« Joan Fontaine, 1917-2013 | Main | More "Wolf of Wall Street" »

December 17, 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Excellent stuff Glenn


Fine, thoughtful reflections, Glenn.

Regarding your concluding remark, while I don't have a copy of EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS handy, in Steven Bach's account of that same discussion in FINAL CUT it is Robert De Niro who quietly, calmly asserts, "He is not a cockroach. He is _not_ a cockroach."


National Review: World Net Daily for poseurs.


It was actually DeNiro who said, "He is not a cockroach."

Glenn Kenny

Updated/fixed. Thanks. Transcribed the story wrong. Sorry.


Not to ruin the comments here with a dive into political philosophy, but I've never understood why some consider the amassing of great wealth legitimate by definition and the impulse to do so a positive sign for a culture. This is especially true when those doing the amassing don't seem to produce any lasting tangible value for that culture. I suspect this is part of what Scorsese is trying to get at with "Wolf", though I have not seen it yet.

Not David Bordwell

Kurzleg: No one who believes that amassing wealth is an absolute good in and of itself has ever read the work of Adam Smith, I can tell you that. That whole attitude is intellectually fraudulent, at the very least.

Chris Labarthe

Excellent piece, Glenn. But don't you think "Swiftina" gives 30 Rock too much credit? (Or is that a "Feylor" mashup?)


I'm not sure about this talk of "distance," "steely anger," "genuine nerve endings." For much of its distended running time the film has you (quite literally) all up in the heads, noses, and asses of these clowns. More than anything you're invited to share in their ecstasies of drugs, sex, swindling -- whether by DiCaprio's cocky narration, the by turns woozy and hyper camera techniques in any of the numerous orgies, or the in-your-face smash cuts to such images as two characters fucking on a pile of cash. A few choice instances of less cocaine-/quaalude-fueled, more sombre reflection hardly settle the case for the film's "genuine nerve endings" (though Chandler on the subway does come as a bit of a shock to the system after prolonged exposure to the shenanigans of DiCaprio and his brahs). In time I may come around to your point about "Swiftian rage," but for now all I can see is indulgence in the talent and millions spent bringing a bunch of hotshot phonies' adventures to the big screen -- as if there's any insight left to glean from stories like this, any reason we need to listen to shallow characters shout litanies of "fuck" at each other, or watch them cruise in their yachts with Foo Fighters blasting on the soundtrack for five seconds for some reason. I think this is what some critics mean by "pointless."

Sorry but I really think Scorsese gets a bang out of characters like Belfort, has an easier time identifying with them than keeping his distance. Which reminds me of something hilarious Paul Schrader once said about Scorsese on a visit to my film class: "The thinner the ice ... the faster Marty skates."

Glenn Kenny

How much of a bang does Scorsese does Scorsese get out of Belfort in the almost-never-cited-in-negative-reviews final scene between DiCaprio and Robbie, I wonder.


I'm not sure whether or not this belongs here, but it's interesting nonetheless. From Belfort's Wikipedia page:

According to federal prosecutors, Belfort has failed to live up to the restitution requirement of his 2003 sentencing agreement. The agreement requires him to pay 50% of his income towards restitution to the 1,513 clients he defrauded. Of the $11.6 million that has been recovered by Belfort's victims, $10.4 million of the total is the result of the sale of forfeited properties. The sentencing agreement mandates a total of $110 million in restitution.[10]

In October 2013, federal prosecutors filed a complaint that Belfort, who had income of $1,767,209 from the publication of his two books and the sale of the movie rights, plus an additional $24,000 from motivational speaking since 2007, paid restitution of only $243,000 over the past four years. However, later in October, the government withdrew its motion to permit further negotiations.[11]


Genuinely surprised to see the "fetch me the smelling salts" "Is he glorifying this lifestyle???" questions pop up for a Martin Scorsese movie in 2013. I was too young but I guess now I know what it was like when Goodfellas came out.


