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Chasing the Light: Writing, Directing, and Surviving Platoon, Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, and the Movie Game

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An intimate memoir by the controversial and outspoken Oscar-winning director and screenwriter about his complicated New York childhood, volunteering for combat, and his struggles and triumphs making such films as Platoon, Midnight Express, and Scarface.

Before the international success of Platoon in 1986, Oliver Stone had been wounded as an infantryman in Vietnam, and spent years writing unproduced scripts while driving taxis in New York, finally venturing westward to Los Angeles and a new life. Stone, now 73, recounts those formative years with in-the-moment details of the high and low moments: We see meetings with Al Pacino over Stone’s scripts for Scarface, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July; the harrowing demon of cocaine addiction following the failure of his first feature, The Hand (starring Michael Caine); his risky on-the-ground research of Miami drug cartels for Scarface; his stormy relationship with The Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino; the breathless hustles to finance the acclaimed and divisive Salvador; and tensions behind the scenes of his first Academy Award–winning film, Midnight Express.

Chasing the Light is a true insider’s look at Hollywood’s years of upheaval in the 1970s and ’80s.

373 pages, Kindle Edition

First published July 21, 2020

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About the author

Oliver Stone

63 books201 followers
Oliver Stone is the multiple Oscar-winning writer and director of Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Natural Born Killer, Midnight Express, and many other films.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 190 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,018 reviews556 followers
June 12, 2022
Although I’m not a big watcher of films these days, I’ve often enjoyed books penned by film people: Bryan Cranston, Frank Langella, David Lynch, David Niven and Ethan Hawke have all written books that are amongst the most enjoyable I’ve ever read or listened too. I think it’s because (to me at least) it’s an exciting world, full of great stories and big characters. But these people – all men, I’ve just noticed, though this is not by conscious design - are also all articulate and have interesting, sometimes quirky and often hilarious things to say.

So what of Oliver Stone? He was a bit of an unknown quantity to me, I’d seen Midnight Express – a film he’d written a screenplay for – but none of his other work, for which he’d either received a writing credit or had actually directed and/or produced. His account takes us from his early life, with an ambitious father and flighty French mother, through his brief time at college followed by escape to a teaching stint in Asia and then enlisting as a grunt to fight a war in Vietnam. The latter had a profound effect in him, he returned haunted but hardened.

He knew he wanted to make films and enlisted at NYU Film School where he was tutored by Martin Scorsese. He learned to make his films ‘personal’ but despite some early success with a very short piece about a soldier returning from war he was to find that his entry into professional film making was to be through writing. He wrote many screenplays, most of which were soundly rejected, and he eventually found success through his work on Scarface and Midnight Express. His early directorial efforts were fairly lamentable but he went all in with Salvador, a film he created from concept to final form, and then had a similar experience with Platoon. The former received critical success, Platoon broke box office records.

Personal struggles centred on a cocaine habit, born in Vietnam, and an immense drive that made him difficult to work with. Throughout this book Stone is brutally honest about his own failings and those of people he’s come across in both in his personal and professional life. A case in point is actor James Woods, who starred in his film Salvador. He has barely a civil word to say about the man through his account of the filming but then confides that they later formed a lasting friendship and subsequently worked together often. Stone also provides a fascinating insight into how films are made, particularly the financing element. He came close to going broke a number of times.

I’m not sure that I came away liking the man - he’s just too harsh, too full-on for me – but I certainly developed a significant amount of admiration for the way he’s battled his way through life. Well, that’s only partly true because this is only part of the story: the book ends after the filming of Wall Street, in 1987. If I feel a little cheated then I can offset this with the hope that part two of his memoirs is to follow at some future date. Such is the power of this account that I know I’ll be at the front of the queue for that one.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books980 followers
November 21, 2020
“This is a story about making a dream at all costs, even without money. It’s about cutting corners, improvising, hustling, cobbling together workarounds to get movies made and into theaters, not knowing where the next payday is coming from—or the next monsoon or scorpion bite.”

