Saturday, January 04, 2014


(Spoilers throughout.)

By now you've heard about and perhaps experienced the "hyperkinetic" The Wolf of Wall Street. There's plenty of energy there, sure, and plenty of the traditional Scorsese sweeps, swoops, and spins, giving the film a delirious momentum that social critics believe will turn impressionable children or morons into white-collar criminals.

They have a point. The movie doesn't have a crime-doesn't-pay message at all. The crime does pay. What it has to say is much more chilling than that.

The movie at first seems to follow a familiar Scorsese pattern: There's a central character who's tightly bonded to family figures (blood kin or not), and he's doing something extraordinary (usually at least somewhat illegal) that can't go on forever. The formula isn't strict -- in The Departed, for example, the hero is an undercover quasi-cop acting as a mobster, and his "family" ties are mainly professional -- but there's always a sense that the hero is obligated by something bigger than business interests, and that those ties have something to do with his fate.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, the members of Jordan Belfort's crew aren't relatives, but they're family. When Belfort has to pick himself up off Wall Street after the crash of 1987, and decides to build an empire from penny stocks in Long Island, he chooses these guys because they have what, in his vision, it takes to build it: They're basically street hustlers who know that the answer to "sell me this pen" is to make the mark need the pen. He doesn't mention it (though Scorsese underlines it), but they're also stupid, and that's important too.

The money starts to roll in and the family gels. The guys become fiercely loyal to Belfort and to one another -- except when they get too pissed off or fucked up; boys will be boys and, like I said, they're stupid, though increasingly rich. They enact affectionate rituals to strengthen and affirm their bonds, including nicknames, hugs, ass-pats, and declarations of bro, brah, and brother, as well as photogenic orgies.

This kind of behavior is familiar from the goombahs of previous Scorsese movies, but there's a difference in the way the bond is formed here. It isn't brought over from Sicily. It's not a bond of work or shared duty, either, exactly. It's all based on a sales pitch. Belfort builds the bond out of nothing -- a magic nothing, a line of bullshit.

Now, all the guys know about the bullshit; it's part of what makes them giddy about their success. There's an amazing early scene in which the crew, still in their garage days, watch Belfort reel in a sucker via speakerphone while pantomiming a sex act that spells out every stage of what he's doing to the mark. The guys are ecstatic, they can't stay still or shut up, they're like little kids who just learned to swear. They might be excited about making money, but they're bananas for making it like this.

And they'll go to the wall to keep it up. Which is important, because if any of them felt he could do better and went to another firm to try this shit, that'd break the spell real fast. Stratton Oakmont is as insular as the Cosa Nostra -- though occasionally they mob up with folks from the straight world, who will enter their world and even endure some shit to make some money.

As a reward for their loyalty, Belfort offers his family a very, very nice living: money, drugs, glamour, laughs. But --

You know, I was just about to say it's about more than money. But that isn't true. These guys just think it is.

DiCaprio is great in the title role, but great in a specific and deliberately limited way. His opening pitch is pure candy, a promise of excitement to come. He says "I love drugs" as if he's talking about rock-climbing -- he's proud of it and invites you to share this awesome high. In fact all his pitches are as good. They might not be as fresh after a while, but you still feel his excitement.

But you never learn anything about him. You don't learn about his character. What eventually becomes inescapable is that there is no character. And if there were, Belfort wouldn't show it to you because he's pitching all the way. Every second.

I wouldn't have thought this even halfway through the movie, and it didn't completely hit me until after it was over. Because the logic of the narrative, enforced by hundreds of movies that look something like this one, put my focus on the forming of the bonds, which made me think of Belfort as a human being, a leader -- leaders are restrained, opaque, but they have to be, right? Leaders may be distant and square-jawed and steely-eyed, but that doesn't mean they're not human, right? Belfort's guys are like his platoon, his posse, his team. They come up together, I thought, and they by God go down together.

Except they don't. "I ratted them all out," Belfort tells us near the end. In Scorsese terms it's an amazingly tossed-off betrayal. It's not like Henry Hill, down to "$3200 for a lifetime... not even enough to pay for the coffin" and throwing in the towel in Goodfellas. This is an afterthought.

Belfort was ready to rat them from day one. *

Belfort doesn't have a character, but he does have appetites. He likes all kinds of drugs, all kinds of good times, all kinds of sex; explaining his interest in the Duchess of Bay Ridge who becomes his second wife, which is intense enough that he throws his first marriage over for it, he says they share "interests," and this is illustrated by Belfort snorting coke off her tits in a limo. In another scene he acts as if he's literally abject before the Duchess' pussy. Maybe at that moment he is. But he's always got someone else. He's never without options.

One could spin one's wheels wondering why he's like this, what's missing in the guy's life that he's so limited. But who's going to care about that when there's all this sex and wealth and fun going on? Belfort's marks inside and outside Stratton Oakmont sure didn't. And neither did I while I was watching.

That's what the movie's about.

These scenes of excess dazzle, whether you find the behavior cheering or nauseating. But so do some slower scenes, in a queasier way. For example, there's the sitdown Belfort arranges with two FBI agents on his yacht -- shot simple as pie -- that shows how absolutely, self-assuredly devoted to the con he is; it's excruciating, not because you expect him to lose, but because you can't imagine the balls it would take to do this.

And there's one that does get energetic after a while, but the run-up is very patient. Belfort's gotten the word; cut a deal with the SEC, abandon the company, and everything will go easy for him. Halfway through an uncharacteristically mournful speech to a depressed staff, he suddenly tells them he'd be a hypocrite if he left, and that he's decided not to do it; he's going to stay with the company.

