Friday, January 5, 2018

Wolf of Wall Street: Looking Back on Mediocre Scorcese

Sometimes it's good to look back and reflect on a master's work, particularly when they have dry spells and mediocre periods. The master in question is Martin Scorcese and the mediocre bloated work under the lens is "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Martin Scorcese is arguably the greatest living American director. Yes, I do realize Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, and Steven Spielberg are still alive, but that's why the point is arguable. Scorcese started getting big budgets around the time of "Gangs of New York" thanks to The Weinstein Company. For the most part, these big budget movies have been detrimental to his craft. "Gangs" is 300 lb corpse covered in jewels: rotting, putrid, decadent. "The Departed" is a solid work. But that's mostly because it's a crime story and the budget was blown on A-listers who got the chew the furniture, rugs, columns, and the entire set. Jack Nicholson deserves a Christmas honey-baked ham named in his honor for his work on the movie, but I enjoy a truculent Jack over "HOO-HAY" Pacino-isms.

Wolf fits somewhere in the middle of the two bloated movies. It has the A-listers and it also has these extravagant set pieces: yachts, helicopters, more yachts, arguments on yachts. When I saw the movie years ago I remember liking it, despite myself. Despite my education and socio-economic awareness, I just enjoyed its Americana gaudiness.

I don't quite know how I'm supposed to feel about the message, and I don't know if it matters in this case. I think Wolf is the Horatio Alger-esque American hero capsized with reckless lying, cocaine, quaaludes, hookers, and bottom-feeder mentality of robbing from the least to feed an insatiable greed. No one seems to have any internal life or feelings besides the Wolf. The women are either hookers or harpies. People of color are non-existent in the movie, except as servants. Characters come and go with no perceivable arc or purpose but to feed the Wolf's grandiose narrative that is 1/3 mea culpa, 1/3 bragging, and 1/3 blaming of a system that made him.

Not to get too sociology 101 on it, but perhaps my struggle is that the story hits the iceberg of white privilege. Or really the story IS white hetero-male privilege. After all the sins committed, all the bodies piled up, and forced at gun point, the hero says 'Okay, I MAY have been wrong...' but then the hero keeps talking, starts blaming people/the system, and laughing at his exploits. So it kind of ruins the apology. And perhaps that's the pt of the story: the wolves will never apologize because they are incapable of it. And that wolf could be interpreted as America, capitalism, or white privilege, or Wall Street, or the American Dream.

Too much school can be a dangerous thing but I recall the voice of a teacher saying 'what's the p.8 question: when can the audience go home?' I'm watching this and wondering 'so when can we...go home? And how does punching the gay butler in the face play into this trajectory or the main character and me going home? Was that just added in because there was so many offensively gay things said that they wanted a character to be gay? But then he disappears. DiCaprio kidnapping his child: another juicy scene but then he doesn't get past the front gate and you're like 'so...what was the pt? How does this play into the p. 8 question...aka the plot?The first firm he's with...he meets the McConaughey's character who delivers this monologue...and then he disappears. And everyone else disappears from the firm. So as an editor you're thinking 'couldn't you just have McConaughey deliver that speech at a lunch interview and then be gone?

By 'white male' i think... white privilege. It doesn't mean telling stories with white heterosexual men. It means telling a story in which all ppl defined as 'other' are relegated to the status of a prop. It means not really seeing other people as fully-fleshed out characters. And that has nothing to do with the true story. That's a narrative choice...to not focus on the kids from the 1st wife. To create a world where women are one-dimensional and mostly flesh to be consumed. To not show the only original member of the firm who happens to be a woman until the very end of the movie and then uses her as a prop of 'see, I did good. I gave her money.' And as an audience member, you're like 'wait, who is this? Why have I not seen her before and now she's a prop.'

It isn't about being fair and anything shown is ethical...it's just a question of what type of ethics you're showing. I guess the question is wouldn't it have been possibly more artistic and more entertaining by shedding light on an aspect of this narrative trope that has never been examined before. Wouldn't that have been a shocking departure from the "Goodfellas' remade as "Casino' and now tweaked into "Wolf of Wall Street" with the same type of editing and voice-over main character? As a fan of Scorcese and a person of color, this question occurs to me. It was the same question put to Woody Allen. And Allen shifted, although he has the added advantage of being quite good at drawing female characters.

1 comment:

Shep Glennon said...

I enjoyed reading this. Some movies are too prescriptive, so much so that they are didactic. This movie was the opposite to me, it was too descriptive. We get loaded with details that don't go anywhere, so it ends up looking like shock value, like pornography. In 12 step we call them "war stories." Why not be a little more didactic and show us how we are the Wolf of Wall Street, we are all Charlie Sheen, it's just an extreme and distilled version of everything we've internalized and must recover from.