Posts Tagged ‘money never sleeps

07
Oct
10

Oliver Stone’s Wall Street – 1987 vs 2010 – Part 1

I’ve worked on the trading floor, before electronic trading siphoned everyone off and turned the pits into a dwindling spectacle of free-market finance.

There is a certain romantic nostalgia involved whenever I hear an open or closing bell, the aggregate shouts of open outcry as prices are made by two opposite sides. One sound I’ll never forget is the time clocks after closing. The trading floor is empty, perhaps a few straggling yellow-clad clerks stuffing order dupes into an envelope for the run to the back office, cleaning staff sweeping up the papery remnants of a hectic trading day.

The air is still, and the clocks are clicking away. Each is calibrated to hours:minutes:seconds – but drift occurs and they aren’t all synchronized. In this relative silence you hear them, each cog nudging the increments in time with a multitude of clicks. Metallic crickets chirping out into the empty pits. It is one of the sounds I miss the most of all.

When “Wall Street” originally came out, I missed the actual theatrical release. I wasn’t in the market then and had no idea that I would be later, but once I was involved and working in the industry it became required viewing among the friends I had made. So I bought the DVD and checked it out. I loved it. The movie nailed so much of the actual market experience it was very gratifying. Oliver Stone had done his homework and talked to the right people, because it was a believable experience and filled with little details that only an insider would know to include.

Flash forward, several job changes later but still trading on the side. I hear that a sequel is coming out, and I immediately bookmark the date. On the edge of my seat, waiting to see the continuation of the brilliantly executed financial universe from the first film.

Then, I watched “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and was massively disappointed.

There are highlights which I will detail below, so beware, spoilers ahead. I’m at a loss for why this turned out the way it did. Is the second-film-of-any-series-will-suck rule still in force? What the hell happened?

Before we look ahead, I’ll have to deconstruct “Wall Street” itself down to the scenes I really like and why before I go into the current movie.

“Wall Street” (1987)  (Timestamps are approximate, noted when the scene begins in minutes:seconds)

00:00 Opening Scene with city panorama and sinatra in the background

Oliver Stone loves New York, and it shows here. Perfect pick in music, you can’t polish a gem brighter or better than a classic Sinatra song intermixed with gleaming building shots and crowded subways. Street scenes where Bud Fox emerges with a crisply pressed suit and jamming into the elevator with everyone else staring forward uncomfortably makes it work, going from the macro-scale into the story with a single claustrophobic moment is brilliant. Pulls the viewer right into the film.

02:58 First shots of Jackson Steinem & Co. trading floor

Introduction to the trading floor, festooned with LED-Jet displays, a large time display showing hours minutes *and* seconds. Quotron machines sitting everywhere, their bulky monitors glowering like green-eyed cyclops. Some of my favorite lines are uttered here, starting with Bud Fox saying “I have got a feeling we’re going to make a killing today”. His buddy Marv replying,”Oh yeah? Where’s your machine gun?”. The back-and-forth between these two is absolutely authentic. Down on the floor, between the action of orders coming in we’d do the same thing. Dry humor, wit and jokes liberally salted with choice cuss-words was the order of the day.

04:21 Market opening

The trading scenes are what solidifies this film. You don’t have to have been on the floor to appreciate these scenes, it is detailed beautifully. The classic NYSE floor, the action dovetailing with Steinem’s brokers shouting at each other and writing out order tickets. Organized chaos that is bewildering to witness at first, but then you find yourself inexorably drawn into the action.

06:03 Marv on the phone “In ten minutes its history, at four o’clock I’m a dinosaur!!”

Always loved this line. We used to handle market-on-close orders, and sometimes the customer would hem and haw until the last minute and try to pull the order right on the close. And yes, if they delayed long enough, even a second, it would get filled and hilarity would ensue as we had to report back with the news. This specific scene emphasizes how timing really is everything on the floor.

06:19 Bud Fox on the phone with the give-my-options-back customer “He’s not here right now…. (to the manager) That’s what you told us to say!”

The look on the sales manager’s face is priceless.

06:30 Marv still on the phone, talking loudly enough to override the other conversation “How the hell was I supposed to know you were in surgery, what am I, marvin the mind reader?”

Again, another great moment from Marv. I’m focusing on this to contrast it with the later film. The dynamic between Bud Fox and his broker buddy really built up his transition from an honest broker to what he eventually became.

07:47 Marv “Aren’t you forgetting something, the Gekko phone call?”

I like how he utters this line. Marv is trying to remind Bud of something basic, but it underlines something else. They back each other up. He lends Bud a “c-note” (100 bucks) when he needs a loan. These opening scenes reinforce the comraderie that develops in stressful trading floor environments. It isn’t combat, but it is close enough.

The blood gets pumping and you nearly forget the other side of a one-cancels-other order, the mistake caught by someone you work with – and you soldier on. You have their back and they cover yours. It isn’t completely altruistic, if you make a truly boneheaded mistake nobody will bail you out, but they will buy you a beer later after you’ve been fired, maybe get you a lead somewhere else so you can get back on your feet again.

08:43 First glimpse into Gekko’s office before the brushed patterned metal doors are politely closed in our faces.

Gekko was a villan, and I get that. But when Oliver Stone says he is surprised that Gekko became a role model, I think he missed something there. People are inherently drawn to power. We may even acknowledge that their actions are full of moral hazard and they may do things that cause us to tut-tut and wonder how anyone can go that far, but deep down – we wouldn’t turn down the chance to do *exactly* what we want with no repercussions.

None that are immediate, in any case. It isn’t even just about the money, but the access it provides to power. Having the ability to call someone up on the phone and get your parking tickets fixed, fly about in a helicopter and smirk at people stuck in traffic is not a perk someone would turn down if given the chance. It is about being above the frustrating bullshit of everyday living, having enough resources to not truly give a damn.

It is when we are presented with a character like Gekko, as sneeringly ruthless as he is, we can’t help but put ourselves in his shoes and wonder what life would be like – overcoming our obstacles with the effort of clicking a remote, instead of slogging for years and struggling to just maintain our standard of living.

I can’t tell you how many times the lines from this movie have been quoted, by traders, while the market was open. And it wouldn’t just be because the local cable channel happened to show it the night before. It has permeated the participants of the market, from the lowly runner all the way up to the top-step order filler and big-balls traders betting with size drawn on their massive bank accounts.

“Wall Street” isn’t responsible, but it was a canvas that others used to paint their own image of success, drawing some of them into the industry as a result.

I’ll be posting more on this, since it will be a long read – so I’m stopping here for the moment before part two…

Until next time…

Trader Tim

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