Now, throughout the whole trouble part of Belfort's story, you may wonder: Does he miscalculate? Maybe baiting the FBI was a bad idea. Maybe his feelings are running away with him. Maybe he isn't as much in control as he thinks. This decision to stay with Stratton -- isn't that pride taking the hero down, like in all the old stories?

That misses the point. For Belfort there may be reversals, but there's no fall. Why does he do what he does? Does Belfort have the same weakness for power that he has for pussy? As we saw with pussy, there's always an alternative. Though it seems at the time an absolutely insane idea, it turns out the (pretty soft) prison time Belfort gets for his outrageous decision isn't much more than what he could have expected if he'd played ball -- due to the trim to his sentence for ratting out his friends. A winner never quits.

When he reverses field in that meeting, no one knows this. And he does something remarkable before he reverses. (In that pantomime, this would be where he massages the clit.) He tells the room, in a heartbreaking voice, about the firm's first female broker, Kimmie Belzer, about how at the dawn of Stratton she came to him as a single mother and was desperate enough to request an advance on salary, which Belfort of course gave her with extra "because I believed in you." He tears up, she tears up, everyone tears up. And when Belfort announces his turnaround the crowd goes wild, crying, screaming, and, for an unnervingly long time, wordlessly chanting as they beat their chests like tribesmen.

For everyone in the room, this is more than the truth -- it's what they believe in. It's the heroism of daring greatly, reaching for the stars, shooting for the moon. It's about believing in oneself and believing in each other. It's personal achievement and it's leaving no one behind. It's loyalty. It's family. It's, we all like to think, America.

It's bullshit.

When Belfort finishes his prison time, he's on the road as a sales trainer, in Auckland. He's introduced to an audience by a sleazy MC as a "motherfucker," which is supposed to be a compliment. We only see the start of Belfort's pitch. His face is a mask; lighting emphasizes DiCaprio's slit-like eyes and mouth. He comes into the audience and confronts individual members with the "sell me this pen" trick we saw him use on his original crew. The audience, it appears, is largely comprised of South Asian immigrants who watch Belfort anxiously. The dream he's selling has made it all the way to the other side of the world.

This is where we came in.

Every craft aspect is first-rate, including Scorsese's taste in music, especially "Cast My Fate to the Wind." Jonah Hill does the Scorsese motormouth as well as anyone. Margot Robbie is perfectly vacuous as the Duchess, and thus a perfect foil for Belfort. Kudos to Bob Shaw, Chris Shriver, and Ellen Christiansen who give us bad taste without taking easy shots at the era because 1.) that's harder and 2.) taste this bad is timeless. And Thelma Schoonmaker should be on Mount Rushmore.

*(If you've seen the movie, you may be wondering: What about the note he passes Donnie in the sushi restaurant? I think it just wasn't time for Belfort to pull the trigger yet. Early in the movie Belfort tells the crew: first one to talk loses. Short cons are good but long cons keep your options open.)


  1. tedmills6:00 PM

    There's been a weird reaction to this film because, I think, people want to see Belfont punished. But in our real world, these guys don't get punished. And we don't want to see it. I think this is why "American Hustle" feels like a better movie, because it's a scammers movie, but the main scammers have hearts of gold. We like those stories. Belfont is a vaccuum, a sociopath, and the film ends with him teaching others to be sociopath. Isn't that the (Fox News) American dream? Critic Andrew Sarris wished Scorsese had shown Belfont's victims. Why? We're living in a world where we're all victims to the Belfonts on Wall Street. Go look outside, Sarris!

    End note: When Belfont starts explaining his scams, IPOs and such, he quickly brushes it aside for the viewer and cuts to the result: millions. I was reminded of CNBC's financial coverage. Who cares how it works, right?

  2. DocAmazing6:12 PM

    Wasn't gong to see it. Now I am.

    Almost seems like nostalgia: the SEC actually prosecuting people.

  3. Another Kiwi6:19 PM

    Great review Roy.

  4. Derelict6:23 PM

    . . . taste this bad is timeless.

    Which means it will soon be all the rage in certain Tea-party circles.

    I wonder who Jonah et al. will be rooting for while watching this movie. After all, this is unbridled capitalism at its finest!

  5. Spaghetti Lee6:34 PM

    The real Belfort is some kinda I-found-Jesus motivational speaker now, right? And I'm sure he's loving all the attention. Apparently, he's already well behind on court-ordered restitution payments to his victims, but that didn't stop him from making a mint on the rights sales. What a life.

  6. Spaghetti Lee6:39 PM

    Andrew Sarris died in 2012. Were you thinking of Andrew O'Hehir? Because that sounds like something he'd say.

    I don't get the idea that artists are under an obligation to portray real life as a morality play. Belfort got away with everything and felt no shame and now he's a free man again. That's the moral. If a critic needs to be explicitly shown that some people lost everything because of him, that doesn't mean anyone else does.

  7. This is the first review of the film that makes me want to see it. Even though now I think thats not necessary. There was a brutal review of it by the daughter of Belfort's partner which describes just how amoral and heartless these guys are, including descriptions of how often he committed credit card fraud in her name, leaving her with thousands of dollars of debt to pay off when she was in her late teens.

  8. edroso6:39 PM

    I don't think that's Sarris -- he's dead.

    You're so right about this: "When Belfont starts explaining his scams, IPOs and such, he quickly brushes it aside for the viewer and cuts to the result: millions." It's marvelous that he keeps telling us that we don't care about that stuff -- and he's right.