This memoir covers the ground of Oliver Stone’s struggles up to the 1986 release of Platoon. He hints at some of the movies he would make in the future, like Wall Street and JFK and Nixon, but mostly this tells how he got to that point on the stage of the Academy Awards to accept the Oscar for Best Director.

He tells the story of his youth and being sent to boarding school so he could go to Yale like his father. Stone was the good student and athlete and got into Yale, only to drop out—twice. He taught English in Asia, became a merchant marine, and then volunteered for Vietnam and wanted to be in the infantry. The anger and disillusion he confronted in that war would have a significant impact on his future artistic endeavors.

I didn’t realize that Stone was such a prolific screenplay writer before he found success as a director at the age of 40. He won his first Oscar at the age of 33 for best screenplay for Midnight Express, a movie about an American sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug smuggling. After that success, he struggled for the next several years, trying to make challenging-to-shoot movies in foreign countries on a shoestring budget, and he felt like a failure. After winning an Oscar! For those of us who have found success and failure in the arts or other aspects of our lives, reading this sort of thing is a good reminder of the importance of sticking with something difficult.

This was an interesting insiders’ view of how movies get made. Yes, there is a lot of technical stuff to making a film, but the money and the marketing and the rewrites and the uncertainty—what a difficult business to be a part of!

Stone talks about the behind-the-scenes players and some famous actors in a way that’s neither gushing nor brutal—he discusses their arrogance and abilities and insecurities in an even manner.

He reveals the years when he needed cocaine to get through the day and downers in the form of drugs and alcohol to quiet the demons in his mind. Then one day he simply went to France where his mother’s family is from and magically stopped abusing drugs.

People treated him very differently after the success of Platoon, but he never makes his life sound glamorous. The picture he paints is that of an endless struggle. Part of his personal money challenge was that he bought a 1.2 million-dollar home, so he really needed to keep bringing in money to pay that mortgage each month, but the struggle that interested me was securing the finances and then getting the publicity to get challenging, violent movies seen. Because he essentially stops the story in 1987, he doesn’t go into the challenges after he won the Oscar for Best Director, which was a bit of a bummer for me, but as you might guess from someone who won an Academy Award for best screenplay, he’s a really good writer, and I enjoyed this book.
Profile Image for Robert Appleton.
Author 54 books47 followers
July 27, 2020
I’ll have to admit, I was slightly disappointed when I learned that Oliver Stone’s autobiographical ‘Chasing the Light’ only covered his life up to his breakthrough success with Platoon. He made several great films after that, including some of the most fascinating and controversial of that generation: Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Natural Born Killers. What he’s given us here, though, feels neither truncated nor incomplete. Stone is interested in the forces that shaped him as a person and an artist, as well as the seeds of his mad ambition, which partly manifested themselves in his tempestuous filmmaking experiences. It’s a self-portrait: raw, emotional, brutally honest. Here we have the antithesis of the cliched shallow, ego-stroking Hollywood autobiography, as the writer-director lays bare his flaws and failures alongside his hard-fought victories.

From a happy, sheltered upbringing in New York’s Upper East Side – his stoic Jewish father worked on Wall Street, his vivacious French mother courted the Bohemian society – to his parents’ crushing divorce, on to his nomadic wanderings around South-East Asia, which led to him volunteering to fight in Vietnam, Stone’s early journey is joyful, sad, and a whirlwind of broken dreams and stirring passions. The way he describes himself, his spiral into aimlessness, we can see the adversities accumulate, forces that could either break a young man or forge him into something vital. It took time, heartbreaks, perseverance, and help along the way for him to find his personal spark in the creative process and fan it into screenplays that would blaze with his particular vision.

Even after he’d gained his foothold in Hollywood, he had to fight an uphill, Sisyphean battle every time, often to no avail. And the successes along the way, like Midnight Express and Scarface, inflicted wounds, both professionally and personally, that he carried into future projects. Lessons learned the hard way. At times Stone was his own worst enemy, by his own admission. Hubris, cocaine, naivety, arrogance, bad choices: his honesty is welcome, his self-analysis illuminating. I knew, by reputation, that he could be abrasive, but I didn’t realise how fragile his confidence could be. He’s a complicated guy, no question, and to his credit he digs deep to try to grapple with those contradictory forces.

