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Oliver Stone, Live and On-Line : Cyberspace: The director of the upcoming ‘Natural Born Killers’ answers E-mail questions about his film and the state of the nation.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In cyberspace, no one can hear you screenwrite. But filmmakers armed with a laptop and a new endeavor to promote can speak volumes nowadays when it comes time to do publicity in the brave new on-line universe, where the public Q&A; session has suddenly become an instant staple of the electronic landscape.

The world of massive modem networks has been visited by some rather big names in the last year, from Al Gore to Billy Graham to David Bowie to Joel Silver. But Tuesday night Oliver Stone became the highest-profile director so far to submit himself to one of these computer query-fests, answering written questions over America Online about his next controversy-bound release, “Natural Born Killers” (due Aug. 26), from a top-secret location said to be Washington.

The thing is . . . how do we really know it was Stone? Oh, how just like the CIA it would be to discredit America’s foremost leftist media gadfly by abducting him and substituting a poor typist in his place.

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But, by all indications, no conspiracy was in effect: Not only did the Oscar-hoarding director-provocateur prove himself a more grammatically accurate on-the-spot computer keyboard operator than, say, Gore (as well Stone ought, being an Apple ad spokesman of late), but the hourlong session was full of classically Ollie agitprop--albeit in slightly broken-up syntax, since the format only allows for one or two lines of textual input at a time.

Question: First of all, it’s a pleasure to “speak” with the greatest director of our era. Do you believe America’s uncalled-for hysteria with crime, fueled by the media, will lead to an authoritarian response and a great swing to the right?

NBKSTONE: It already has. Nixon used fear as political theme. Promised us law and order and gave us chaos. Vietnam and Watergate. Bush used Willy Horton to stimulate fear scenario as well as Manuel Noriega. Fear of crime, very popular. Glamourized by media, keeps population passive. How can they think when they can’t interact, locked behind doors watching television, fearing criminals.

These new forums are fascinating, at least with a literate subject like Stone--allowing at times for a more sober discussion than the average radio or TV charm-fest might, but in a format more easily controllable for the benefit of the interviewee.

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Tuesday night’s live “chat” took place in Wired magazine’s “auditorium,” with more than 400 America Online subscribers squeezing in to attempt to ask questions or just observe. Any suspicion that the host magazine’s edgy reputation might make for an edgy Q&A; were quickly put to rest, as the Wired reps who acted as gatekeepers for the questioning generally let through only the most puffball queries, usually preceded with the questioner’s bald flattery in what amounted to a good deal of natural-born kissing butt.

These on-line conversations tend to be the populist equivalent of E! Entertainment Television--or perhaps one of President Clinton’s famous town meetings, with a more censorious moderator--in which celebrities can rest easy that they won’t be faced with any questions they’d really rather not answer. Why deal with that pesky press when you can eliminate the middleman and go right to the friendly fire of the people?

Not surprisingly, Stone--who rather likes to emphasize the hate half of his longstanding love/hate relationship with the media--spent much of the session pillorying the press, much as he does in the broadly satirical “Killers,” which is intended to spoof the way sensationalist TV coverage fans the flames of the national obsession with violence.

Online Host: Do you expect the media to attack your film? Would this bother you?

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NBKSTONE: Nothing would bother me after the “JFK” attack. Some media will superficialize my film by saying that I am glorifying violence. When I feel that I am imitating them and satirizing them to make a onetime point, but not to repeat the sensationalization on a weekly basis as television does.

Question: De Tocqueville said, “In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils it creates.” How do you respond to this?

NBKSTONE: Tough question. Power of press is exceeded. Has exceeded government power. Can create mass hysteria. Can create war. Can demonize any individual it seeks to demonize. And obviously can distort the truth. One of the biggest problems, along with the environment, of our time.

Online Host: Do you think with recent events, this film is closer to truth than fiction?

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NBKSTONE: Absolutely, what started as satire, became reality. I think Mickey and Mallory, with 52 bodies to their credit, would get a People cover. And disappear into the Great Yawn within two weeks.

Within the electronic odeon, AOL subscribers are divided into “rows”; if you get frustrated that none of your queries are getting through to the celebrity in question, at least you can vent by chatting with the seven or so other people in your row, in E-mail that isn’t seen by the on-line host or interviewee.

This can be at least as entertaining as the more public conversation: When Stone discussed how screenwriter Robert Bolt helped get him his first agent, one person in our row asked, “Isn’t ‘agent’ on the list of AOL nasty words?” Another carped that his question for Stone, “Are you wearing any pants,” still hadn’t gotten through.

No telling whether he wears khakis at his Mac, but Stone gave good agitation, humor and hype alike, the Apple of his on-line fans’ eyes in this electronic love fest.

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CSEmcee2: We’re out of time. Do you have any closing comments, Mr. Stone?

NBKSTONE: August 26, Friday, the beginning of a new era in movies. I hope you will be there. Oliver. Thanks.


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