  9. edroso6:41 PM

    Christina McDowell's essay is excellent and everyone should read it.

  10. tedmills7:02 PM

    Whoops! Brain fart!! I meant Richard Corliss in Time.

  11. halfkidding7:05 PM

    I haven't seen it and won't. From this summary I can fit a narrative I am addicted to. That is success and power comes from within an organization. If it's an organization of hustlers so much the better. In a society and political economy dominated by institutional interests be they corporate, military/security, government, whatever, nothing is more hated than a whistle blower or a rat.

    Here is my take. The decision not to rat is a decision that our elites will endorse and embrace. I doubt you will see one mainstream review or discussion of the movie that mentions this decision scene as crucial in any way. To do so cuts too close to the bone.

    Think. Do you recall ever reading or hearing direct criticism of Catholic hierarchy hiding or protecting the pedophiles, beyond mention in a straight news story? Did even the professional Catholics harp on the leaderships default to protect the organization instead of children. Not to my knowledge. Why? Because above all, the highest goal and standard is not that an organization man protects the organization first, second and third.

    If some Bishop or Cardinal would have come clean, come forward, condemned the pedophile, turned him over to authorities, vowed to root them out....................well it never happened. but if it had they would have been a pariah. Cut off an abandoned by the Chruch, their organization they may have been nothing. The selection and self selection process in all organizations is now so strong nobody breaks the code of silence

  12. edroso7:12 PM

    From this summary I can fit a narrative I am addicted to.

    Yes, I can see that.

  13. I've seen some leftists, even, criticize the film because it doesn't depict actual Wall Street misconduct of the sort that directly caused the recent financial meltdown. It's not, they said, a "screw the system" movie, because Belfont wasn't working within the system. What he was doing was already explicitly illegal.

    For starters, I don't think Scorsese is obligated to deliver any particular narrative about financial misconduct. But more importantly, whether or not Belfont was a Wall Street insider, the movie does depict a lot of the dysfunctions that lead to things like that 2007 recession. Because it's not just the 1% or Wall Street or poor financial sector oversight (though those are all factors, obviously). The disease is rampant and widespread. We all participate in it to some degree, which I think is the point that some leftists don't want to acknowledge.

  14. Spaghetti Lee7:33 PM

    There seem to be a lot of critics who blow a fuse when it comes to bad behavior being 'rewarded' onscreen. And it's not always the ones you would expect. One of the reasons I never liked Doug Walker is how preachy he could get on 'think of the children!' stuff.

    There's obviously a lot to work through-the director isn't obligated to share your moral views, in the real world crooks often don't get caught, etc.-but it seems like a lot of times people have higher moral standards for the directors and writers chronicling all the illegal shit than the criminals who actually inspire it. You're glamorizing excess and greed, they say. You know what would de-glamorize it? If, in reality, we as a society did a better job throwing those crooks in jail.

  15. DocAmazing7:39 PM

    McDowell writes with flair and righteous fury. I do hope that pieces like hers take the spotlight that Belfort is undoubtedly trying to use to expand his pathologic business and use that spotlight to force Belfort to make his creditors whole and quit dodging his court-ordered restitution.

  16. M. Krebs7:47 PM

    From the photo there I see that DiCaprio's giant head was perfect for the part.

  17. satch7:55 PM

    "It's all based on a sales pitch. Belfort builds the bond out of nothing -- a magic nothing, a line of bullshit."

    Well, to be fair, Belfort and his pals were getting rich and getting laid, which may be shallow, but it certainly isn't *Nothing*.

  18. M. Krebs7:59 PM

    Fuck you Disqus. Delete means delete, not "take my name off."

    Anyway, DiCaprio's giant head would have been perfect for the part of Tom Prousalis.

  19. satch8:10 PM

    I was also moved to wonder, during the scene where Belfort tells the story of Kimmie, if the women salespeople took part in the debauchery to the extent the guys did. She probably earned the right to blow off a little steam...after all, women are said to be seen as more trustworthy than men as sales people, which is why many pharmaceutical companies, among others, employ them.

  20. AGoodQuestion8:21 PM

    Yeah the thing is that there's such a wavering line between criminality and technically legal behavior that "honest" players need the crooks too badly to send them all away. Henry Hill and the recently convicted Whitey Bulger are scumbags, but they went into the wrong line of scumbaggery.

  21. BigHank5310:10 PM

    Well worth the read. Yet more evidence that there are two systems of justice in this country (see also the non-prosecutions for blatant money-laundering at HSBC) and until we get serious about putting people who steal money without guns away for just as much time as the armed ones, this sort of thing is going to keep happening. Why should they stop?

  22. JennOfArk10:44 PM

    I haven't seen the film, but having read your review and McDowell's essay, sounds like she's perhaps mistaken glitzy surroundings for "glorification" of the character. The read I get from you is that his shallowness comes through.

    I did love this line from McDowell, though: "The truth about my father and his behavior: that behind all of it was really just insidious soul-sucking shame masked by addiction, which we love to call ambition, which is really just greed." I think I commented here not too long ago on the topic of shame imbalance - the many feeling it (and having it placed upon them) for their poverty, which in most cases is not the result of their own actions, while the few who profit from keeping everyone else down through means both legal and illegal and should be ashamed feel none. The tycoon worth tens of billions leaning on politicians to get out of paying taxes is shameless before the entire world, and it bothers him not a whit as long as he gets his way. When he does, inevitably get his way, everyone else is materially worse off - and encouraged to be ashamed of their further reduced circumstances.