Greek mythology has clearly had a profound influence on him. The way he approaches this literary self-portrait reminds me of his treatment of Alexander the Great – firstly, identify the forces that shaped what he would become, and then weave them throughout his life story, sometimes in non-linear fashion, with flashbacks, asides, and stream-of-consciousness passages. He never loses sight of those formative influences – his parents, their divorce, mythology, movies, combat, politics, etc. – and it’s a pleasure to see him address them at the various stages of his arduous climb to the top. Salvador and Platoon were the double-whammy that thrust him to the front ranks of American filmmakers in the mid-eighties. What’s clear from his behind-the-scenes accounts of those productions (and indeed the crazy journeys of the projects to production) is that he earned every bit of his success.

Chasing the Light is a riveting read. There’s rarely a dull page in this frank, fiercely self-aware autobiography. I’ve been a fan of Oliver Stone’s work for years, both as a writer and director, and this book has only bolstered my appreciation. It’s a scintillating chronicle of an artist’s almost Homeric struggle to discover, and eventually to blaze onto the screen, his own maverick, personal vision.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,622 reviews281 followers
June 15, 2021
In remarkable prose Oliver Stone tells of his first 40 years. He’s applied his screenwriting skills to a narrative that enables the reader to actually see his life. People and events jump off the page so that you can envision the significant parts of his life as you might a montage of movie shorts.

Stone has described his full self – that is his public, personal and inner lives - in a way I have never seen before. I combed my Goodreads autobios and memoirs to find something that compares but it not there. Stone didn’t have to do this. He could have held the reader with his eventful life alone.

His highs are high by any standard as his lows are low for someone with a prep school and college education. The highs may be easy to write (most autobios have them) but most stunning is the precise telling of the lows and how they feel.

Stone is similarly honest about people, but he doesn’t “dish”. He applies the adjectives he sees as fit. Dino DeLaurentis is cheap and Stone shows us how this is so. Michael Cimino exhausted everyone with takes and retakes. There are encounters with Al Pacino who shows something like moodiness or just detachment. He names those who use cocaine with him and the fair-weather stars and producers who flock to him when he has success, some who had left him in failure.

There is a lot on the nuts and bolts of the movie industry. He shows how script ideas originate, percolate around Hollywood, get optioned, are used as bargaining chips and should be returned when their options expire. There is a lot on financing, the many ways money is raised and how promised funds can vanish. Stone says some if it is a mystery to him too. There is the making of the film and how the script is marked, how the filming days are planned for maximum use of equipment, stars, extras and the light. He writes about how a film is edited and how even dialog can change in this process. The promotion of the film can be buffeted by other films. Promotional tours have highs and lows. One of the highlights was when you feel you are there with him sweating through the Oscars until the announcements when he won recognition for both his 1986 films.

I hope I don’t have to wait 40 years for the next installment. I hope the next one, (hopefully there will be one) will cover the JFK film and his explanation his for his recent overtures to Vladimir Putin.

I highly recommend this book for those who appreciate a good memoir and good prose. For an aspiring film director, screenwriter, producer or publicist this is a must read.
Profile Image for Ron S.
419 reviews26 followers
August 10, 2020
A well told memoir of the first 40 years of Stone's life, with a lot of detail about the trials and tribulations of movie making. This is not a Hollywood star's look back at sexual escapades and bad behavior and addiction issues (not that these things are entirely absent), but an attempt to remember and make sense of one's journey through life coupled with a lot of insight into the process of film making.
Profile Image for Graham Connors.
119 reviews16 followers
July 11, 2021
Powerful. Beautifully written. Frightening at times, and I'm not talking just about his experiences in Vietnam. This isn't a book for everyone but I am a fan of Stone's films so maybe I was predisposed to liking it. It isn't a biography, it's a recollection of a key decade in his life. Highly recommended, but approach with caution.
Profile Image for Vincent Masson.
41 reviews23 followers
September 6, 2021
This is a hard hitting, brutally honest and extremely introspective memoir. It's insight into the Hollywood system is extraordinary. It's observations and prose are astute and intelligent. Oliver Stone has made several of my favorite films, and probably some of the greatest American films of all time. He is a true artist -- uncompromising, visionary and fiercely passionate, and this great book holds nothing back.

