. And it's you, it's so you that it makes me look at all your work and see how fucking crazy you are. You take big chances, man, big chances all the way down the line. It's such a crazy film. Oliver Stone: Spike, I love the film.
You you go over all the bumps pretty well. You're smooth man. Sometimes I get I let the bumps get to me. Stone: Whenever I talk to you, I always feel like it's easier for you.
To get in his relationship with women with real people, the movement, but also his doubts. Stone: I think that was his death sentence. That would be a good movie, Martin Luther King the real story, without all the bullshit Life Magazine crap. Which you have in this movie, you have a great sense of spirituality. He certainly had enemies in J. He was a profound human being… And you feel the tension, the torture that Delroy Lindo is going through to great performance, great performance should be considered for an Academy Award. King was really haunted by spirits, his spiritual folly. Edgar Hoover, big enemies.
Variety brought the Oscar-winning NYU film grads together for the Directors on Directors series to discuss the origins of "Da 5 Bloods" and its important journey to unearth the real history of America's oppression and systemic racism.
Stone: From there you go to Crispus Attucks the revolutionary war hero.
Lee: During the height of the war it was at 30%, and at the same time 10% of the American population was African American.
They were not empowered to investigate, but they were empowered to clarify. The movie kicked off the assassination records review board for five years. It makes the case harder, tighter. And they did the best they could with these limitations. It's about real facts that are shocking to people. It's based on the facts that came out of the of the movie. Stone: Well, the four hours that we did is very powerful. The facts that they presented, we go into.
Stone: [I'm] doing documentaries because they're direct and I can go right to the audience and say this and this. Even there, I'm having problems. I'm doing one on energy and I'm doing one on JFK.
Yes. The monologue is amazing, and shot in many different styles. And of course, culminates in a very sad, like Bogart he gets killed by the bandits.
Lee: Eighteen years old, Milton Olive and he jumped on a grenade to save his his his fellow Americans lives.
Lee: So you can't you can't find a home for this doc?
I wanted to ask you, why did you use the older actors to play the younger versions? Stone: If I get another book out, it'll be it'll be there.
Lee: Thank you for those those comments, I really appreciate it. I don't think a lot of people knew that originally, Lloyd Levin brought this script, I think was called "The Last Tour," to my brother Oliver.
"Pinkville" is the story of Mỹ Lai massacre. And it was an independent company like at that time and they folded. We did a tremendous amount of research, we got all the equipment together, it was a huge undertaking. Bruce Willis was supposed to be one of the stars and he got he got cold feet. Stone: I tried a fourth time before this movie. We were about three weeks from shooting when the money fell out, it was during the financial crisis. For me it was a heartbreaker and then I said "never again." Lloyd came to me sometime in 2011 or 12, I was trying to make "Pinkville" in 2007.
Let's keep it real. You're just as crazy as me. Come on, pat yourself on the back too. Lee: Oliver!
I guess I've done well. Well, you've done well. Stone: Oh, yeah. I've seen it twice now. You've established a name, a brand, a way of filmmaking that is very rare. Let's talk about "Da 5 Bloods," which blew me away.
Right? Stone: Well, frankly, it's been… And I guess they treated you okay. you're working with Netflix.
Lee: Oliver, this is what I tell my students and you know the same, we're in a fucking tough business.
Lee: You're doing your doc series, right?
Lee: The bookends of this film are two of the most early vocal opponents of this immoral war. It's my belief, I'm not the only one, that he was not assassinated because of civil rights. He's talking about the war machine, big money. And as you know in America, when you start fucking with the money. When he started talking about how this war is immoral. He was assassinated one year later to the day. It begins with Muhammad Ali's saying, "No Vietcong ever called me n—–." And then we end with Dr. Martin Luther King, giving one of his great speeches at Riverside Church in New York City.
But then Lloyd came to me years later with this script that was fun. Because for you, it was about this conceived idea of what the Black soldier had gone through in Vietnam. You make the point in the movie, 30% of the troops in Vietnam… I said that it should be an adventure movie, "let's Let's go for it." I didn't have the moral mission on this that you had.
Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre. He called Colin Kaepernick and the Black players of the NFL, unpatriotic to kneel. Black people have been dying for this country from the get. And that's where we cut to the painting of him being killed and the portrait of Crispus Attucks. Lee: And the reason why I did that, Oliver is that because of this President, I don't call him by his name I call him Agent Orange. And my thing was, motherfucker, do you know the first person to die for this country was a Black man?