  23. whetstone12:12 AM

    I don't know that much about the case, but the sense I get was that the Wolf of Wall Street, being more accurately described as the Penny-Stock Scam Artist of Long Island, was exactly the sort of dim, low-flying target the SEC can and still does shoot from its porch. But even if doesn't seem like a fond look back to me, this made me want to see it.

  24. whetstone12:20 AM

    There's a part of me that's modestly sympathetic to this view, because
    of something Roy writes: He doesn't mention it (though
    Scorsese underlines it), but they're also stupid, and that's important

    It reminds me of reading about some of the lower-level dickheads on the frontlines of the most recent crash, who thought Boiler Room was porn instead of a cautionary tale.
    There's a certain segment of the audience that will stop at OH HEY I LIKE COKE AND BOOBS TOO. Not that they really need a movie to tell them that, but I at least get why some critics want a "do not try this at home, because it's shitty and evil" chyron.

  25. Spaghetti Lee1:39 AM

    Seems that's the fate of a whole lot of 'the white-collar world is depraved' stories, Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross being two big ones. I haven't met anyone who admires Patrick Bateman for his go-getter attitude, but I'm sure they're out there.

    But people who are too stupid to get the hint aren't the audience you want anyway. And you're just going to turn away everyone else by scrawling "HEY IDIOTS, GREED IS BAD" across the screen in red ink.

  26. Spaghetti Lee2:00 AM

    And I'm not totally unsympathetic myself. If I or someone close to me had been left flat broke in the crash, I think I'd look at three glossy hours of rich fratty banksters behaving badly and say something like "It's all just "material" for some auteur? Fuck that noise."

    Of course, one of the quickest guaranteed ways to tell a shitty story is to tabulate anyone who could possibly be offended and make sure the story doesn't hit any of their sore spots. I can see why Scorsese didn't go the straight "These are very bad men, revel in their downfall" route.

  27. Do you think that Leo's Giant Head could star in a remake of Zardoz?

  28. I haven't seen the film, but having read your review and McDowell's
    essay, sounds like she's perhaps mistaken glitzy surroundings for
    "glorification" of the character.

    She was a beneficiary of her father's crimes, until he turned on her. In her own words:

    But hey, listen boys, I get it. I was conned, too. By. My. Own. Dad! I
    drove a white Range Rover in high school, snorted half of Colombia, and
    got any guy I ever wanted because my father would take them flying in
    his King Air.

    Just because she thought it was a glorious lifestyle doesn't mean that Scorcese is glorifying it.

  29. Preach it, sister.

  30. Well, beneficiary seems a little harsh. She was a kid. He went to jail before she was out of the house, didnt he?

  31. Yep, she was a kid - and she had to grow up quite quickly at age 18 after he perpetrated identity theft using her name (his own kid's name) and left her in massive debt. I can't wrap my mind around that.

  32. Even to get to "greed is bad" you have to focus on either what happens to the guilty person (punishment) or what happens to the victims (sorrow). Either way, you can't get to an explication of why greed is bad without showing that it has some kind of bad consequence. Otherwise its just not real to the viewer and the entire movie is nothing more than a high flying tale of drugs and boobs. These movies aren't even capable of enough honesty that they can show fat, older, balding men fucking over younger ones. That would make the protagonist too revolting to our youth culture viewer.

  33. Right, and as the numbers of female doctors have risen the notion that they are impressed by blondes and boobs has to have diminished somewhat. One has to wonder whether the corporatization of the medical practice has also affected the ability of the single pharma rep to "sell" successfully. Where are these decisions actually made, at this point?

  34. This was a definitively criminal act. Lots of what brought on the crash was not this clear cut. This guy was like Madoff, what he was doing was already criminal. The creation of MERS and the destruction of the paper trail, the creation of the tranches of mortgage stocks, and later what Dimon did in shuffling around money until no one could exactly say who had it when were all, basically, legal. If you wanted to turn this into a morality play you'd want to show just how understaffed and overwhelmed the feds are when it comes to pursuing criminal charges in obvious cases, and how totally beyond their capacity it is to police high flyers with entire legal teams and bought Congresspeople and purchased legal loopholes.

  35. JennOfArk11:28 AM

    I don't know who makes the decisions - probably varies from doctor to doctor. I do know the manager ride-alongs have more or less stopped at the demand of doctors, so it's become a less sucky job in that regard. And I know they aren't hiring young blondes with big boobs exclusively these days.

  36. mortimer200011:40 AM

    I'm eager to see it, even more so after Roy's terrific review, because it's a film by Martin Scorsese, and that's reason enough for me to give it a shot. I also think a lot of the criticism I'm reading from even-the-liberals commits one of Roy's cardinal sins: conflating art with politics and propaganda.

    There is also an issue here about fiction vs nonfiction. The Godfather was great, but the Coppola/Puzo tales of Mafia nobility and honor were sheer mythology; for realism I'll take Jimmy Breslin's accounts of these thugs any day of the week. It's always more problematic when a story is supposedly derived from reality, as with Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall St., since a nonfiction work invites questions about accuracy and editorial judgement. I sympathize with McDowell's essay, and agree with her assessment of people like Belfort and her father, it's not fair to call Scorsese's showing what actually happened "glorification," and you can't blame him for the fact that his protagonist got off lightly for his crimes. (After reading excerpts of Belfort's book I wonder if Scorsese even comes close to capturing all of the depravity, or just how much of an SOB the guy still is.)