Brian -

I wrote but discarded a response to Cameron earlier that touches on your point. When it's asked what new insight we might draw by "bringing a bunch of hotshot phonies' adventures to the big screen," my response is that there's a difference between knowledge of the existence of something and the dramatic portrayal of that something and the people involved. I haven't seen "Wolf," but "Goodfellas" clearly allows the portrayal of that world and its ethos to more or less incriminate itself. Any glorification is incidental and proceeds from the need to accurately depict the allure of that lifestyle (for lack of a better word) to those people and (possibly) to the viewer. If a judgmental tone seems lacking, it's only because such a tone would diminish the movie's power.


Brian, I should rather be surprised if, in 2013, nobody questioned the wisdom behind making a glitzy $100 million Leonardo DiCaprio starring-vehicle based on the cash-in memoirs of a notorious Wall Street playboy-criminal. What greater glory could Belfort and his cohort hope for -- whatever implicit or occasionally explicit indictments Scorsese has wedged into the portrayal of their exploits?

On the other hand, I see Kurzleg's point that the dramatic portrayal of this world and the Belfort ethos can function to incriminate itself. My judgments based on what I saw depicted in the film perhaps testify to this. I think this is also what Glenn is arguing when he discusses the dwarves conference room scene. But I have to disagree that any glorification is "incidental" to the film's accurate depiction of the characters' lifestyle and their attraction to it. I would counter that this glorification (at least as WoWS is concerned) is "intentional" and part of the alliance the film forges with its material to make it juicier entertainment: stuff like the Foo Fighters*, and the cheeky framing of a prostitute's ass cheeks, and any number of energetic montages depicting the rush of accumulating wealth -- these are all Scorsese's choices, not Belfort's.

I'm actually not asking for a judgmental tone to be more obvious here, and in fact I agree it would probably reduce the impact of the film. (Blatant moralizing is a drag. Says I, the pain-in-the-ass moralizer around here.) What I'm trying to get at is this Belfort clown's story did not merit adaptation into a lavish Hollywood entertainment-cum-prestige picture in the first place: it is, indeed, pointless. We know this corruption exists, we know it's glorious for those reaping its benefits, we know chickens eventually come home to roost (but never quite the way we hope for assholes of this calibre) -- what remains to fascinate and enlighten in the telling, enough to justify celebrating this film as one of the year's signal cinematic achievements? I think the film mainly ends up coming across as an indulgence.

Glenn, in the clear light of a day later I regret accusing Scorsese of getting a "bang" out of Belfort (unfortunate choice of words and all), and I think you're right that the final scene between DiCaprio and Robbie could be productively unpacked to expose Scorsese's true feelings about/insights into this character. I just wish Scorsese didn't feel compelled to spend his prodigious talents making high drama out of the lives of "cockroaches" like this.

*No offense to the Foo Fighters. It's just that the wasteful use their song's put to is representative of the film's mainly gratuitous song score.


I see your point to a degree but if your central argument is really just that the film simply shouldn't exist in the first place or that the material is someone how "beneath" an artist of Scorsese's caliber...well...ok then. There's not really much I can say about that.


My New Year's resolution is not to hold such extreme positions. They tend to be unpleasant and silence people. Guess this will be the last for me. Anyway, I'll continue to read the conversation on WoWS as it develops in the next few weeks.


Cameron, not having seen the movie but having wondered why it existed--for the reasons you elucidate--I see nothing wrong with anything you wrote, nor do I think it was extreme, including the non-controversial statement that he gets a bang out of characters like this guy, double entendre aside. That's why he made the movie. It was sexy to him. It isn't some cold, distanced French-style reading of the scenario, after all. Sometimes we, the audience, get a bang out of bad guys too, be it The Sopranos or Goodfellas or whatever, and sometimes we don't, and that distinction will also be split in each instance. I suspect you and I just have no interest in this case in seeing a finance douchebag lionized, critique around the edges or no. As far as whether there is sufficient critique or not, I defer to the Truffaut chestnut about there being no such thing as an antiwar film. Anyway, this is all to say, as an ex-NYer, pls do not divest yourself of firm, considered stances, even if they do tip toward the extreme, which this did not.

Glenn Kenny

OK, I was going to keep my trap shut on this, but since Andy has decided to up the ante, I'm going to suggest, as kindly as possible, that people try not to indulge to fervently whatever fantasy they entertain about how and why motion pictures get made. The idea that Scorsese, because he's Scorsese, can just snap his fingers and get over 100 million dropped in his lap to make any movie that he is compelled to make.