Does that ever come back to you? Lee: Do you still think about yourself as a young man in Vietnam?
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Stone: I've examined it sure, I made a movie about it. All our priorities are wrong, Spike. It's wasted money. We can do so much more with it. Because we keep fighting. But continue to do this, this system of war, the system of interference and other people's affairs, this system that says we dominate the universe, and you'll have to do it our way is insane. We could have lifted America. Now we're spending a trillion dollars for what? We're never going to get out of this hole. I was part of a system that I totally condemn now. We need an enemy because we have to keep funding this preparations for war. I've reflected on it quite a lot. Never. The oppression, what we did to the Vietnamese it was obscene, completely obscene and uncalled for. We need an enemy, you know that.
And although you make them heroes, in a sense, they're also very vulnerable. Otis, Clarke Peters, is a man whose softer, tender has a relationship with a Vietnamese woman Tiên. Of course, Delroy Lindo is the Humphrey Bogart of the role. Stone: That's a big number but it certainly makes sense…
This is where you really helped me out. You may not remember this Oliver, I was at Warner Brothers in post production [on "Malcom X"] while you were finishing "JFK." And we showed them a four-hour cut the same day as the Rodney King verdict, the same day. Lee: I want to tell the audience a story.
Stone: It was three hours and eight minutes as I remember.
But that was his death sentence in '67 when he said that. He was right, because it was really horrible at that point, and he knew it. But if you get into the Vietnam War, the war machine, and America is the most violent purveyor in the world of violence. That is what got to them. They treat him, "Yes, civil rights, he's great". Stone: I totally agree with you. I think that was the reason he was assassinated. He's attacking his country on a broad scale. The world as we have it now our culture is, denies him that.
Lee: Netflix said no?
Stone: It's wonderful. And you're educating the audience.
We were a guerilla outfit, I guess. We were always chasing the light. They had much better equipment than we ever had. It taught us a lot. We made films, pasted it together with glue and paper clips. It was unreviewed. Did you make films there? We had to struggle. They had big money, they had cameras to shoot. You had to do it yourself. At least in the old days. We had very few lights. It was not the USC and all those schools had everyone. Stone: Well, NYU had the low-budget reputation. I liked that way of working.
Stone: Well, it was a pleasure.
You have this documentary approach to it. You early on in the film, you go right into the business about the first man, the first black Vietnam soldier killed in Vietnam was a man named… Stone: I love your films when cut away to a documentary clip out of the blue.
Lee: Great film.
Lee: Did he bring like Bogart?
Known for his Vietnam War movies from "Platoon" to "Born on the Fourth of July," Stone seemed like a good fit for the film, but there was one problem — he couldn't "solve" the movie. However, before "Da 5 Bloods" was a Spike Lee joint, it was titled "The Last Tour" and Oliver Stone was attached to direct.
But. Lee's Netflix film changed that by putting the story of four 60-something veterans reuniting in Vietnam under his lens. After years of distance the men return to the wilderness to honor their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman) and uncover the gold they buried decades ago. digging up their past uncovers the pain and grief each soldier has been carrying with them for ages in this time-jumping narrative from Netflix.
He goes into this monologue at the end of the movie, which I think you it goes on and on and on, but over different time periods and it culminates when you realize that he's digging his grave in front of these bandits who are interested in the gold. I mean, I'll tell you, it's such a crazy movie. What you do with Delroy has not been done with a filmmaker ever. Stone: Oh, yeah, absolutely and beyond. They say it's our gold, which is he sees the Vietcong come back to haunt him.
One of the first days he worked was the first battle sequence in the flashback. Now I understand why Chadwick didn't want anyone to know, especially the director. Lee: First time we ever worked together, Oliver, I didn't know he was terminally ill. He had to do 100 yard sprints and it's 100 degrees. Only his inner circle knew. He did not want to cheat us or cheat his fellow actors, that is why he did not tell anybody. Chadwick did not want to be treated differently. If I had known, no way I'm gonna ask him to run. We'd been shooting for four or five weeks before it came time for him to do his part. He wanted to do what everyone else did. And I think it's heroic.