    Wall Street criminality is a different animal, and the billion-dollar fines paid by J.P. Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and SAC Capital attest to crimes committed and prosecution avoided. But if we're going to insist that art really be propaganda, then we'll rush to see a movie about SAC Capital where we'll have to finally learn what a derivative is, revel in insider traders sharing arcane tips, and thrill to watching Stevie Cohen close on yet another 60 million-dollar Hamptons estate.

  37. i need to see it yet myself, but the controversy that the film's whipped up is an interesting phenomena, some of which s.lee has highlighted above. i think a query much more revealing and worthwhile is not necessarily whether the film has a moral center, but where its center of gravity is: now, scorsese is a more skilled filmmaker than oliver stone, but commentators have pointed out that in spite of the message stone meant to convey in 'wall street', the libidinal thrust of it belongs to gordon gecko. its not simply that he's a memorable villain or that its a memorable role - he essentially powers the film along. it may seem an apples and pears comparison, but examining two prominent films on somewhat similar topics (and 'the boiler room' spaghetti mentions above) it bears asking - are we capable of rendering literal representations of capitalism any other way? we have a frame for what success looks like, even if we disapprove or we know how it was obtained. i'm not sure if the coordinates for "victimization" or exploitation are really there for us in a way that's as compelling. 'wolf of wall street' may end up being more notable for what its unable to show us, rather than what it does show us (which i think aimai takes a stab at below).

    a great review roy, thanks (& not to be too didactic, but family is at the center of 'the departed,' but also in its absence: "all that fuckin,' frank, and no kids?")

  38. mortimer200012:03 PM

    I've done tangential work for the Pharma industry for years and although HMOs and formularies have forced some changes, I don't think things have changed that much in terms of Pharma sales reps. Of course, it depends on the product being sold and who the target market is, but generally they still hire the most attractive young people they can find*-- men and women. Especially where there is still fierce competition for billion-dollar drugs (sadly these days almost entirely antidepressants) they still see youth and attractiveness as an edge to get face time with the docs.

    *I rarely ever see any Pharma rep over the age of 40. It makes me wonder where they all go when they get older.

  39. I know one--he's out on his ass, selling cars, after years as a handsome, glad handing, hard drinking pharma rep.

  40. If you think that The Godfather is a "tale of Mafia nobility and honor" you really misunderstood it.

  41. What the movie doesn't present is the institutionalization of most financial misconduct. It's a movie about a confidence man bilking individuals one at a time -- his victims are themselves low rent Jordan Belforts. The movie gives you no particularly good reason to feel sorry for the victims, and never shows you any of them (unlike Boiler Room, also based on the same guy).

    That's fine for the type of movie this is trying to be. I don't know how you make a movie about Goldman Sachs manipulating the oil market or whatever. It's hard to know how to do a movie about institutional financial misdeeds, and that's definitely not the type of movie Scorcese does, particularly since the movie is told in first person from Belfort's perspective. He clearly never gave two shits about his victims, so why would the movie?

  42. You could make a movie about Jamie Dimon that intercut images about his high flying life style with the stories and images of his bilked investors (the ones who were told: oops! no one can find your money) and the crushed hopes of the rest of the country during the long recession. They made a pretty damned good movie about the crash, in general, in Margin Call, also, too.

  43. Mooser12:48 PM

    "Cast My Fate to the Wind"? not "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" by Vince Guaraldi?
    Whose fate are we casting here, anyway?

  44. Mooser12:53 PM

    "We all participate in it to some degree, which I think is the point that some leftists don't want to acknowledge"

    "Some leftists" huh? I understand, if you revealed anything more specific, your life would be in danger, and we don't want that.

  45. Mooser1:00 PM

    "Delete means delete, not "take my name off."

    I'm not entirely sure, but I think it's a two step process when you delete. First you go to "guest" and later, the comment disappears.

  46. Mooser1:02 PM

    Me, I'm not much for coke, but for those for whom it is effective, it eradicates shame pretty well. Alchohol helps too.

  47. satch1:04 PM

    "Even to get to "greed is bad" you have to focus on either what happens
    to the guilty person (punishment) or what happens to the victims

    You're right, and at the end of the day, the movie doesn't really do either one of those things, unless you count the scene near the end where Belfort is pitty-patting tennis balls at Club Fed, or dwelling on the existential hardship of having to go to New Zealand to do a presentation.

  48. mortimer20001:05 PM

    Seriously? Is it because I left off the scare quotes? The Godfather, and especially the first in the series, isn't about Honor and Nobility, but a purely invented Mafia "honor" and "nobility", where the characters nobly live by their own codes in which family and "honor" -- no matter how twisted or ruthless by normal people's standards -- underly all their actions. Christ, it's so highfaluyin it's practically on the level of Shakespearian tragedy, and I'm like the billionth person to think this.

    Compare the depiction of the NY Mob in The Godfather to that of the vastly more realistic Donnie Brasco and then tell me what I misunderstand.

  49. J Neo Marvin1:15 PM

    Wasn't she the same character who had her head shaved earlier in the movie?

  50. DocAmazing1:19 PM

    I'm in pediatrics, which is not a high-dollar specialty, so we get fewer "detail people" than other specialties. When I was a medical student, lo these many years ago, I rotated through many specialties, and noted that Orthopedics got more than a few jock-esque drug reps and General Surgery got eye candy; the Internal Medicine types I studied under liked to pepper the drug reps with detailed questions about the mechanism of the drug in question, so those reps had to study up. We pediatric types often get maternal-looking reps, maybe because that's who gravitates toward kids' medicine, or maybe because the drug companies figure that's what we'll respond to.

