Stone cold angry, 27 January 2010

Oliver Stone fields questions crouched like a prize boxer in the corner of a ring. You can sense he's like a powder keg ready to explode.

 At 63, the winner of three Oscars is in no mood to hold back, and shoots from the hip as he explains how his films can help overcome what he calls "the new age of barbarism", referring to the violence of America's foreign wars.

Stone was in Bangkok to give a speech on Monday night at the Foreign Correspondents Club. He spoke about "filmmaking and peace building" as part of the "Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace" series being conducted by the International Peace Foundation.

Heading next to Phnom Penh to receive an honorary degree, Stone paused for an interview in which he denounced his homeland for setting up "puppet regimes" like that of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and repeating the mistakes it made in Vietnam.

Stone believes his movies have a role to play - in recording the "memories" on which history is based.

An anti-Vietnam War activist whose films "Platoon" and Fourth of July" depicted the cruelty of aggression, Stone is not afraid to challenge the establishment,

Since he began making pictures 40 years ago - they've included "JFK", "Salvador" and "Natural Born Killers" - Stone has uncovered secret government plots and heinous crimes.

His new 10-part TV series, "Secret History of the United States", has come under attack for portraying Hitler "in context", which the Wiesenthal Foundation equates with "putting cancer in context".

"Cancer should be put in context," Stone retorted when asked about it in Bangkok.

"Make no mistake, Hitler was a monster," he said, "clearly psychotic and mad, but he was also a product of the times."

Germany in the 1920s was boiling with anger over the compensation it had been forced to pay for losing World War I, payments so crippling that Hitler found a fertile breeding ground for his brand of fascism.

By taking such subjects in context, Stone said, we can draw accurate parallels with the mistakes governments make today.

Stone made "Alexander" in 2004, partly shot in Thailand, to show the vastly different strategies employed by a more intelligent conqueror. Alexander knew winning battles was easy, but occupation and governance of conquered territory was not.

He forced his soldiers to marry the local women and adopt their culture to create a universal race free of prejudice.

But Stone was forced to cut "Alexander" to 150 minutes from nearly four hours, including scenes showing the protagonist's male lovers.

Stone said his latest version, at three hours and 40 minutes, restores his tale of a great human experiment in universal government.

Stone appreciated that Alexander looked far beyond his reign with a view to consolidating an empire, something he tried to do with the least bloodshed.

Realising the disparity among his territories, stretching from Macedonia to India, he tried to unify them by naming all the capitals Alexandria and giving each schools and libraries.

Would Stone urge Barack Obama to use similar methods to protect America's interests?

"It's too late for that," he said. "Obama has failed to break away" from the path of his predecessor, George W Bush.

"He was afraid to take on the military" and the big corporations behind it, said the filmmaker.

As a result, US troops are waging a costly battle against some of the world's hardiest warrior groups, such as the Pashtuns, who centuries ago almost broke Alexander's army.

Stone noted that many people around the world now see America as an aggressor.

Half-jokingly, he said the success of "Avatar" supports this view.

"One of the reasons for its success is the US Marines in 'Avatar' are the ones being shot at!"

The heroes, instead, are a Mexican soldier and the blue aliens. The white marines are the villains. "Even the blond hero turns blue at the end," he quipped.

Stone called the Bush presidency "the worst period of my life … much worse than the Vietnam conflict".

And the current military fiasco has been exacerbated by the global economic collapse, he said.

His films "Wall Street" and its soon-to-be-released sequel warn of the dangers in the high-risk gambling culture that feeds American banks and private firms.

"In 1980 a million dollars was a lot of money, but today you need a billion [to do anything]."

The amount of paper currency flooding the market to fund wars and "too-big-to-fail" corporate bailouts is irresponsible, said Stone, whose planned movie about the My Lai massacre - to be shot in Chiang Mai - was shut down when its chief financier, a Wall Street hedge fund, went bankrupt in 2007.

Asked about Washington's attempts to curb the risk-taking by big banks, Stone said he's all for it.

"The bankers have behaved like pigs." Their actions and avarice have sunk the country deeper into an economic quagmire.

Stone routinely tackles subjects that filmmakers are discouraged from exploring, as in "JFK", which delves into the conspiracy theory behind John Kennedy's assassination.

In the same vein of integrity and honesty, his first movie as director, "Salvador", portrays both sides in the 1980s El Salvador conflict - the Sandinistas and the US-backed government - as being equally guilty of massacre.

Watch a video of Oliver Stone's speech at the FCCT, click here.