The only movie director Oliver Stone has made that bears watching is "Wall Street." Most of his work -- "JFK" is the perfect example -- is overwrought and hysterical. While some of "Wall Street" is a little over the top, it still makes good viewing as the 20th anniversary of its release approaches.
The basic message of the movie--"greed is good; greed is right; greed works"--remains widely held today. So, in the minds of others, do dissenting views expressed by the movie's more stoic minor characters, including: "You only need money in case you don't die tomorrow," and "The main thing about money is that it makes you do things you don't want to do."
Just about the only areas of the movie that have not aged well are the technology the supposed high-flyers use, and the soundtrack. As you'd expect, the high-tech equipment at the center of the 1987 flick is hopelessly outdated. Computer screens back then were in green and black and portrayed little more than columns of numbers. The comparative uselessness of those screens was offset by the fascination to be derived from staring at the little green digits as they marched across the screens. At one point in the movie, star Michael Douglas' character, Gordon Gekko (not the irritating cockney lizard in the TV ads for Geico), makes a call on a cell phone that is only marginally smaller than today's Internet servers.
Mostly, the film portrays with a degree of accuracy the behavior and style of those atop the world of high finance. The movie achieved an extraordinary feat: It briefly made stockbroking in suspenders sexy.
The movie-inspired craze for "power" suspenders showed how life can imitate art. A better example can be found in the life of Mr. Douglas himself. He and his wife, the fragrant Catherine Zeta-Jones, are serial real-estate developers. They built themselves a controversial mansion in the Mumbles, a depressed part of Swansea, Ms. Zeta-Jones's hometown in Wales. The locals there are thrilled; their homes have risen dramatically in value thanks to the Douglases.
Some Bermudians are rather less pleased with the couple's latest project, however. (House prices in Bermuda are already unfeasibly high.) For the better part of a century, there has stood on Bermuda's South Shore a charming and lazy club and small hotel, called Ariel Sands. As the son of a Bermudian mother, actor Diana Douglas, Michael is entitled to develop real estate in the mid-Atlantic island. When he first showed an interest in the property, he decked the halls with photographs from his films, painted the interior walls in Hollywood colors and opened a fine restaurant. The charm of Ariel Sands, where I had for some years been a member, was greatly enhanced.
Now, the Douglases have struck a partnership with the Hilton Vacation Club and are constructing ugly condos atop the skyline, destroying the area's natural beauty in the name of money the Douglases cannot possibly need. Gordon Gekko would have been delighted.
Asked in an interview what it was about his wife that he loved, Mr. Douglas replied: "Look at her." If he appreciates the aesthetic of beauty, why would he have chosen to destroy so much of it for a quick buck? The answer comes from Gordon Gekko, who states in one of the movie's pivotal scenes: "It's not about 'enough.' Somebody wins. Somebody loses."
In the case of Ariel Sands, Mr. Douglas wins. The rest of us Bermuda residents may only hope that the great star is not cast in a movie as Pol Pot or Attila the Hun. If he were to adopt the ethics of one of those characters in the manner in which he seems to have channeled Gordon Gekko, the whole world had better watch out.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
September 1, 2006
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