There's No Bigger Slimeball Than an Oxford Professor. You're Not Here as a Bum-Pinching Commie. You're Here to Fight! HOW THE FATHER OF LASTMINUTE.COM CO-FOUNDER MARTHA LANE FOX SWAPPED HIS HISTORY BOOKS FOR A SPEAR AND A STALLION, REVIEW
Byline: ROBIN LANE FOX
Hi Doc. Oliver's landed me with every slimeball and maggot in the western hemisphere, but I want you to know there's no bigger slimeball than a professor from Oxford University.
'You're not coming here to be some left leaning, bum-pinching commie. You'll have to be broken down before you can be built up.' Captain Dale Dye, formerly of the US Marines, is no great respecter of academic distinction. I may be an Oxford don, known to my students as an authority on Greek and Roman history and the author of two books on Alexander the Great. To Dale, however, I was just one more challenge among the hundreds he'd been presented with by his director, Oliver Stone.
Dale's job was to ensure that the battle scenes looked realistic in Stone's eagerlyawaited film, Alexander. I had been engaged as the film's historical adviser.
My terms - a place in every major cavalry charge with Alexander and the Macedonians.
My first meeting with Oliver had taken place at his London hotel on Good Friday 2002. He explained how he had worked with scriptwriters on several drafts for his new film, but did not think the script was right and, as he usually did, he would write it all again himself. I was Alexander's historian, he said, so how would I do it?
I plunged in, explaining how I would look at Alexander through various characters' eyes: Barsine, his first mistress; Callisthenes, his historian and personal publicist; his secretary, Eumenes; and Thais, once an Athenian courtesan.
'You will have emptied the cinema in seven minutes flat,' Oliver said, 'but it's all so vivid to you; why?' So I tried to explain how I have lived with these images in my head for 40 years; how I always try to visualise what ancient texts describe and try to see it in my mind's eye, like an inner sort of film.
While Oliver frantically made longhand notes we talked of Callisthenes, and how Alexander and his men burnt down the Persian capital of Persepolis.
Ceaselessly I was battered with questions about Babylon, which Alexander made the capital of his empire, and Greece in the 330s BC: What games did the Greeks play at parties? What were Alexander's dying words? How did Greeks curse?
'You make it seem as if you were there,' said Oliver. 'If I get you flown out to Los Angeles, would you come next weekend for a picnic up in the hills?
I'll ask my friends Lucas and Spielberg to come too - are you free?' 'No, it's my busy time in the garden,' I said.
'You prefer gardening to a picnic with these people?' After six hours' grilling we broke for food, and Oliver suddenly asked: 'What do you want out of all this?' 'I want to ride in the front of the cavalry charges,' I said.
Oliver was taken by surprise. 'Do you even ride?' 'That's no problem,' I said, 'it won't be half as hard as a day's foxhunting and I've done that every winter for nearly 50 years.' 'You're mad, you know, but you've helped give it life,' said Oliver. 'OK, I'll do it if I possibly can.' We had a deal.
Hereturned to California and we fell into a routine. He would call me late in the evening to discuss historical topics relating to Alexander, before concentrating on rewriting the script. In April last year I received a copy of the latest draft.
Oliver rang and was wary: 'Are you appalled?' 'No,' I said. 'I give it a B.'
'OK,' he replied, 'how do I get an A?' We went through the weaker pages and came to a speech for Alexander as he is looking out from his balcony at Babylon, talking to his closest friend. It is a key moment, a first hint of what the conqueror might think of the future, and it sounded wrong: 'A new wind is blowing across the face of the world - they want change, Hephaestion.' I told Oliver it would have to change because it reminded me of the speech by Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. There was a pained silence. 'Robin, do you know who wrote that film? …