Oliver Stone Faces Down Wall Street

the Forum Film Festival in New York Times Dealbook, October 17, 2011

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Oliver Stone, the movie-making malcontent whose landmark 1987 film, “Wall Street,” has been credited with inspiring a generation of young financiers, has some ideas about reforming the world he once chronicled.

“Jamie Dimon should be spending three weeks on a park bench, homeless, and get a taste of what it’s like on the other side,” Mr. Stone said of JPMorgan Chase’s chief executive. “Might knock out some of the arrogance out of those guys.”

Mr. Stone was attending a screening of “Wall Street” on Sunday night at the Fordham School of Law’s annual Forum Film Festival in Manhattan. More than 200 students and onlookers stayed after the film to hear Mr. Stone and the film’s producer, Edward R. Pressman, discuss their craft and the gilded age of 1980s capitalism.

But the conversation quickly turned to this decade.
Bruce Gilbert/Forum Film FestivalOliver Stone discussed his 1987 movie “Wall Street” following a screening at the Forum Film Festival.

“The whole system is screwed,” Mr. Stone said to laughs from the audience.

It’s true that these are very different times than the ones Mr. Stone and Mr. Pressman captured in 1987, when Michael Douglas’s Academy Award-winning performance as the corporate raider Gordon Gekko was lionized by Wall Street even as it crystallized the era’s flamboyance and excess. With antibank sentiment reaching fever pitch and a global protest movement on the rise, they are even different times than the ones portrayed in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” the sequel that was released last year.

“My father would be shocked” at the current state of Wall Street, Mr. Stone said in an interview before his onstage appearance with Mr. Pressman. “The concept of a bank just existing to roll over profits for itself, and taking bank deposits and leveraging like this — it was against the law in the old days.”

Mr. Stone, whose father was a stockbroker, said he had gone down to the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park on Sunday morning. Asked what he thought about the movement, he hesitated and called it “a loaded question,” but after a short pause began to express his support.

“I’m rooting for them, I love what they stand for, I think there are many good things that might come of it, but it’s no Egypt,” he said. “They got a long way to go, these kids.”

Mr. Stone, an outspoken member of the left, said that while he thought Occupy Wall Street might result in “some new leaders” for the progressive movement, he thought the protests should be centered in Washington instead of New York to reflect government’s role in the economy’s woes.

“It’s the system, and I don’t think it’s just the Wall Street system,” he said. “It’s the system of lobbying and money in politics that’s the problem.”

The story of Gordon Gekko, who was imprisoned for insider trading in the original “Wall Street,” has found a real-life parallel in recent weeks with the saga of Raj Rajaratnam, the Galleon Group hedge fund’s chief who last week was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Mr. Stone said that while he had not followed Mr. Rajaratnam’s trial closely, he believed insider trading was just one symptom of an unhealthy system.

In particular, Mr. Stone said, he thought the rise of proprietary trading, in which banks trade their own capital, had changed the cultures of the largest investment banks.

“The banks used to work for companies,” he said. “And somewhere along the line they said, it’s more important that we make money for Goldman than that we make money for our customers.”

On stage after the screening, Mr. Stone, dressed in a navy suit, turquoise socks, and sneakers, fielded audience questions about his other films — “Platoon,” “J.F.K.,” and “W.” among them — before turning the conversation back to Wall Street. He said that he did not think bankers were paying much attention to the protests of their industry, but that he hoped there was a deeper unrest building inside the consciences of individual banker and traders.

“I hope all these guys that are making millions of dollars have a conflict in their hearts,” he said. “Do they have it?”