Friday, January 10, 2014

EVERYONE'S GOT ONE #25: IN DEFENSE OF THE WOLF OF WALL STREET



[WARNING: This piece contains spoilers. If you don’t know how things turned out in real life for Jordan Belfort, and you want to be surprised by the ending of the movie, you should not read this until you’ve seen THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. And I highly recommend seeing it. It’s one of my top 10 favorite movies of all time.]


Director Martin Scorsese is being criticized heavily for his biopic of convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort. There are two reasons, but I want to deal with one of them right away, because it’s easy to dismiss it, and I want it out of the way.


A screenwriter, a member of the Academy, told Scorsese, “Shame on you—disgusting.” This is after watching just about three hours worth of sex and drugs excess. And to be sure, there are plenty of excessive things that happen in this movie, from dwarf-tossing to orgies on planes. Hell, you name it, it happens. There’s even a scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Belfort, has a dominatrix take a burning candle from out of his ass and use it to drip painfully hot wax all over his back. There’s another scene in which Belfort has to ban sex in the office bathrooms—not permanently, but during working hours—because it became such a problem.


I’m not here to talk about whether or not all of these things happened in real life. I believe they did, because I don’t think highly of the human race, and I know exactly how hedonistic they will be if given the chance. However, this is a very faithful adaptation of Belfort’s book of the same title. (I should mention I haven’t read it myself—I intend to, of course—but I did some research and gathered from several independent sources that the movie is pretty much verbatim.) There is the question of whether or not Belfort is to be believed, of course. Keep in mind, he IS a con man. But the key to this is, if you’re accusing Scorsese of being “disgusting” because he faithfully adapted a supposedly true story, then you’re accusing reality of being disgusting. Sure enough, it is, but you can’t blame an artist for holding up a mirror to society. The truth hurts, but only if you don’t recognize it as the truth. This argument against TWOWS is meaningless. Although I really enjoyed Scorsese’s response to this incident: “I don’t know if [the movie] will be to everyone’s taste—I don’t think it will. It’s not made for 14-year-olds.” And that’s a whole other problem that I’m not going to go into. Suffice it to say, I’m glad a director has the balls to say that not all movies should be palatable to one particular demographic in order for it to be mainstream.


Moving on, the other argument against TWOWS is a bit harder to battle because it brings up a lot of uneasy questions, motivations and interpretations. Put simply, Scorsese has been accused of glorifying Belfort’s excessive life. This is a fair thing to say. It sure looks like fun when Belfort and his friends are doing coke on a hooker’s tits. Wouldn’t it be a blast to throw a Velcroed dwarf at a bullseye? And wouldn’t it be great if you could fuck a chick in front of all of your coworkers? Fuck MAD MEN. They only drank at work. Think of all the pills you could pop in this office. Even I will admit to being a little bit thrilled by the events of this movie. I love money as much as the next guy, mostly because I love books, and money allows me to get more of them. We all know that doing this shit is crazy, and we’re able to keep ourselves in check. But if you tell me that you watched this movie and never once felt a little excited, then I’m going to call you a liar. Add in a bunch of torture and some actual penetration, and we could have a modern day CALIGULA.


But my statement has been pretty general, so far. There is one person in particular who made this criticism, and she deserves some attention here. Her name is Christina McDowell, and she’s the daughter of Tom Prousalis, who was involved with Belfort’s crimes. Yes, Prousalis did time for it. And yes, McDowell confesses to benefiting from her father’s involvement. She said in her open letter to Scorsese and Belfort: “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.” When she found out why she was able to do all of this shit, she saw the ugly truth, and it disgusted her. To see Belfort’s life “glorified” is an insult to her, and she’s pissed off that Belfort’s “business opportunities will surely multiply thanks to this film.”


She’s right about that last part. Belfort reportedly received a million dollars for the film rights. I don’t know if he has a piece of the profits, but if he does, he’s got a nice nut coming along since the film made $9.2 million on opening day alone. (I saw it at a matinee showing three days after opening day, and the theater was fucking packed. I’ll be very interested to see the numbers when this is all done.)


But we’ll get back to that in a moment. Take a look at what is “glorified” in this movie. Personally, I believe most of the shit Scorsese is getting is ridiculous. Granted, much of what he depicts is illegal, but I don’t have a moral opposition to most of the things Belfort did. Doing coke off a hooker is fine with me. Popping a ridiculous amount of pills is OK. Maybe public sex is pushing it a little, but for the most part, I think all drugs—every single fucking one of them—should be legal. Prostitution should be legal. I go with the old George Carlin quote: “Selling’s legal. Fucking’s legal. Why isn’t selling fucking legal?!” Is doing drugs and fucking hookers self-destructive? Yes. But that is every person’s choice, just so long as you’re not hurting anyone else. I’m pissed off that suicide is a felony in some states, by the way. If you want to end your life, you should be able to do so. I personally would not choose to throw my life away with heroin, for example. But my liver’s probably fucked to hell because of all the drinking I’ve done. Belfort does say one thing in the movie that I agree with: that sobriety is an incredibly boring thing. But to each their own.


My moral problem with Belfort is how he ripped off so many gullible investors. He fucked so many people out of their life savings, which should be a high crime, especially in a country as capitalist as ours. And it’s not like he put that money to good use. There’s a scene in the film where he snorts a few lines of coke with a rolled up $100 bill. When he’s done, he crumples the money up and throws it away . . . in a trash can full of crumpled $100 bills. In another scene, he starts dropping large bills, which he calls Fun Coupons, off of his boat at a couple of FBI agents walking away.


His disdain and disregard for the people he suckered is overwhelming. It is very clear that he doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. He even rats out his friends in order to get a lighter prison sentence.


People can argue against the sex and drugs all they want, but I believe that every person who complained about this movie was hurt by the con man aspect, rather than the hedonist. Belfort doesn’t even care about his audience. In a couple of instances, when he was explaining what exactly he did to make all of his millions, he stops in the middle of it and says that we wouldn’t understand what he was saying. He insults an FBI agent, maybe the only honest character in the film, to his face. There is a scene late in the movie where one of Belfort’s partners receives a subpoena and he responds by pissing on it and shouting FUCK AMERICA!


So it’s pretty easy to see why a lot of people are recoiling from this movie. However, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that just because a director is depicting something doesn’t mean he condones it. For example, do you think Scorsese was saying that all those mob guys in GOODFELLAS were heroes?


This leads us to why the fuck Scorsese would make this movie. What point is he trying to get across? It can’t be to glorify Belfort’s life. Do you seriously believe Belfort was a happy guy? Sure, when he was doped to the gills, he was having a good time. But keep in mind, this is a guy who beat his wife and tried kidnap his scared-shitless daughter. When he crashed his car instead of getting away, as he’s watching his terrified family fleeing from him while he’s blinking blood out of his eyes, do you think he’s having a good time? Or how about when he took too many vintage Quaaludes and wound up a quivering pile of protoplasm at the country club? When he crawled and rolled to his car, do you think he was having a good time? Do you think he had a good time when he crashed his car SEVERAL TIMES on the way home? (It should be mentioned that in the movie, he didn’t hurt anyone on this drive. It’s the same in the book. However, in real life, Belfort did hit someone on his way home, and she wound up in the hospital.)


No, that’s not very glorious. At least this guy went to prison in the end, right?


Well.


About that.


In a just world, he would have gone to prison for 20 years. (I think it should be more, but that’s what the legal system says.) Instead, he got a reduced sentence for turning on all of his friends. He was sentenced to four years, of which he only did less than two.


Well, at least he did time, right? Prison is a terrible place, full of violence and rape. A pretty boy like Belfort—and unlike with most Hollywood stories, Belfort actually is attractive in real life—couldn’t last long in an environment like that. Um. [clears throat] You know why they call it Club Fed, right? He spent those two years living the life, playing tennis with other white collar criminals. His time in prison was an absolute breeze.


Gaze into the eyes of a motherfucker.

He was also sentenced to paying back $110.4 million to those he swindled. He actually swindled them for $200 million, but hey, $110.4 million is nothing to sneeze at, especially since he’s been banned from trading by the SEC. It’s something, right? Except (and this is not in the movie) he’s only paid $11.6 million back. He was supposed to pay it back when he got out of prison, and he’s been out since 2006.


We know he’s got money coming in. In addition to the money from the movie rights, he also got a hefty chunk of change for the book it’s based on and its sequel, CATCHING THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Not only that, but somehow—SOMEHOW!—he’s making a living as a motivational speaker. This guy essentially got away with everything, and he’s telling the world to go fuck itself.


You don’t get more hate-able than that, not without rape and/or murder being involved.


Why would Scorsese make a movie about someone like that? Generally, a protagonist should be reasonably likeable. An audience has to connect with that person in order to get them to sit through three hours of film. Could his motivation really be to glorify this man who proudly calls himself the Wolf of Wall Street?


Here’s where the interpretation comes in. Your mileage may vary, but it is my humble opinion that Scorsese WANTS YOU ALL TO BE ANGRY. Any reasonable human being would be furious with a guy like Belfort getting away with everything. Scorsese isn’t glorifying anything. He’s showing you how our system has failed, and Belfort is just one example. Think of all the scumbag Wall Street czars and how easily they get out of everything. Sure, their names are cursed, but there are no real repercussions for these people.


We need to change this. We need to put the fucking leeches on these scumbags. Give them real prison sentences, and make them do their time in general population.


But that will never change, will it? Rich motherfuckers will always buy their way out of anything, because everyone wants a payday. Not even I am immune. No one’s ever tried to bribe me, and I’d like to think I’d say no to one, but one never really knows what one will do when in the company of fabulous wealth.


Yes, this movie has financially benefited Jordan Belfort. Just like all of his other ventures, of course. Even though he’s listed as worth -$100 million, he’s clearly enjoying the high life from his books and his speaking engagements. But what THE WOLF OF WALL STREET really is, is a big ol’ loogie in Belfort’s face. Too bad he’s the kind of guy who would lick that loogie up, swallow it and laugh in our faces.


Will this film change anything? No. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Obama isn’t the president. The Bushes were never presidents. Neither were Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon and so on. No, since we won our independence (and even before, to be frank; anyone remember the West India Co.?), we’ve been ordered around by President Money, and that should piss everyone off.


But it doesn’t, and it never will.




[I wanted to talk about one more thing, the unsung hero of this film: Kyle Chandler, who plays Agent Patrick Denham, the guy who eventually arrests Belfort. Chandler plays Denham as an honest man without having him be a nice guy. That takes a lot of balls. This is best illustrated in what I think is one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history. When Belfort and Denham meet on Belfort’s yacht, and they have what seems, on the surface, to be an amiable conversation. DiCaprio and Chandler are so fucking good in this scene. What these two characters are really doing is pissing all over each other. Eventually, things go sour, and the scene ends with a lot of anger and thrown lobsters. But in that sweet spot before Belfort tries to bribe Denham . . . amazing.


And at the very end of the movie, when Denham is on his daily commute home, riding the scummy subway . . . wow. I can’t tell you how much I loved this movie. It’s a shame that people are trying to shit-talk Scorsese. They should really be talking award nominations.]



[One final note: I think I deserve some credit for going this whole article without making a hacky wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing joke. I did a lot of research to write this thing, and just about everyone else pulled that shit. Also, I’m one of the few people who didn’t nitpick the Wall Street thing. So Belfort didn’t operate from Wall Street. So fucking what? You know what the title means. Silly motherfuckers. You’re welcome.]

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