    In any case, it's all undergoing a big change. As of this year (actually, I think it started last year), we're supposed to report (with abundant paperwork) all gifts over $10, or something like that. Detail people still come around, but lunches for our office staff, which used to happen a few times a year, are no more. No pizza from the immunization lady. (Pens are so 1980s.)

  51. satch1:21 PM

    Using Pharma as an example was probably not very instructive, since those sales reps actually show up at the doctor's offices and dazzle 'em with their cleavage. The boiler room operation puts a premium on being able to instantly connect with the of a cold call, and it seemed to me that here, a women's voice, with the inflections of the Outer Boroughs smoothed out, might have an advantage.

  52. DocAmazing1:24 PM

    Actually, there was clear-cut fraud around MERS; the robosigning scheme was overt fraud; the "rocket docket" judges that helped push all that stuff through were clearly abetting fraud. There were and are strong cases for all of that The fifty states' Attorneys General were pushed by Holder not to go after that, and to accept a settlement.

    This was more of the "too big to fail" shit from the Administration.

  53. Yes, because you left off the scare quotes. To say that its Shakespearian is not to say that its about "honor and nobility" though these are some of its themes. --its clearly about the delusions of honor and nobility that one brutal segment of an immigrant community appeals to as it attempts to seize power in a new state. While the first godfather prates about honor, nobility, family, and (for example) clean crimes like gambling and drugs-only-for-blacks he's pretty clearly shown to be lying to himself and his family--he rolls over for the pimps and the drug guys when expedient and leaves his son, Michael, to continue the moral decline which includes the murder of his own brother, Fredo.

  54. DocAmazing1:32 PM

    Whatever differences I may have with my dad, he never screwed my credit rating. I should call him up and thank him.

  55. DocAmazing1:55 PM

    There's a conversation being born here that is worth having, and worth bringing into the wider world, and it involves the glamor of (for lack of a better word) evil, and the responsibility of artists portraying it.

    It is certainly the case that the Gordon Gekko character got away from Oliver Stone, much in the way that Satan grabbed the pen from Milton. The villain of the piece, who you are supposed to despise, is the most compelling character. That's often the case in good art, but unfortunately leads to a reaction on the part of the audience that the artist would likely find distressing. I'm sure Mario Puzo was horrified to find that, just prior to his death, "Godfather" became a fashionable brand in youth culture. (Maybe he was comfortable with his royalties. I dunno.) In any case, whatever you may think of the idea that the media affect behavior, and whether you think that Bandura is a crank or a genius ( ), people do take cues from what they see onscreen.

    It's also worrisome when you see how our culture presents itself both to itself and to the world. I spent time living in the West Indies, and ran into people (a large number of them) who thought The Young and the Restless was an accurate depiction of the lives of many Americans, and that Rambo movies were roughly literal depictions of our military capabilities and foreign-policy plans. (A few also thought that the stunts in kung fu movies were actually performed by skilled athletes, rather than being the result of clever editing.) Coming home, I realized that many of my neighbors in the USA weren't really much more sophisticated (if at all).

    I'm not calling for a return to morality plays (as though they ever went away), but it is surely the case that much of Scorsese's audience is going to watch DiCaprio playing Belfort and think less "What a scumbag!" and more "What an awesome dude!" That's neither Scorsese's fault nor his responsibility, but some response seems necessary.

  56. mortimer20002:14 PM

    This has nothing to do with the issue, but in case you've never read it, this is a fascinating interview with Coppola about the making of The Godfather. As usual, the executives did all they could to fuck it up and almost succeeded.

  57. Spaghetti Lee2:34 PM

    It's also worrisome when you see how our culture presents itself both to itself and to the world.

    Hasn't that always been the case, though-people seeing the places they've never been to through third-hand accounts and stereotypes? And honestly, that stuff's gotta be at a low ebb in human history as a whole, what with the internet and such. Harder to make complete BS claims about foreign countries and get away with it, because odds are good someone in your comment section is either from that country or has lived there before.

  58. While I think it's a mistake to judge a movie based on the way its less, um, critical viewers respond to it (I'm not saying you're making this mistake, 'cause you're not), I do think that all the decades and tropes of movie violence do have an effect. They seem to limit to ways we as a culture are capable of conceptualizing and talking about violence, for starters. Inception was supposed to be a visionary and creative movie, but how was the conflict between one subconscious and another ultimately portrayed? By dudes with guns. I felt a very palpable disappointment in the movie when the assault rifles came out.

    Certainly I wish that more restrained depictions of physical violence, ones that don't gloss over its challenges and consequences, were the norm. My favorite recent example is True Grit, but there are others.

    But that doesn't really provide an answer for how we approach a topic like Belfort. Because, I mean, he did live the high life on the backs of other people and get away with it. That's realistic, whether or not it happened exactly as portrayed in the movie. If we don't want non-Americans taking away that message about what America is like, our solution is to change. If Belfort were still rotting in prison, the movie could show him still rotting in prison, and it wouldn't be a morality play, it'd just be what happened.

  59. Well, that's true. An 18th century English person, for example, believed some pretty silly things about China and India. And it was for a long time commonly accepted as fact in Europe that Polynesians practiced cannibalism. Only in the 20th century did anthropologists finally establish that there's no evidence that they do or ever did.

    The Internet is a great solution to this problem - if people are willing to use it as such. It's also a great tool for confirming your existing biases and prejudices, if that's what you prefer.

