Page last updated at 07:19 GMT, Thursday, 27 May 2010 08:19 UK

Oliver Stone on Wall Street II, Chavez and US history

Stone: 'The banks were no longer recognisable to me'

By Stephen Sackur
Presenter, BBC HARDtalk

He's back. The face now more grizzled than sleek, the waistline a tad thicker, but still a passionate glint in the eye.

He has had his troubles of course, his enemies thought they had brought him down. But hell no. This guy is a fighter.

Welcome to the world of Gordon Gekko, the fictional big-screen banker who gave the world the aphorism "greed is good".

But as it happens the description fits not just the most infamous lizard on Wall Street, but also his cinematic creator, Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone.

Stone, ably assisted by Michael Douglas, has breathed new life into the archetypal 80s anti-hero.

I never thought this stuff would go on, I thought the pendulum would re-regulate, as Alan Greenspan thought, and there would be some sort of self-correction - there was not
Oliver Stone

Twenty-three years after the release of the Oscar winning film about dirty dealing and decadence in the world's financial capital, Stone has completed the post-Lehmann sequel: Wall Street II - Money Never Sleeps.

Gekko, the bad boy of banking, is back in New York City to make amends. Or something like that.

Truth is when I met Stone in Cambridge last week, fresh off the back of his unveiling of Wall Street II in Cannes, the return of Gekko didn't detain us for long.

When Stone made the original film his dismay at the amorality of "casino capitalism" was ahead of its time, but now rage against the banks is about as controversial as motherhood and apple pie.

"I never thought this stuff would go on, I thought the pendulum would re-regulate, as Alan Greenspan thought, and there would be some sort of self-correction - there was not. The thing got crazier and crazier," he said.

One of Stone's most endearing traits is his inability to deliver the formulaic, promotional interview. He shambled into the Cambridge Union with not a single publicity agent or press minder in tow.

After introductions and a glance at the lighting on the HARDtalk set (he expressed his approval and the crew reacted like they too had just won an Oscar) he said simply: "Whaddya wanna talk about?"


Well, where to begin? When I was a student spending too many afternoons in my local flea-pit picture house, Stone was the enfant terrible of American cinema.

Stone is 'hopeful' Obama can bring about change

He made movies which criticised America's cynical, self-defeating foreign policy (think Salvador and Platoon). He drank, did drugs and raged against Hollywood's stultifying fear of the dangerous and controversial.

He was a passionate story-teller, but was he a truth-teller? His take on the JFK assassination, for example, portrayed the Dallas shooting as the result of an elaborate conspiracy that went to the very top of the federal government.

So why not flag up more clearly that his technique mixes liberal doses of supposition and speculation with the solid research? His equivocal response suggests that he is none too bothered about the accusations of misrepresentation. Stone is not a man who does self-doubt.

In the last decade he has tempered his commitment to movies with sporadic ventures into documentary making. And during our encounter in Cambridge that appeared to be where his heart now lies.

Hugo Chavez

He is about to head out to Caracas, and then on to La Paz, Bolivia to promote his South of the Border film, which sees Ollie getting up close and personal with Hugo - as in Chavez, President of Venezuela.

Oliver Stone says he was 'tough' on Chavez

There are two schools of thought on Chavez - to some he is a Latin American lionheart roaring defiance at US imperialism while spreading socialist stardust across his continent, while to others he is a dangerous demagogue who has wrecked his country's economy while undermining democracy and consorting with rogues.

Stone, you may not be surprised to learn, favours the former view. I ask him why his instinctively sceptical view of power - as seen in his portraits of Nixon and George W for example - appears to desert him when he encounters Chavez and before that, Fidel Castro. At this Stone's Zapata-style moustache bristles.

"I went back and saw Fidel in the second documentary Looking for Fidel and I asked him probably the toughest questions any journalist has asked him."

Truth be told Stone - rather like Michael Moore - relishes the role of celluloid radical. He has given up on Hollywood funding - he will take money from anywhere he can get it; cable TV, Europe, China - probably even Cuba if they had any.

His next project is modestly entitled Oliver Stone's Secret history of America - he launched it to a barrage of negative headlines when he suggested that he would seek to "put into context Hitler and Stalin" who had thus far "been pretty thoroughly vilified by history".

"I would have probably phrased it differently," Stone acknowledged to me. "I'm trying to say that in the history of the US, cause and effect must always apply."

So stand by for more Oliver Stone controversy. Which seems to be just the way he likes it. This is a man driven not by the fear of being disliked, but the humiliation of being ignored.

You can watch HARDtalk on Thursday 27th May on the BBC News Channel at 0230, 0430 and 2330 BST and on BBC World News at 0330, 0830, 1530 and 1930 GMT.

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