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Critic who called me the anti-Christ is an ***hole -- Cameron

After simmering for months, a dispute over the alleged liberalism of James Cameron's Avatar has broken into the open, 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 "f***ing ***hole," and offered to publicly debate with him.

"I've met him," the Titanic director added. "He called me the anti-christ."

If Cameron's outburst seems unusual for a Hollywood director, 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 €1.9bn 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".

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.

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".

"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.