Edward Snowden’s Long, Strange Journey to Hollywood
Before Stone set out to make his film, he had met Snowden’s chief biographers, Greenwald and Poitras. Stone and Greenwald became friendly, and when Greenwald’s book drew interest in Hollywood before it was published, the journalist turned to Stone for advice. “In the back of my mind, I thought if he had any interest in making a film, that would be a good segue for him to say so,” Greenwald told me.
At the time, Stone wasn’t interested, and Greenwald negotiated the deal with Sony. Stone later came back and offered to match Sony’s bid, but Greenwald declined. “I think he was a little perturbed,” Greenwald said. Of the principal cast, Zachary Quinto, who plays Greenwald in Stone’s movie, was the only actor who didn’t meet his real-life counterpart as research. “I always thought that was a little weird,” Greenwald said. “I think Oliver thought I had some competitive hostility toward his project, or he had some hostility — I’m not really sure.” (According to Stone, Quinto didn’t need to meet Greenwald because there were so many videos of the journalist online.)
In the spring of 2014, Stone flew to Berlin and met with Poitras. The meeting did not go well. According to Poitras, Stone proposed that she delay the release of “Citizenfour,” which she was then in the middle of editing, to time up with his film. “Because his film would be the real movie — because it’s a Hollywood movie,” Poitras told me. “Obviously I wasn’t interested in doing that. To have another filmmaker ask me to delay the release of my film was — well, it was somewhat insulting.”
Stone was annoyed, but he stuck around for a few drinks. They discussed new movies, including “12 Years a Slave.” As Poitras recalls, Stone found the film too violent, while Poitras thought the brutality was appropriate given the subject matter. Stone was growing increasingly frustrated. “At some point, he reached over and had his hands around my neck,” Poitras said. “It was sort of in a joking way. I think he was a little bit drunk. But it was not a particularly pleasant evening.”
斯通也很恼火，不过他留下来喝了几杯。他们谈论当时的一些新影片，包括《为奴十二载》(12 Years a Slave)。据普瓦特拉斯回忆说，斯通觉得那部电影太暴力，而普瓦特拉斯认为，鉴于影片的主题，那样的残酷是适当的。斯通变得更加沮丧。“他一度探过身来，假装用手掐我的脖子，”普瓦特拉斯说，“带点开玩笑的意思。我觉得他当时有点醉了。不过，那天晚上不是特别愉快。”
According to Stone, he only offered to help Poitras get distribution. “We thought we’d help her either bring out her film with our film, or in the wake of it or before it, if we could,” Stone said. He didn’t recall pretending to strangle Poitras. “I think from talking to her, you sense she’s superparanoid,” he said. “But I liked her,” he continued. “I admired her. I saw her films. I was trying to help her. If Laura is accusing me of trying to aggress her or kill her, she’s crazy.”
Despite his occasional bullishness, Stone craves approval. His films tend to resemble his character: at once original, impetuous, dogmatic and stubbornly ambitious. They typically run up to three hours, and he is often hurt when they’re underappreciated. Once, I was with Stone when he was handed a copy of “A Child’s Night Dream,” the novel he wrote at 19. Stone began to recite the blurbs aloud. “The language moves in torrents, always energized ... shamanistic,” Stone read, quoting The Boston Globe. “I don’t get many good reviews, but this is good.” I said that he has gotten plenty of good reviews since then. “You should see Rotten Tomatoes,” he said, referring to the movie-review aggregator.
尽管斯通有时特别乐观，但他也渴望得到肯定。他的电影大多很像他的性格：新颖、冲动、固执、特别雄心勃勃。他的电影通常长达三个小时，如果没有得到充分赏识，他往往会觉得很受伤。有一次，我和斯通在一起时，有人递给他一本《孩子的夜梦》(A Child’s Night Dream)——他19岁时写的一本小说。斯通开始大声朗读宣传语。“本书的语言如激流般奔腾，总是充满活力……像萨满教，”斯通朗读了《波士顿环球报》(The Boston Globe)的评语。“我没有得到很多好评，不过这个很不错。”我说，从那以后，他得到了很多好评。“你应该去看看烂番茄网站(Rotten Tomatoes)的评价，”他说。他指的是那个影评汇总网站。
Stone’s torment is at least in part self-inflicted. Biopics can be a nasty business, and Stone routinely throws himself into historical narratives and the messy negotiation between fact and fiction. The haggling with historians and family estates is the reason Stone was never able to make films about Martin Luther King Jr. and Hank Williams, and it was why he had to wait for Richard M. Nixon to die to make “Nixon.” For Stone, the real-life characters of the stories he is after have become both the obstacles and the necessary arbiters of his work. It’s why he refused to make “Snowden” without Snowden, and why his appeals to Greenwald and Poitras were his way of getting them on board.
斯通的痛苦至少有一部分是他自己造成的。传记电影可能是一个可怕的行业，斯通经常把自己投入历史故事以及现实和虚构的混乱协调之中。与史学家和家族遗产的争论是斯通一直未能拍摄关于小马丁·路德·金和汉克·威廉姆斯(Hank Williams)的电影的原因，也是他不得不等到理查德·N·尼克松(Richard M. Nixon)去世后才得以拍摄《尼克松》(Nixon)的原因。对斯通来说，他追逐的故事中的真实人物既是他作品的障碍，也是必需的仲裁者。所以他拒绝在斯诺登不参与的情况下拍摄《斯诺登》，所以他对格林沃尔德和普瓦拉特斯的吁请是以他的方式让他们参与进来。
If Poitras had a strong reaction to Stone’s proposal, it was because she had already been hounded by Sony. After the studio optioned Greenwald’s book, Poitras says Sony asked to buy her life rights — an offer she declined. Sony suggested that she come on as a consultant, but when the contract arrived, it stipulated that the studio would have access to Poitras’s tapes and notebooks. “So I’d already gone through that when Oliver came in trying to position himself,” she said.
Poitras is a soft-spoken, cautious woman who has spent much of the past decade on government watch lists. Her resistance to participating in various Snowden projects has less to do with her feeling territorial than with her trying to maintain some control as she has become a character in a story that is no longer hers. Poitras’s radical position is that the “Snowden story” can really belong only to Snowden. “I could have asked him for a life-rights contract in Hong Kong, but I don’t believe in that as a concept,” she said. “It’s his story, and I hope he tells it when he’s ready.”
Neither Greenwald nor Poitras ultimately object to Stone making his film. While his own movie still lingered in development, Greenwald thought Snowden’s story might in fact be safer in Stone’s hands than it would be elsewhere. The Sony leaks would eventually reveal that Stone’s paranoia may have been justified: In emails about the purchase of Greenwald’s book, an executive in Sony’s government-affairs office suggests toning down the news release, changing “illegal spying” to “intelligence gathering” and “misuse of power” to “actions.”
“My big worry with Hollywood and the Snowden story is that they’re either going to be cowards and completely drain it of its political vitality,” Greenwald told me, “or that they’re going to do a superbiased smear job. For all the talk about how liberal Hollywood is, the reality is that they’re really close to the government. And whatever other things you might say about Oliver, I was actually relieved that someone was going to do this film where there was no danger of those things happening.”