The Wolf of Wall Street

Two in a Row for Rock Docs in Oscar Category

In the end, it may have been that much-lauded “The Act of Killing” was just a wee bit too radical for the Academy voters (see previous post), so for the second year in a row the statuette for best feature documentary went to a music film. The vivacious and lovable “20 Feet from Stardom” was probably as deserving a winner in what is by its very nature an apples-and-oranges competition. And thanks to the unstoppable Darlene Love, the acceptance “speech” turned into one of the night’s most memorable moments:

Ms. Love was a subject of the film and not one of the actual award winners, but when director Morgan Neville and the producers let her do her thing it could only help the already raised profile of a feelgood film that has connected with over 500,000 people in its theatrical release, great numbers for a documentary.

Exactly one year ago today, I began this blog by mentioning the recent Oscar win of “Searching for Sugar Man”, the second rock doc to win the award, the other being “Woodstock” way back in 1970. Now there are two in a row and there may be more to follow. The redemptive or belated-recognition pop music documentary has really taken off in recent years and will probably only get more popular as rock and roll’s golden age recedes ever into the past.

Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez, whose luckless career as a singer-songwriter was salvaged by the unlikely admiration bestowed upon him decades later by countless South Africans or Darlene Love, whose ace lead vocals went uncredited on a #1 single in 1963 and who (along with many other studio vocalists) had to fight against forced anonymity and industry ill treatment, are just two of the better known examples of this mini-genre. “New York Doll” was when it first came to me as a distinct subset (in 2005) and there’s been many since then, with “Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” and “Gene Clark: The Byrd Who Flew Alone” next up in my docket.

gravity

“Now it’s time to leave the capsule, if you dare”

I’ll leave the discussion of Hollywood’s big night to the 173 million other media outlets that hash it over. However, I was a tad disappointed that the science fiction genre was once again passed up as a legit contender for Best Picture. It was nice to see the visionary Alfonso Cuaron win for Best Director and in my mind was due one about seven years ago for the masterful “Children of Men.” But in the end “12 Years as a Slave” had more gravitas than “Gravity” (sorry) and already tedious idiomatic arguments about whether his nominated film was even science fiction or just a disaster film shot in outer space have sworn me off the subject for some time to come. Meanwhile, we have in Steve McQueen the first African-American director of a winning picture and how cool is that?

Another good outcome was that “Wolf of Wall Street” came away empty-handed and so depraved felon Jordan Belfort, who somehow got his claws into Martin Scorcese, does not for the moment have any further reason to laugh in the faces of the American citizenry that he ripped off so unrepentantly. Here’s hoping that Marty can re-connect aesthetically with the human race in 2014 while documentarians the world over continue their quest for truth, justice and discovery.

(I found out my choice for best feature documentary Oscar–Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square”–did win that prize at the recent awards show of the International Documentary Association, so congrats. At the same event the great Alex Gibney, who made “Taxi to the Dark Side” and “The Armstrong Lie” among his over two dozen directorial eforts, won the IDA’s annual Lifetime Acheivement award).

Here’s a list of Academy Award-winning feature documentaries starting with Michael Wadleigh’s great Woodstock film 43 years ago:

1970—Woodstock
1971—The Hellstrom Chronicle
1972—Marjoe
1973—The Great American Cowboy
1974—Hearts and Minds
1975—The Man Who Skied Down Everest
1976—Harlan County, USA
1977—Who Are the DeBolts?
1978—Scared Straight
1979—Best Boy
1980—From Mao to Mozart
1981—Genocide
1982—Just Another Missing Kid
1983—He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’
1984—The Times of Harvey Milk
1985—Broken Rainbow
1986—Artie Shaw: Time is All I Got and Down and Out in America (tie)
1987—The Ten Year Lunch
1988—Hotel Terminus
1989—Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt
1990—American Dream
1991—In the Shadow of the Stars
1992—The Panama Deception
1993—I Am a Promise
1994—Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision
1995—Anne Frank Rembered
1996—When We Were Kings
1997—The Long Way Home
1998—The Last Days
1999—One Day in September
2000—Into the Arms of Strangers
2001—Murder on a Sunday Morning
2002—Bowling for Columbine
2003—The Fog of War
2004—Born into Brothels
2005—March of the Penguins
2006—An Inconvenient Truth
2007—Taxi to the Dark Side
2008—Man on Wire
2009—The Cove
2010—Inside Job
2011—Undefeated
2012—Searching for Sugar Man

The Wolf of Wall Street: Be sure to thank him after he blows your house down

wolf
These are terrible people. They hate you and (according to experts) you want to be just like them.