It also - like any great work of art - made me feel less alone in my pursuits. I am glad I read this at a time when my filmmaking goals seem out of reach, and my soul is slowly being crushed by the weight of debt, purposelessness and anger. I am at an age, like Stone was, when people don't much care about what you're doing. They expect you to settle down, or at least have the common sense to stop toiling in poverty for something that seemingly won't come to fruition.

But some people have no choice -- They are artists. They have to do it. They lose all their vitality and energy If they stop their creative pursuits. Articulating this is extremely difficult to non-artists, and I'm glad people like Stone are still committed to it.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books174 followers
May 13, 2021
I really enjoyed this fast-moving memoir by maverick movie director Oliver Stone. PLATOON is one of my all time favorite movies and he tells the story of his life in a way that really makes you understand how all of his experiences shaped his later films. I hope he writes a second volume about JFK, NIXON and THE DOORS!
Profile Image for John Dennehy.
22 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2021
Stone does an excellent job of bringing the central character to life, but strangely for an autobiography, makes himself difficult to like. He’s born into a wealthy New York family, attends private school, drops out of Yale, and decides to join the war in Vietnam. He returns home to indulge in a decades long drug binge and, cushioned by the world of privilege around him, gets into film school which sows the seeds of his later success as a screenwriter and director. The book is used to settle old scores of which there are plenty. He describes himself as paranoid, insecure, narcissistic and generally a pretty repulsive character. Maybe honesty is his redeeming trait. He’s got plenty of strange sexual references to his mother and borderline predatory descriptions of encounters with young women. It comes as little surprise that he defended the likes of Harvey Weinstein in his time of need. In fairness, he is a gifted writer and director. Separating the man from the work is a challenge.
Profile Image for KOMET.
1,053 reviews127 followers
September 13, 2021
Last year, I first got wind of Oliver Stone's memoir, "CHASING THE LIGHT", when I listened to Stone being interviewed about it on the BBC Radio 4 program 'Front Row.' Oliver Stone is someone whose work as a director I've been aware of since the mid 1980s. Frankly, until I read his memoir, I had no idea of his background and list of achievements as a scriptwriter in Hollywood from the 1970s following his graduation from NYU Film School. I also have heard Stone speak over the years via TV and radio interviews on a variety of subjects. He's a rather fascinating person.

"CHASING THE LIGHT" takes the reader from Stone's birth in 1946, the son of a Wall Street stockbroker (who had served on General Eisenhower's staff in Paris during WWII) and a Frenchwoman -- to 1987, when he had come into his own (after many setbacks) as a director and screenwriter. I recommend this memoir to anyone who loves the movies and human interest stories.

Profile Image for Bruce Perry.
Author 42 books20 followers
December 24, 2020
Oliver Stone is a screenwriter and director who has made some of the finest and/or most provocative and emblematic movies of the 1980s/1990s. The list will astound you ("I didn't know one artist was responsible for all of those!"): Midnight Express, Scarface, Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Nixon, JFK, The Doors, the list goes on.