  60. I've read (part of) a book called The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins. It's written by an insider (a former insider, really). and he seems to confirm that, yes, an awful lot of what Wall Street was doing in the 00s was blatantly illegal. One thing he describes is the fight to get money from Congress to set up an FBI task force devoted to punishing such crime, and the way promises of support from Congresspeople evaporate as they (apparently) receive their instructions from on high,

  61. willf2:55 PM

    We all participate in it to some degree, which I think is the point that some leftists don't want to acknowledge.

    I must disagree.

    There are many more leftists (whatever that means these days) who love pointing out that "we" are all guilty than there are those who think that they bear no responsibility for the current state of affairs.

    It's the kind of idea that leads people to joke about the big meteor they wish would come and destroy us all, and it's a trope that can be dispiriting.

  62. Spaghetti Lee3:04 PM

    I do think that all the decades and tropes of movie violence do have an effect.

    I'll admit I'm a bit suspicious of this whole theory, and it may be because I'm an interested party (I like lots of violent media and I'd rather not be seen as a sociopath), but really: if you take the last 40 years or so as both the era when mass pop cultural media became omnipresent and it became socially acceptable to show bloody, gratuitous violence, and you compare those 40 years to any random 40 years in human history, it's almost a certainty that the former will be less violent than the latter, however you want to measure that: homicides, imperialism and enslavement, war, ethnic cleansing. Compare 1973-2013 to 1905-1945, for example, and count the atrocities.

    So, the argument as I understand it is that violent media make violence look cool and sexy and make people think that it's an easy, consequence-free solution. If so, why the disconnect? Why is the era of such violent pop culture arguably the least violent era in human history?

    I'm sure there's lots of theories. Mine is a combo of a) a more global culture, b) more material plenitude, and c) the media never was as powerful and seductive as people thought in the first place.

  63. Libidinal Thrust was my favorite Rocky Horror song.

  64. Jay Schiavone4:11 PM

    Johnny Rivers sang a version of it, which makes it easier to remember the correct title.

  65. Thanks for that link! What an incredible interview! Fascinating. I would love to see the screen tests he shot, especially the one he describes with Brando. Its also terribly sad to think that he looks back on the filming with such misery and despair because of how he was treated. I also found it really interesting that the entire shoot was like a mini lesson in the kind of politics and negotiating that the Godfather himself is trying to teach his children--the part of the shoot where he figures out that they are going to fire him and he fires his entire disloyal staff right before the weekend so the studio will lose too much time in trying to replace everyone? It reads like the same kind of transference he does when he just tkes his family's dinner table discussions of their petty little arguments and business deals and morphs them onto his mafia characters. Thank you so much for that link. I read it cover to cover as fast a I could.

  66. Oh, let me return the favor. I can't seem to find a complete download of the Brando test but here's a fun article with bits of the forced retesting of Al pacino and a tiny bit of the brando test.

  67. Yes, I'm not denying that there was clear cut fraud in the form of all kinds of things. But the original shift from a regime in which "the paper" was owned by one bank and actually held somewhere physically and the new "its all numbers in a computer" and an individual mortgage can be sliced and diced and packaged into tranches? That was all legal.

  68. M. Krebs5:48 PM

    I just had a great idea for the motion picture that all of America is waiting to see. It revolves around a soulless (fictional) Wall Street tycoon who is CEO of a major bank. Five or six of his lieutenants play prominently. They all proceed to fuck up the world a la, well, you know the story basically, except there's a twist. Mr. CEO gets arrested on child molestation charges. He then rats out his lieutenants, who all die in a fire resulting from a firefight with federal marshals. Mr. CEO retreats to his mountain cabin, blows his own brains out, and is eaten by wolves. The end.

    I'm thinking David Fincher directs. Maybe Cronenberg.

  69. Sorry for the ambiguity, but I didn't mean that media violence has a clear effect on the viewer. I'm as tired of that bit of concern trolling as you are. What I meant was that it has an effect on our cultural narratives of violence. Viewing US foreign policy through the lens of Rambo, for example, removes a lot of necessary nuance. The US doesn't have to go plowing into every country that's opposed to its interests like Rambo.

    The point is clearer if you remove politics and just focus on the artistic side anyway. That's why I used Inception as an example. There are lots of fascinating ways you could visually and narratively explore the idea of a dream landscape. Dudes shooting at each other with assault rifles? Probably one of the least interesting possible options.

    But portraying conflicts with guns has become the easiest option for Hollywood, not only in terms of meeting audiences' expectations, but in more tangible ways, like the fact that Hollywood has built up a whole logistics industry full of prop guns and body armor and stuntpeople trained to wave guns around. That's just what's most easily available to them.

  70. Depends on the particular leftists you're talking about. Some leftists think they're not part of the problem because they buy hybrid cars and eat local or "fair trade" foods. Some leftists think that capitalism would be just fine if those Wall Street predators weren't taking advantage of it.

    But you're right! The "humans are stupid" trope is an easy one for leftists (but hardly leftists exclusively) to fall into. I don't think humans are all dumb or irredeemable, just that if we want to see real change, we're going to have to make changes that inconvenience ourselves, too, not just the one-percenters.

  71. I really love your point of view on this blog. I'd love to talk to you for a documentary I'm doing. Check us out and if you're interested, send us an email.


  72. coozledad7:17 PM

    My wife gets to hear "Humans are fucking stupid' every day from me anymore. but mostly when I venture out to the road frontage of our farm to pick up the heaps of soft drink containers, fast food waste, over the counter dick pill packaging, deer carcasses and empty bottles of prescription medications for heart disease and diabetes my neighbors strew in the ditchlines.