As it happens, after "Hugo," the movie that Scorsese was most "compelled" to make was "Silence," a tale of Portuguese monks in 19th century Japan that, whatever its eventual merits might have been, would not have excited the sort of commentary now stimulated by "Wolf." In any event, financing for that picture fell apart, and financing for "Wolf," a project that DiCaprio had been nursing for years with the hope of Scorsese directing, came together. With "Wolf" now a sure thing, Scorsese proceeded to, as he put it at a recent press conference, "find [his] own way" into the material. Now he intends to make "Silence" his next film. We'll see how that goes. Maybe some "Wolf" objectors can create a Kickstarter campaign for it.

Directors work as they can. Projects fall apart, come together, fall apart again with no regard for what a director is compelled by or not. One of the weirdest side effects of auteur-based criticism is this belief that directors do what they want when they want. (Especially odd since the whole point of the "politique" was to demonstrate how studio-constrained directors managed to SNEAK a personal signature onto the films they oversaw.) There are so many factors, so many ruined dreams, so many failed deals, behind each and every film. It took ten years for Scorsese to even want to make "King of Comedy." So say what you will about the movie, when and if you see it, but don't act as if you know why the movie got made. Thanks.


Glenn, I agree with the things you are saying, just not their relevance to my general point. I will take the slam that I said "That's why it got made" as a casual assumption without knowing precisely why it got made. No problem. You got me there. But I didn't even know I had said that til I reread my post, bc I really don't care why it got made, much less have a fantasy about it, fervent or otherwise--just whether I should make time in my 80 hr workweek to see it. I just thought, if someone is worried about getting browbeaten for saying that they saw the movie and it felt like Scorsese enjoyed romping around with this guy, let them effing say it. He saw the movie, that was his take. If you feel you have proof that Scorsese had other feelings about it, I kind of think that's irrelevant. I'm one of those "all that matters is the result" guys. I love the driving scene in Solaris, for instance. I don't give a shit why it's there. I'm not going to stop loving it bc it was shot in Tokyo and shoehorned in, or whatever the ridiculous discussion was about it here some time back. If I hated it, knowing that Tarkovsky thought it was the most important thing in the world might make me more sympathetic to it, or him, but at the end of the day, the movie is just what it is. I looked at prospect of Wolf, and thought, geez, is that something to make time for? Whatever motivation Scorsese had is irrelevant to me. When I say I wonder why it exists I mean that as casual, surprised curiousity. If (to get extreme here) Vincent Gallo made a Care Bears movie, I would wonder the same thing. In both instances, the fact that the filmakers chose the material is a reason for me to consider seeing something I wouldn't be interested in otherwise. What specific reason they had, less so to the point of nil. You seem to think I am making a judgement on Scorsese's motivations and letting that make the call for me. Apologies for my poor communication skils. But, while we are on the topic, and at the risk of toying with your ire, he didn't do it with a gun to his head, and from what everyone is saying about it here, it sounds like he is sexing up the material to a decent degree. Fair to say? (Maybe not, I haven't seen it, but that's the impression given here.) So when you say he had to find his way into it, it sounds like both sexing it up and finding some critical distance could have been a way in. If Wong Kar Wai makes a movie with digital slo-mo in it, I might assume it's because he wanted to. If it turns out a studio forced him to against his will, that's interesting to know, but I'm not exactly going to feel like an asshole for working off my assumption. But all that matters is whether I want to see a movie with digital slo-mo in it. Thanks?


BTW, having been taken too literally once already, digital slo-mo has no bearing on whether I see a Wong Kar-wai film. Nor would it if I ever decided whether or not to see them, but I don't--I just show up faithfully. Just didn't want to raise the ante, so to speak, from mere irritation to apoplectic sputtering.


What would you do if, at 71, the financing and star (with whom you've already worked!) fall into your lap?