His auto-bio is breezy and readable; I liked his descriptions of Vietnam experiences, NYU student days (I was at NYU in the 1970s-wished I had run into Oliver Stone, maybe I would have gotten more writing going earlier!), and young-writer struggles more than his nitty-gritty pages on financing and managing the production of movies. You come away with the impression that making movies during that era was anything but a straightforward process; it was chaotic and utterly bonkers. This is also a good book for young film-makers on the artistic process itself, as well as the reality of how directors and writers have to stick to their guns as they lock horns with bare-knuckled, dictatorial Hollywood producer types.
Profile Image for Susan.
633 reviews5 followers
July 28, 2020
Mixed feelings about this one. While I have loved some of his movies and was happy to read about the making of them, up to a point, Stone goes on and on and on, ad nauseam, about problems with funding, filming, whatever. It got so I was just swiping away while reading on my Kindle. The most fascinating parts of his story were his childhood and time spent in France when he was a kid. I had no idea he was half French and his parents met in Paris during WWII. Interesting and then it ends abruptly. Almost seems like in the middle of a thought.
Profile Image for Sean Stevens.
173 reviews17 followers
June 13, 2021
Oliver Stone narrates his life up until the “PLATOON years”from soldier to screenwriter in an engaging and candid memoir that sets itself apart from most Hollywood stories in that he tells of embarrassments, insecurities most Tinseltown tales try to hide. I enjoyed the introspective side which is symbolized by his ease with French - his mother’s native tongue. This introspection helps explain how the filmmaker emerges out of a Vietnam grunt (who actually volunteered for the front lines.)
Profile Image for Tariq Mahmood.
Author 2 books1,023 followers
August 21, 2021
I am glad I eventually decided to read this book as I generally tend to avoid the movie industry. Book turned out to be a real page-turner although quite technical most of the time which is a challenge for laypeople to follow. Oliver used movie scripts and directing to deal with his former bad experiences of a difficult childhood, adolescence and Vietnam tour to great effects. He put his heart and soul into his projects supported by fringe investors. But that's exactly one point he fails to mention; whatever his complaints about the American movie industry, especially in their reluctance to fund realistic projects, he was still able to find investors to fund his projects which would have been almost impossible to enlist in many other countries.
Profile Image for Armand Rosamilia.
Author 238 books2,742 followers
September 29, 2020
Despite Oliver Stone directing two of my favorite movies, I knew next to nothing about him. What I thought I knew: he was simply a politically polarizing man who enjoyed controversy. This autobiography sheds light on his upbringing, his parents, his forays into not only directing but writing, dealing with the politics of movies and so much more. He's honest about his missteps and where he went wrong in his past, and what he's learned (if at all) from them. The insider's look into his first few movies is amazing as well.
34 reviews9 followers
February 5, 2021
I really loved this book and it's even better if you listen to Oliver Stone narrating it on Audible. I am fitter as a result of listening to it as I had to keep on walking to find out what happened next. His childhood was heart-breaking and it is easy to understand the huge impact his experiences had on his life. He ends the book on a high, when he is 40. What a journey! This man is a true warrior, warts and all! Looking forward to the next one.
Profile Image for Brian Niemiec.
120 reviews1 follower
September 17, 2020
It's Oliver Stone and it's about himself, so naturally it's self-indulgent, but that doesn't make it any less good. Stone is and always has been a solid writer. It feels like he's being honest about his relationships and the highs and lows of making Salvador and Platoon. There's so much more to his story, like a rich catalog of film in the 90s. I hope he writes a follow-up.
Profile Image for E. Nicholas Mariani.
113 reviews9 followers
December 22, 2020
My God, this was such a rollicking good read. Lively and entertaining, brutally honest at times. Ostensibly, the book is billed as a Hollywood memoir, but it's really a tale of perseverance, of pursuing a dream at all costs, of staying true oneself in the face of a thousand different obstacles and setbacks, only to finally break through at 40 -- an age in which most people in Hollywood are already considered washed up. Maybe I'm biased as a Hollywood screenwriter who's also in his late 30s and often feels like he's battling an impossible system, but I found Stone's story to be incredibly inspiring. Granted, who the hell knows how much of this is actually true or what unsavory details Stone might have left out, but the book that's here is really fantastic. Anyone interested in Hollywood or Stone's work or what it takes to be a writer/director in Hollywood will enjoy this immensely. Of that, I have no doubt.
Profile Image for Susan Stuber.
190 reviews98 followers
August 6, 2021
It may surprise many people that Stone is such a good writer. In this autobiography, which covers his first forty years, he talks intimately and with much tenderness and psychological insight about himself and his relationships with his parents, his wives and his business partners. His story of how he got into the movie industry and how he plowed on despite his many scrapes, setbacks and disappointments along the way is inspiring. Probably only certain people will read all the detailed narrative of the actual movie making, and I for one did skip some of it, but all in all I found it interesting to learn just how difficult and even sometimes dangerous the business is. It made me want to watch "Platoon" again, even though I have sworn off watching any more war movies. I'll certainly read the follow-up to this book though, as I have probably watched "JFK" three times.
Profile Image for Mark.
23 reviews2 followers
January 20, 2022
I picked this up on a whim because I've always been intrigued by Oliver Stone, what I did not expect was to be completely engrossed in his story of grit, tenacity and self doubt during a lifelong battle to achieve something seemingly so far out of reach. The book is well written, hilarious at times and heart wrenching at others. He captures the plight of so many creatives on an expedition to reach for something, not all make it to their destination but the battle is here and so well told, though this is his personal story with intimate details of failed relationships and professional rejections, there is so much to identify with, blow by blow in the pursuit. Very highly recommended for anyone enduring the long suffering journey to reach for something.
Profile Image for David Hall.
40 reviews3 followers
September 30, 2020
Just finished Oliver Stone’s mesmerising and poetic autobiography, recounting his turbulent career up to the making of Platoon in 1986.