I’ve had it. In an even slightly more sane world, folks from all over would take one look at the very premise of Martin Scorsese’s latest movie, give it the middle finger, and make other plans for their post-Christmas cinema excursion. But no: I’m sure this film about a 1990’s Wall Street scumbag named Jordan Belfort will be a big hit among moviegoers (it already has an 8.9 rating on IMDB). It doesn’t even matter that the global economy has been screwed over by the Belforts of the world. Let’s just sit in the multiplex vicariously reveling in his financial scams and the pathetic drug abuse, dwarf-tossing, whore-mongering and who knows what else that goes with it. It’s just entertainment. In my view, “The Wolf of Wall Street” being released on Christmas Day is an outrageous insult to whatever is left of the middle- and working class, even more so because few will even notice the irony. April Fool’s Day would have been far more appropriate, if it ever needed to be made at all. That Scorsese couldn’t stop himself from making this film considering all the others he could have made is mind-numbing.

No, I’m not going to see it. This is a societal review, not a film review. In most cases, I do like to experience that which I’m about to criticize. But to spend $11.00 on a product that benefits an unrepentant felon (who has paid back only 10% of the agreed victim-restitution) is strictly a no-can-do with me. Anyway, after reading several reviews I quickly and predictably found out that I was missing the point. That we were supposed to watch nearly three hours (!!!) of Belfort and his greed-blinded gluttonous Moonies getting their cinematic tires inflated by Scorsese as they bilk hundreds of millions out of the everyday citizens is OK because his “downfall” comes at the end. But Belfort’s downfall was nearly non-existent. He spent only 22 months at a downscale country club thanks to ratting on people even worse than himself and then quickly re-invented himself as a “motivational” speaker. Furthermore, we’re supposed to enjoy “Wolf of Wall Street” because, deep down, “we all want in, one way or another” (according to one critic). Well, speak for yourself. That our popular culture has become so devalued that we can just forget about our common humanity and fantasize ourselves as someone who would do everything to debase it is uniquely depressing.

Oddly enough, in my time of isolated rage at the demise of populist ideals, I found comfort in the arms of the arch-conservative New York Post. In their December 19th issue Lou Lumenick lambasted the film as interminably vulgar and called it “an advertorial that crime pays.” Too bad he had to sit through 180 minutes before coming to a conclusion I got from watching the nauseating trailer. In the same day’s editorial page, Fox Business Network correspondent Charles Gasparino chided Scorsese for letting Belfort and his “low-life penny thieves” con him into thinking they were some sort of big deal and not bit players in a bigger scandal that eventually drained countless billions of dollars out of the economy.

new hard times
“At least Mr. Belfort is doing well.”
“Yeah, God bless him.”

I don’t expect much from the 1% people who run the criminal syndicates otherwise known as Wall Street financial firms. They are laughing at us and if you don’t mind being laughed at go see the film. I do, however, expect more from those who were once upholders of counter-culture standards. Yes, I’m looking at you Rolling Stone. Last spring, many people (esp. in the Boston area where I live) objected to the magazine’s decision to run a cover photo that was a glamour-puss selfie of the surviving Boston Marathon terrorist bomber. We were told we were misguided to have a “knee-jerk” reaction to an image which accompanied their (rather pedestrian) news coverage of the attacks. So it’s OK to have a terrorist looking like a pop star on your cover but for folks who manage to go through life without killing or maiming people it’s not OK to have one knee-jerk reaction??

Britney

bomber
It’s all the same in the end, whatever.

Now we have RS film reviewer Peter Travers, genuflecting at the altar of Scorsese in a praiseful write-up of “Wolf of Wall Street” that seemed to emanate from a deep well of defensiveness. He just can’t seem to get enough of the “frisky bad boy” at the center of the story and suggests that for those of us who “can’t take it” the only other alternative is seeing something like “Saving Mr. Banks.” WTF?! In conclusion, he says, “Does Scorsese say you should love these people? Is that what it’s about? Of course not. He’s looking at the American character; he’s looking at us all.” Well, if this director is looking at Jordan Belfort and seeing a reflection of me or anyone else I know, then both of them should have their eyes (and heads) examined. I guess in the twisted view of the Cultural 1%, we everyday citizens making an honest living are only too happy to have the wool pulled over our eyes in an oversaturated media landscape where Kurt Cobain’s refrain “Here we are now, entertain us” has lost its righteous irony.

Spoiler Alert for Losers: This clip contains admirable human emotions

And speaking of Marty, just what the hell is up with him anyway? I think I’m particularly galled at “Wolf” because it came out shortly after I re-watched “Hugo” with my family the other night. Of course, I would normally be wary of saying that “Hugo” is my favorite Scorsese film, because that would reveal myself as an uncool loser who has grown uneasy over the years with the stylized depiction of debased criminals in films like “GoodFellas” and “The Departed” which eases into semi-glorification when viewed by a violence-desensitized culture. The value of “Hugo” lies more in personal redemption, finding your true place in the world and, of course, the transformative power of cinema as seen in the early example of George Melies. And while Scorsese may have set the cause back a few years with “The Wolf of Wall Street” I’m sure we’ll all get by in the end, although a little less so thanks to the likes of a certain “motivational” speaker. Now excuse me while I spend my eleven dollars on “Inside Llewyn Davis.”