by Jacob Sugarman
When asked why he sought the company of prostitutes, Charlie Sheen, then an A-list movie star, famously responded: “You don’t pay them for sex, you pay them to leave after sex.” Fans of the man born Carlos Irwin Estevez might dismiss this kind of remark as “Charlie being Charlie,” but I’d argue that these words are a small testament to the spectacular decadence of the times.
If Sheen is the quintessential movie star of the 1980’s then Wall Street and its covert celebration of capitalism may be the decade’s most iconic film. With both presidential candidates railing against corruption on Wall Street, it’s only fitting that we take a moment to re-examinee the Hollywood melodrama that taught us “greed is good.”
Stone presents his film as a cautionary tale. Bud Fox, played by a baby-faced Sheen, hopes to make it big as a stockbroker and ends up running with the bad crowd. And honestly, what can be worse than Michael Douglas dressed up like Pat Riley and Darryl Hannah without a mermaid’s tail?
at least she is near the ocean
Under the tutelage of Gordon Gecko (Douglas), who is roughly based on Wall Street pirate Michael Milkin, Fox commits a host of goofy crimes. He spies on Terrence Stamp (a major no-no for anyone who remembers his turn as ‘General Zod’ in Superman), ruins his father’s airline, commits security fraud and furnishes one of the ugliest apartments in film history for good measure.
When Fox is ultimately sent to jail, his father, cleverly played by Martin Sheen, proposes: “Maybe in some screwed up kind of way it’s the best thing that could have happened to you…Create instead of living off the buying and selling of others.” Parental wisdom at its finest. Regardless, Stone’s message is clear: if you try to “earn enough money to ride your motorcycle across China” or let a coked-out vamp like Darryl Hannah decorate your home with gold foil, you will go to jail.
Say what you will for Stone’s loopy, leftist politics, but none of his films are as fundamentally dishonest as Wall Street. Contrary to the heavy-handed message of its third act, Stone’s film ultimately glorifies the culture of excess that it pretends to abhor.
# of 80s movies in which James Spader plays this dude: infinite
Can anyone really empathize with Carlos Irwin Estevez’s Bud Fox? In the midst of his ill-fated quest for financial glory, his character even has the audacity to muse aloud: “Who am I?” 15 years later, Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander asked himself the same question while staring at his reflection in a puddle of brackish water.
While Sheen may be the movie’s hero, Wall Street belongs to the gloriously serpentine Michael Douglas. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott compares him to the figure of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I think Scott might be giving screenwriter Stanley Weiser a bit too much credit but I’ll concede that Douglas cuts quite a figure of evil in his suspenders, two-toned shirts and Oliver Peoples glasses. Patrick Bateman, eat your heart out.
21 years later, Gordon Gecko is aging like a fine wine. We Jews, for instance, always like to be reminded that WASPS “love animals and hate people.” In one especially prescient scene, Gecko lashes out against the management of Teldar Paper at the company’s stockholder’s meeting:
“You are all being royally screwed over by these bureaucrats with their steak lunches and Huntington fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.” Does Reagan-era greed give us a proper lens with which to examine the corruption of today? Perhaps, but there’s still no account for the putrid pastels of 1980’s interior design.
Jacob Sugarman (pictured with our EIC) only gambles to win
Just Getting My Money – Crucial Conflict: (mp3)
Easy Money – Charlie Rich: (mp3)
My Baby’s Just Like Money – Lefty Frizzell: (mp3)
New Cash Money – Lil’ Wayne: (mp3)
Rockin’ Chair Money – Hank Williams: (mp3)
Scared Money – Kelis: (mp3)
She Want That Money (Ft. Odd Squad) – Devin The Dude: (mp3)
THIS RECORDING IS GOOD