    I think they're throwing it out of their cars and trucks because they think an automobile is some kind of temple. They are fucked up.

    Anyone worth a damn COLLECTS their garbage in their car.

  73. JennOfArk7:51 PM

    And I've got the car to prove it!

    As bad a person as I am, one thing I've never been is a litterbug. Even with cigarette butts. I just always thought about it from the perspective of "how would I like it if someone threw their trash in MY front yard?" It really is amazing how simple it is to sort out what's ok to do vs. what isn't: just put yourself on the other side of the equation and consider how you would feel about it then.

    The other thing - I'm an obsessive non-waster. I blame my dad, who was a Depression baby and never got over the rules of the era - take care of your shit because you can't afford to replace it, don't buy what you don't need, re-use things when possible, etc. If it wasn't for the golden rule reason for not littering, these days I wouldn't do it because I'd want to take the item home and put it in the recycling. Seriously, I fill the recycle bin every month; it takes 6 months to fill the garbage bin.

  74. coozledad7:57 PM

    We've got a register of deeds in my county who's a Democrat in name, but basically a fundie social issues creep. These are people who can screw you up if they want, and she strikes me as a vindictive piece of work, as well as being neck deep with the banks with the MERS crap.

    I've always found the biggest enemies of legitimately obtained property found refuge in the right. Down here, In my district, anyone who has power is more or less on the side of property theft.

    Historically there aren't enough protections for mortgage holders, But now they're fishing around in paid up mortgages. they'll find a way to take your shit with a closed account that's accumulated ten dollars in default. You have to watch these fuckers.

  75. coozledad8:17 PM

    If we didn't have a materials recycling facility nearby we'd be awash in junk. We're just finishing up clearing out the previous owners' junk heaps (a hundred year accumulation) and I still find myself picking up some old lawn chair and thinking "This would make a kickass towel bar!".

    Brooks should have contacted me before he wrote his latest marijuana panicle. i'd have given him more reasons to turn his asshole into a nail cutting machine.

  76. BigHank539:30 PM

    The example I like to use is the portrayal of divorce in US media. It's always somebody's fault and they're the bad person for fucking up the relationship. Compare to something like The Full Monty, where the divorced couple still likes each other and co-operate when it comes to taking care of their kid. D'you think we might have fewer guys needing to shoot their exes (and frequently the new boyfriend and occasionally the kids) if we had more examples of "We got divorced 'cause our marriage didn't work, and now we're both happier" on the TV?

    Though I'm sure the evangelicals would clutch their pearls over that, too.

  77. mortimer200011:39 PM

    Excellent. Didn't know these were around. Thanks a bunch. Ryan O'Neal. Can you imagine?

  78. mortimer200011:43 PM

    After reading stuff like this you wonder how many mediocre movies were only made so by executive interference. Like when you hear that MGM executives wanted "Over The Rainbow" axed from The Wizard of Oz.

  79. This thing seems to have put my original thank you for the link into limbo. But I did want to thank you for the link and urge everyone who is a GF Fan to click it. What an interview! There are amazing things in it. The clip of Martin Sheen blowing his screen test for the Michael Role, and the scene of James Caan trying for it, are also really interesting. But the best is the tiny clip of Brando turning himself from a handsome young blonde man into Don Corleone with a little shoe black and cotton wool.

  80. My mother proposed this new slogan:

    People don't rob Banks
    Banks Rob People.

  81. I agree with you all that this is an important topic.
    On the subject of the Belfort movie I think the daughter has a point in her essay--to accurately portray the evil as evil you are going to have to do something more than focus the camera on the rewards and you are going to have to find a way to portray something the audience is going to find unforgiveable. If you have to do it without actually punishing the protagonist or having god strike him with leprosy well, thats just to say its difficult, not impossible. I think although I was well aware that family prey on other family members, and that parents prey on their children, I was most shocked by some of Christina's descriptions of the way in which her father both promoted her as his spoiled, status symbol, child and also ripped her off and crushed her future with credit card fraud and continual manipulation of her. As someone whose family was ripped off by a close cousin I can assure you that the shock, for the viewer, of seeing someone really fuck over family (not fake family and bro' coworkers) is pretty stark.

    I also think the seeming emphasis in the movie with obvious, cheap, rewards like drugs and boobs (or combos thereof) is really kind of fascinating. It reminds me of a critique of Faust that I read, years ago, which argued that a search for magic power and glory that resolves itself into "gimme a woman" is rather disconcertingly low on imagination. Are these the only goals and pleasures that people have? People can actually get that stuff, more or less, without fucking over an entire world.

  82. I've never met any leftists, real ones, who didn't think everyone was the problem, all the time. Talk about your purity trolls. Eeyores, the whole lot of 'em.

  83. Somehow I keep putting up a generic thank you for your first link and it keeps dissapearing. Its not longer worth posting but now my dander is up and I want it to appear, damn it.

  84. Well, he should count his blessings, then ... Most of them get ground up to make more cholesterol-reducing drugs.

  85. bekabot7:55 PM

    It's ironic that the Law of the Jungle as adumbrated by Kipling is so much kinder and gentler than the Law of the Jungle as adumbrated by Scorsese. Belfort ("beautiful strength") would dismiss himself as a weakling if he had to follow all the regulations Kipling issues for his wolves. Is all.

  86. Gabriel Ratchet11:30 PM

    Or, to quote Berthold Brecht in HAPPY END, "Robbing a bank is no crime compared to owning one."