Fifteen years ago, Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" told the story of an ambitious stock trader (Charlie Sheen) who befriends an industry titan, the gloriously named Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar for his performance). Though the film was a morality tale in which the young upstart sells his soul to get rich quick, "Wall Street" didn't change people's minds about money. In fact, perhaps inspired by Gekko's motto, "Greed is good," investors continued to play and win throughout the 1990s.
And business only got bigger. Now, in the wake of corporate financial scandals and a falling market-and with President Bush facing questions about his own business practices at Harken Energy in the late 1980s-Americans are once again talking about greed. But this time, it's about its costs. NEWSWEEK's B. J. Sigesmund spoke with Stone about his movie's resonance. He also asked the controversial director of "Platoon" and "JFK" about politics and the ongoing war on terror. Excerpts:
Oliver Stone: I think greed never left. We bought this whole concept of capitalism, and we let it go too far ... Everyone bought the bubble, including myself. I wasn't heavy into it, but I bought in, and lost money.
The problems that existed in the 1980s market grew and grew into a much larger phenomenon. Enron is a fiction, in a sense, in the same way that Gordon Gekko's buying and selling was a fiction ... Kenny Lay--he's the new Gordon Gekko.
These days, the American public is reading about greedy companies every day in the newspaper. They're learning more about the extent to which some of these companies have rigged the system.
Because they got hurt in their pocketbooks, people are beginning to wonder. And they're right because we lost track with the investment banks ... There's no more wall between broker and banker or analyst and those they analyze.
I wrote the line based on a reading a speech by Ivan Boesky. He said, 'Greed is right.' It struck me, and I took some variation on it.
I didn't expect that. You never can tell with these things. Like in "Scarface," "Say hello to my little friend." Gimme a break! The lines can be silly. "Make my day." I wrote a lot of what I thought were great lines in other movies and nobody noticed.
In my opinion, I think he's been a complete disaster on every level ... Clinton, no matter how many faults he had, he would have explored the alternatives more thoroughly.
The war on terror, on drugs, the war on every f-king country, the unilateralization of the world to the American point of view. And the overt ignoring of allies. It's just staggering to me, after all the years put in, to be a part of something, how all of a sudden we've become so isolationist.
We don't have to be the dominant bully, we really don't. It's not a role I think most Americans would really want to play. If Americans really had a choice and knew the face of their foreign policy, what it looked like and the behavior of their American policy, they would think twice about this whole support of Bush.
No. But for the record, the terrorists succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. There's an old war being fought here, between Muslim and Christian. The radicals on both sides like that. It becomes East versus West. Radicals are dangerous on both sides, and not just the other side, I want to make that point ... there's people on both sides who are stoking the fire now. It's up to the moderates, the intelligent people, to step up now and be intelligent and moderate and control the situation.
Yes. Everything I've said since September 11 has been taken out of context, dangerously out of context. Nothing I've said has been to the left of what Kofi Annan has said at the U.N. I've checked his statements. It's all been about Palestine or about September 11. I've made moderate statements by international standards, but in America, they're considered dangerous. People who are saying intelligent things, and who are asking questions, are being ridiculed. They're being singled out and put under a harsh light. That's what I'm trying to say.