Avatar director takes his feud with Fox News host into a new dimension

If I'm the Antichrist you're a madman, James Cameron tells Glenn Beck

After simmering for months, a dispute over the alleged liberalism of James Cameron's film Avatar broke into the open yesterday, when the director labelled one of America's most influential conservative pundits, Glenn Beck, a "madman" who "is dangerous because his ideas are poisonous".

Speaking at a press conference to promote the film's DVD release, Cameron described the excitable Beck, a Fox TV commentator who is often credited with founding the so-called "tea-party movement", as a "fucking asshole," and offered to publicly debate with him on political and environmental issues. "I've met him," the Titanic director added. "He called me the Antichrist."

If Cameron's outburst seems unusual for a Hollywood director – and the filmmaker made a half-hearted attempt to back-track saying that he would "love to have a dialogue" with Beck, who he conceded, "may or may not be an asshole" – it is not altogether surprising. Famously difficult to work with – one writer described him as "hell on wheels" while Kate Winslet swore she would not work with him again after Titanic unless paid "a lot of money" – he has never shied from a fight.

And despite his latest film's extraordinary success, with earnings at £1.7bn so far, Cameron has come under fire from a range of sources for the film's political content. On the left, New York Times columnist David Brooks dismissed the film's characterisation of the alien Na'vi people as a "racist fantasy"; on the right, John Podhoretz of The Weekly Standard raged against the film's environmental, anti-imperialist message as a "deep expression of anti-Americanism". It is that view that Cameron has already confronted. "Let me put it this way," he said in an interview last month. "I'm happy to piss those guys off. I don't agree with their worldview."

But with Beck the figurehead of the right's disdain for all things Hollywood, it was inevitable that Cameron's fire would eventually turn on the Fox News host. Their spat has been running for some time.

The "Antichrist" remark came after a 2007 documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, in which Cameron questioned the resurrection story and argued that Christ was buried at the ancient "Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries."

Beck has, so far, not responded to the Cameron critique, but with a nightly cable news show watched by millions of conservative viewers and a healthy appetite for self-publicity, it seems inconceivable that he will let the subject slide for long.

Cameron's taste for a battle was likewise apparently undimmed after his diatribe against Beck at yesterday's press conference: once he had dealt with the television presenter, he moved on to a larger target, taking aim at the global warming sceptics who have taken issue with the movie. He declared his desire to "call those deniers out into the street at high noon and shoot it out with those boneheads," before reflecting that his best efforts at persuasion would be futile because such people "have got their head so deeply up their ass I'm not sure they could hear me".

"I didn't make this movie with these strong environmental anti-war themes in it to make friends on the right, you know," he added.

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