And you were there. I's just like to tell everybody, Oliver was one of the first people I spoke to after the film came out. Then you just gave me a great big, big, big love hug over the phone. Lee: Thank you. So I want to thank you for that. I don't know shit. So I was very, very on edge [with] how you were gonna dig the film. And I'm gonna be honest, everyone, I was very nervous [with] what my brother was gonna think about this because again, '67, '68 I'm 10. I'm a pipsqueak.
And then three years later, that the king is like, "Yo, this war is wrong." Lee: LBJ felt betrayed because he thought he had a partner in in MLK, and getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 together.
That'a a documentary in itself. And one day, I hope you get to tell the story behind making that film. Lee: "JFK" is such a brave, brave film.
Lee: What was the reason they said no?
Stone: In Europe.
That's what I get from it. It's an insane movie and I love the insanity of it. It's exclusively about that experience, not necessarily in reality, but it transcends reality because it's a love poem.
Afterwards we knew we weren't going to be able to have a four hour film in the theater, but we wanted to see the four hour cut. So afterwards, I said, "How long is JFK?" And on my mother's grave, they said, "We're working with Oliver, it's two hours." So I called you up, you might not remember this, I called you up, I said, "My brother, Oliver how long is 'JFK?'" You said, "Three hours, but don't tell him I told you." True story!
We don't want to go to USC. We wanted to go to NYU. We went to NYU because of you, and Marty We didn't want to go to a AFI. Lee: In film school, NYU, Scorsese was there ahead of you. But you and Marty were the guys we studied.
Lee: What's the the status of JFK documentary?
You solved it. You solved it in a strange way because you went entirely Black. That's what you're doing when I see the movie, to me. Stone: I never was able to solve it in a way that was satisfactory to me, with those characters that we had. The movie is a love poem to Black Vietnam soldiers.
I appreciate it. Lee: You don't know how much you've been helping me.
And I'd also like to say that I was born March 20, 1957. So '67 on, the height of the Vietnam War, I was just a kid, and you were there. And a large part of my new film, "Da 5 Bloods" I learned from you from "Platoon," "Born on the Fourth July," and "Heaven And Earth." You weren't doing this from reading a book or somebody telling you that, you were there, Oliver.
And his child now shows up in Vietnam to help him with another crazy twists. And this whole relationship between father and son plays out. You have so many plot lines going into this movie that it's perhaps too much for some people, but it's part of your boldness.
” /> The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
After decades of producing blockbuster war stories and award-winning battle scene epics, the story of the Black Vietnam veteran has been largely neglected by Hollywood. Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods" captured a critical point of view lost from film.
Lee: Two things. So even if it's half that amount, I don't got it. First of all, the budget $43 million. I don't know, I asked Marty. Netflix was the last place we can go. They said "Spike, this is what we got. But I knew I only had 43. And at the same time, our brother, Martin Scorsese had his film. It's your choice." I said bet, I want to do it at 43. And there were rumors that $100 million plus had been spent on the de-aging.
Lee: That came directly from "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" where the ones that caught the bandits, they made them dig their own graves.
I'm waiting for the next Oliver Stone joint. What are you working on now?
I want to thank you and I'm saying this behalf of all the viewers too. I can't wait to see this four hour "JFK." I know you're very busy. Lee: I want to thank you. You're one of my heroes, said before NYU, your films, we studied you. We still study you.
I thought it was very much like they were encountering a ghost. Stone: It didn't bother me. And Chadwick Boseman, what was he like to work with? It was a ghost of their past. And that's what the movie is about, living with your ghosts.
Lee: When I did "Malcolm X," you also allowed me to use the clip of "JFK." When Denzel [Washington] gets his great performance, and when he got in trouble with the nation he made a speech talking about the assassination. Thank you for giving me that clip of "JFK" to put right behind Denzel as Malcolm X was saying that. "This is America when the chickens come home to roost." Right there, we cut to the clip of the assassination.
Stone: Not yet. That's a big step for us because, at least, if it can't be recognized in America as a document, it will be recognized in the end by international people. It's not for the American side of it. Cannes invited us for July, or June, of this year. And that's important.
I'm not sure. And I'm glad that Warner Brothers gave you the support it did at least it got out there. Stone: It was an important film and I'm glad you made it. I'm not sure that they would release a large film like that. Which you know, I don't know if we could do that today except on television with Netflix.
Keep making Joints. Stone: I look forward to it.

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