Whatever you think of his films or some of his views, he’s a gifted writer and comes across as very human. It has made me go back to his early films and I’m struck by how gritty and political they are in an age where Top Gun gloss ruled. I am looking forward to part two very much.
Profile Image for Richard.
Author 6 books32 followers
October 13, 2020
As Jim would say, motels, money, murder, madness.
In a good way.
2,154 reviews31 followers
December 7, 2020

“In my seventy-plus years from 1946 to now, the chorus of fear-mongering bullshit has never ceased-only grown louder.”

Without doubt Oliver Stone remains one of my favourite contemporary directors, true he’s done some stinkers but he’s also delivered some classics too. He relates the finer details of his immensely privileged background and upbringing. We learn about his brief time at Yale, studying at NYU under Martin Scorsese, spiking his dad’s whisky with LSD (his dad actually enjoys it) and of course his volunteering for Vietnam. He opens up about his own hellish experience of being thrown in a Mexican jail. After a while these serious drugs charges mysteriously disappeared and he is eventually freed due to his wealthy dad and his connections, he says, “Ah the power of money.”

There is some really nice writing in here, particularly in the opening stages. The way he recalls his time in Vietnam as he played his part in the horror and madness of that invasion, is particularly memorable. As most people reading this may already know Charlie Sheen’s character in Platoon was largely based on Stone and his own experience. Though not so many will know that apparently the role was turned down by Keanu Reeves, who found the script “too violent.”

We eventually find ourselves deep in a dark and murky world over populated by an endless conveyor belt of two-faced , needy, childish brats who demand constant attention or validation believing that they should always get their own way no matter what…and the actors can be just as bad too. At times his rants against the usual Hollywood BS can be highly refreshing and even entertaining. Though some of the antics and tantrums can be truly exhausting to read about, so I shudder to think what they must have been like to endure first hand.

Stone can certainly be a little pretentious at times, and prone to melo-drama, but then he did attend acting school and he is involved in the dramatic arts. He also seems to readily embrace victimhood, which isn’t always unwarranted. Unfortunately the quality and consistency of the prose does drop off from around mid-way or so as we get swamped with sometimes tedious details and petty squabbles which always seem to revolve around power, money and ego.

We see the huge difficulties and dramas in raising and sustaining sufficient finance for projects and how that can quickly sap energy and willpower. This book strips all the romance and mythology out of the film making process and reminds us what it really is all about, the bottom line and the profit margin for already wealthy, opportunistic men in positions of power and how when it all comes down to it, the banks almost always have the last word and that the money men tend to have more say and impact on a film than the creatives do.