Kurzleg--Fair point; I have been thinking more about this overnight. Glenn's point about studio sysytems etc seems a bit not too germane in that, at this point (and at every point, really), Scorsese knows that his name will carry a certain imprimatur. Maybe whoever receives it as such is misguided (as I imagine Glenn might argue), but I don't think it's extreme to say that that is the case, misguided or not. That Scorsese chose to make a film implies for the public an interest in the material, to at least a reasonable degree. (I'm still not even sure that it is so distasteful to assume so). Anyway, to answer your question, if I had distaste for the material, I suppose I would either pass or perhaps subvert it, Seijun Suzuki style, to my liking, knowing that my name was on it and it should be something I wanted out there. (Allowing, of course, that if a passion project was going to disappoint people expecting the "brand," they could go fuck themeselves.) And presumably that is more or less what happened here, from the sound of it.
It's funny, because I had actually wondered the opposite: whether DiCaprio had felt unease with glorifying this guy and whether he then might have felt somewhat obligated for a variety of reasons, to take the role. I simply had it backwards.

But maybe I am failing to account for greater realities than I am familiar with, as a person who doesn't direct--thanks for putting the question to me. I will say that before I got out of film school I decided that struggling to get money as permission to make your art was no way to live, and went with music instead. Which I don't even do professionally--which makes it even easier to just do as I please and make my stuff with no undue influence or compromise. Of course, no one knows my name, and everyone knows Scorsese's--the world is simply made up of different people, and in that regard I guess I can't really answer your question.


Haven't seen WOWS yet, and of course I haven't spoken to Scorsese about his motivation for taking the gig, but it does seem safe to assume it's along the lines of "Oh, this can get a green light NOW, and the material is something I can brang my thang to? Let's go." As to whether the subject of the film is worthy, Scorsese has a pretty estimable track record of making "problematic" protagonists worthy of his attention -- Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Rupert Pupkin, Henry Hill being the obvious examples. I have no idea if Jordan Belfort will prove as fascinating (obviously some are saying NOT), but I'm sure if anyone can pull it off it's Scorsese.


Robert Stone writes (eloquently) from the perspective of someone who saw the dreams of his generation rise and fall mostly unfulfilled. Some dreamers were killed, others drafted into senseless war, still others bullied into the margins by the forces of what we like to call "progress."

"The American Dream" is not something ironic, but for those who grew up seeing it distorted by Watergate and eventually dragged into Ronald Reagan's vision of "morning in America" it may have been refreshing for some to pretend that greed was good. Recall that Jerry Rubin had a turn as a stock broker, eventually. Of course it turned out to be just as big as lie as any, when it wasn't backed with honest actions and good intentions. But somewhere along the way the dream changed from a having bucolic yeoman farm free from government interference into "I wanna be rich and famous."

Also it's important to note that this same real life "cockroach" inspired another film called BOILER ROOM that didn't need 100 million dollars to make it's point.

A. Campbell

"We know this corruption exists, we know it's glorious for those reaping its benefits, we know chickens eventually come home to roost (but never quite the way we hope for assholes of this calibre) -- what remains to fascinate and enlighten in the telling, enough to justify celebrating this film as one of the year's signal cinematic achievements? I think the film mainly ends up coming across as an indulgence."

Substitute "boxing" or "organized crime" or "war" for "this corruption" and you have a catch-all for dismissing just about any movie you happen to find beyond the pale. Maybe it SHOULD be difficult and excessive, eh?


Saw it a couple of nights ago. Thought it was pretty great. Never once did I feel I was being nudged into even a grudging admiration of Belfort and company. It depicts the life they lived and shows the consequences of it, but not in a hand-holding, Stanley Kramer way. It did help me understand the mindset of these assholes and what attracts their type to that work. Seems like a perfectly valid aim for a modern film to me, because people like that affect others' lives. Do naysayers have a problem with great films that depict other types of crime, like THE ASPHALT JUNGLE or THE KILLING, to say nothing of earlier Scorsese productions? I don't expect such an explicit depiction to be to everyone's taste, of course, but I think Scorsese's aims are clear enough that he shouldn't have to be accused of glorifying or excusing the behavior he's portraying.

Edward Furey

I think the Stratton Oakmont ad that starts the picture is not a real S-R ad, but rather a parody of the ads Dreyfus used to run, which featured a lion proceeding about the financial district, in one case emerging from a subway entrance.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad