My quarrel with The Wolf of Wall Street ain’t with the protagonist, Jordan Belfort, more glutton than carnivore, but with Martin Scorsese. Leo gave him his $20 million worth, but the film is a disgrace to our country. It’s subversive, flagrantly and blatantly anti-American. You would think that the producer was an old Bolshevik, maybe early Red Chinese or even Fidel Castro ranting “Get the Yankee swine. Launch the medium range missiles.”
Normally, I pass on Hollywood treatments of Wall Street. Martin Scorsese’s direction shoots for the lowest common denominator and disgusts me, framing a busload of bare-assed bimbos cavorting with wild eyed bucket shop crooks.
I rarely miss the theme in a tightly crafted film script. In The Wolf of Wall Street, I’m sure the writers focused on “excess”, as the unifying central idea. Starting with Jordan’s addiction to as much pussy as he can lasso while gulping Quaaludes, his attaché case at hand, filled with packets of Ben Franklins.
The film unfolds as a diorama of laissez-faire on Wall Street. You’re smothered by the surfeit of pubic hair and voluptuously breasted call girls – interspersed with snappy sales pitches from customers’ men on penny stocks and unregulated new issues. They’re floated and fobbed onto the great unwashed, sucked into taking a flier.
These zany delinquents and a scattering of women work hard and play hard. They talk the talk and walk the walk, a bunch of dumb bunnies who parrot the spiel Leo, a.k.a. Jordan, rehearses for them. No Harvard MBA’s in sight, these are street kids, from the outer boroughs.
Jordan’s intensity, rather frenzy, as the maximum leader of his band of dog faced neophytes rivets your attention. This is a tour de force, a role worthy of an Oscar. His manic eyes and toothsome enunciation reminded me of Adolf Hitler exhorting his followers at a Nazi Party rally in Munich stadium, circa 1939.
But, the film flounders. “Wolf” unfolds in a 3- hour marathon that should’ve been cut by an hour. I applaud the theme of “excess” as a full realization. Jordan Belfort gets his comeuppance, too. His excesses usher in grandiosity, and then comes the slammer, the pizzazz stilled.
I flashed on photos of Hitler in his Berlin bunker, two weeks pre-suicide, gazing in rapture at the scale model of his hometown, Linz, including The Führer Museum, rendered by his personal architect, Albert Speer, who fed his führer’s taste for grandiosity.
Now, I agree Disneyland’s slice of America is rosy and too bland, but the country needs Wall Street, the most efficient capital raising medium enduring the ‘29 crash, Black Monday, even excesses in mortgage backed securities packaging and distribution, aside. Morgan and its ilk still pay mightily for their flim-flaming (at shareholder expense). There were no floozies cavorting between the desks on the trading floor, just a studied rapaciousness.
I came to Wall Street more than 50 years ago as a junior securities analyst who was ably mentored and urged to be creative, but work within the spirit of doing the right thing for the firm’s clients. There was a shortage of capital in most houses that respected securities research and staffed their firms for long term financial success, not rape and pillaging.
Ironically, negotiated commissions, an SEC edict, deep-sixed research boutiques in the mid-seventies as they were grossly undercapitalized. The New York Stock Exchange then waxed too lenient on capital requirements.
In the early sixties, Donaldson, Lufkin and Jenrette, formed by three Harvard MBAs, blossomed with finely detailed research reports on properties the Street hadn’t fathomed. Dun & Bradstreet, A.C. Nielson et al. Wall Street became a meritocracy, DLJ later testing the bonds of the NYSE by going public.
Fairchild Camera, run by eventual Intel co-founder Bob Noyce, took off as its semiconductor research ignited. Then, Syntex’s birth control pill, approved by the FDA, made many of us rich and ushered in the sexual revolution. I only wish it had come a decade earlier when I was a college undergraduate.
Leo’s “Wolf” is the exception, not the rule. Consider the tens of thousands of registered brokers soldiering on in small houses and giants – Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, who are hard working, serious, ethical professionals. They are demeaned by this film – may it soon be forgotten!
Sosnoff owns personally and / or Atalanta Sosnoff Capital, LLC owns for clients the following investments cited in this commentary: Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, a part of Bank of America.
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