So this is certainly one of the more refreshing books on Hollywood from someone mired in that chaos, it stands up with other insightful memoirs by the likes of Rupert Everett and Richard E. Grant. Overall this is a largely well-told story of a highly talented and tempestuous man who has lived a fairly varied and interesting life, but one thing we cannot and should not forget, that in spite of his and the book’s best intentions this is not the story of an underdog overcoming the odds. It is also the story of a white, attractive male who came from immense privilege and attended one of the most elite universities on the planet. It would be disingenuous to the point of ludicrousness to suggest otherwise. Hollywood loves to diminish the origins in order to falsely inflate the destination by comparison. Hollywood was made exactly for people like Stone to flourish.
4,688 reviews48 followers
August 15, 2020
I won this book in a goodreads drawing.

Oliver Stone was a controversial but successful film maker for years, but is now on the wrong side of PC and will probably never make another movie.

Most of his early life is the same sort of cookie cutter upper class Baby Boomer stuff until his parents divorce in the early 60's. From there, he breaks with his parents, dropping out of Yale, writing, going to Vietnam, where he gets PTSD, and being obsessed with Jim Morrison.

Then he slowly but surely starts on the path to making movies, where he is extremely successful. I always felt like he wussed out in The Doors, ignoring the several conspiracy theories surrounding Morrison's death.

I don't feel like I understand Stone any better after reading this, or like him any more, but it's still very readable.
Profile Image for Karen Sawatzky.
58 reviews1 follower
October 24, 2020
Loved his telling of the gonzo movie making business and early filmmaking career.
Profile Image for Bonnie E..
159 reviews22 followers
August 26, 2022
Stone is a first-rate raconteur. Interesting to hear about his childhood as the product of a stern righteous father and charismatic French mother, who ultimately divorced following infidelities by both. Stone brilliantly recounts episodes from his time in the army in Vietnam, with one particularly vivid account of a chaotic and terrifying firefight in the jungle in the middle of the night. He felt and heard the enemy all around although he never actually saw any Viet Cong until he and others were charged with the mass burial of the bodies of 400 enemy soldiers the next day. There are fascinating insights into the inner workings of Hollywood - writing screenplays and directing movies like Scarface, Salvador and Platoon. He shares stories about some pretty insane filmmaking adventures in Mexico and the Philippines and admits that today he couldn’t get away with the risks he took back then. Stone talks about what it was like working with some famous people, but even when he’s being critical, I don’t get the sense he’s trying to wreak revenge or even an old score with anybody. He is very evenhanded overall.

This memoir ends when he’s about forty years old, with many accomplishments and some failures still ahead of him. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I appreciated his candor about his own failings and insecurities. I have been a fan of some of Stone’s work, although not all, and had no idea what kind of man he was. Having read it, I have to respect him for what he’s accomplished.
Profile Image for Robert Appleton.
Author 54 books47 followers
July 27, 2020
I’ll have to admit, I was slightly disappointed when I learned that Oliver Stone’s autobiographical ‘Chasing the Light’ only covered his life up to his breakthrough success with Platoon. He made several great films after that, including some of the most fascinating and controversial of that generation: Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Natural Born Killers. What he’s given us here, though, feels neither truncated nor incomplete. Stone is interested in the forces that shaped him as a person and an artist, as well as the seeds of his mad ambition, which partly manifested themselves in his tempestuous filmmaking experiences. It’s a self-portrait: raw, emotional, brutally honest. Here we have the antithesis of the cliched shallow, ego-stroking Hollywood autobiography, as the writer-director lays bare his flaws and failures alongside his hard-fought victories.

From a happy, sheltered upbringing in New York’s Upper East Side – his stoic Jewish father worked on Wall Street, his vivacious French mother courted the Bohemian society – to his parents’ crushing divorce, on to his nomadic wanderings around South-East Asia, which led to him volunteering to fight in Vietnam, Stone’s early journey is joyful, sad, and a whirlwind of broken dreams and stirring passions. The way he describes himself, his spiral into aimlessness, we can see the adversities accumulate, forces that could either break a young man or forge him into something vital. It took time, heartbreaks, perseverance, and help along the way for him to find his personal spark in the creative process and fan it into screenplays that would blaze with his particular vision.

