In his new film, Savages, pot growers who enrage a drug cartel, are the protagonists. One of his three Oscars was for adapting Midnight Express. And then, of course, there’s The Doors, Natural Born Killers, and Scarface, director Oliver Stone curates drug movies, from Dragonwyck to Easy Rider.
To choose his favorite drug films, director Oliver Stone thought about how drugs were used as devices in the movies: Were they part of a character or an end in and of itself?
“I tried to remember what drug films really moved me, and I don’t think of drugs quite the same way as some people do—as being this bad, illicit thing, and mind-blowing trips, and it changes you forever, Reefer Madness kind of stuff,” Stone said. “So I was thinking as a movie device, where did drugs fascinate me?”
Here are Stone’s picks, as told to Maria Elena Fernandez and then amended by Stone:
1. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and 2. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
I remember being very affected by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—with Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman (1941). What is Dr. Jekyll doing? He’s a good man, well-loved by his friends, and here he is retreating strangely to his laboratory and playing with his gene structure for the benefit of mankind. It’s a story of change, and, of course, extreme-- one of the most popular short stories of all time. Hyde does horrible things, and the way Spencer Tracy changes himself is fascinating; he’s not using much in the way of visual effects, it’s from within. That’s where you see the drug working, and you feel sorry for him.
The earlier version, the one with Frederic March, has always been the more esteemed one because he got an Oscar. March is, as always, excellent, but there’s something about Tracy; it was more interesting. It’s more of an inner. You can play the drug as if you’re changing faces, looking in from the outside. Or it can come from the hell in your soul, and that’s the way Tracy played it.
3. Dragonwyck (1946)
I don’t even know if it was a drug movie, because I was young when I saw it. It’s an interesting melodrama done by Joseph Mankiewicz before he hit that high with All About Eve. He worked with Gene Tierney, who was one of the most beautiful women, I think, ever graced the screen. She plays a girl of humble origins who’s married off in New York State in the 1840s by her Puritan parents to a local aristocrat in the area. Played by guess who? Vincent Price, young and handsome. It’s based on a novel, and in the story he behaves quite strangely. He has a private attic office in a grand mansion where he retreats for long stretches. She finds herself growing attracted to him, although he routinely disappears. She realizes, during the course of the movie that his family is insane. One day she enters and… I believe it was opium he was doing for years and years. Beautifully done, a sad love story.
4. Easy Rider (1969)
These young dudes smoke all their way through the picture. The dialogue and everything is bent towards grass. They’re free and easy, and they represent a new lifestyle. Even the day they get blown away on their motorcycles by the truckers, it’s clear they’re high. There’s a wonderful kind of freedom to it. It was powerful. A generation fell in love with it.
5. Blue Velvet (1986)
Dennis Hopper does for the gas mask what Danny Boyle does for heroin and toilets. The movie is infused with a kind of high. I don’t remember other drugs in it, I don’t know what was in that tank, but the movie was about getting to the extremes of the human soul, and Dennis Hopper sure got there, as did David Lynch.
6. Trainspotting (1996) and 7. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Simply in terms of visually gripping it would be a tie between Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream. Those two are at the same level. They’re grim, but so brilliantly done.