Even after he’d gained his foothold in Hollywood, he had to fight an uphill, Sisyphean battle every time, often to no avail. And the successes along the way, like Midnight Express and Scarface, inflicted wounds, both professionally and personally, that he carried into future projects. Lessons learned the hard way. At times Stone was his own worst enemy, by his own admission. Hubris, cocaine, naivety, arrogance, bad choices: his honesty is welcome, his self-analysis illuminating. I knew, by reputation, that he could be abrasive, but I didn’t realise how fragile his confidence could be. He’s a complicated guy, no question, and to his credit he digs deep to try to grapple with those contradictory forces.

Greek mythology has clearly had a profound influence on him. The way he approaches this literary self-portrait reminds me of his treatment of Alexander the Great – firstly, identify the forces that shaped what he would become, and then weave them throughout his life story, sometimes in non-linear fashion, with flashbacks, asides, and stream-of-consciousness passages. He never loses sight of those formative influences – his parents, their divorce, mythology, movies, combat, politics, etc. – and it’s a pleasure to see him address them at the various stages of his arduous climb to the top. Salvador and Platoon were the double-whammy that thrust him to the front ranks of American filmmakers in the mid-eighties. What’s clear from his behind-the-scenes accounts of those productions (and indeed the crazy journeys of the projects to production) is that he earned every bit of his success.

Chasing the Light is a riveting read. There’s rarely a dull page in this frank, fiercely self-aware autobiography. I’ve been a fan of Oliver Stone’s work for years, both as a writer and director, and this book has only bolstered my appreciation. It’s a scintillating chronicle of an artist’s almost Homeric struggle to discover, and eventually to blaze onto the screen, his own maverick, personal vision.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Michael.
285 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2020

It's very honest--a little catty and overly arrogant--but illuminating. The book covers the director's early life and early work and his most interesting films (post-Platoon) are left, possibly, for the next memoir. He does spend a sufficient amount of time trashing James Woods' behavior on the set of Salvadore, which was a particularly fun part.
Profile Image for Chris DiLeo.
Author 11 books52 followers
August 14, 2020
This was an excellent read with some great insight into Stone's life, creativity, and approach to making movies.

The book covers the first forty years of his life, specifically focusing on his tour in Vietnam and then the subsequent twenty years trying to make it in the film business, culminating with the success of PLATOON.

Many readers will be interested in his stories about fellow Hollywood-types and his partying, etc., but I was far more intrigued by his drive to write screenplays and direct movies. I would've liked even more of that, in fact, along the line of the Paul Simon biography that focused almost exclusively on how Simon wrote his songs.

That said, there are still great Stone-insights throughout the book that relate to the creative drive and the imaginative mind.

Much space is devoted (although even more could have been) to PLATOON, a masterpiece of filmmaking, and what is so intriguing is that for Stone the film was the movie he'd always wanted to make but he had no delusions about it. He didn't himself consider it brilliant—but he did strive for it to be honest.

And in that sense, this book succeeds.
268 reviews2 followers
December 3, 2020
Oliver Stone, one of America's most controversial and sometimes successful filmmakers, chronicles his life, and his first four movies, in this warts-and-all biography.
I almost gave it five stars, but large parts of the book were not that interesting to me. He writes at length about his parents – both interesting people, to be sure – but I was interested in his films, not his parents. But once parental history gets out of the way, most of the rest of the book really cooks. His lengthy descriptions of writing and directing Salvador and Platoon should be required reading for film buffs, and anyone who wants to make a film. The making of both films was hellish, from the financing to the filming, but it paid off in Oscars and box office. Stone might come off as a bit of a leftish lecturer at times, but he's a man who stands by his beliefs. The book goes as far as Platoon (which I saw in the theatre when it was released; it absolutely floored me), so I suspect a second book will detail his other films, like Wall Street and JFK. In the meantime, enjoy Chasing the Light.
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