What have Hollywood films taught us about cash? It ain’t pretty …
If you were just an ordinary moviegoer and watched “Wall Street” without the aid of any of the recreational drugs popular at the time, you would have walked out of the theater … more thinking that you had just watched a highly entertaining morality play about excess and profiteering, and that greed, while seductive and enticing, is most definitely not good.
Apparently, though, if you were working on Wall Street back in 1987 or were dreaming about a career in money management, you (with or without the aid of any of the recreational drugs, popular at the time) came out of “Wall Street” with a new hero, a new mantra and, yes, a new purpose.
Both director, Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas, who won an Oscar playing slick money manager Gordon Gekko, are stopped to this day by Wall Street men citing the film as the biggest reason they got into the business. They fell under Gekko’s spell. They learned all they wanted to know about money were, 1) It never sleeps; 2) It can buy a lot of shiny things; and 3) Women who look like Daryl Hannah and want “the best of everything” will gravitate toward you if you have it. These lessons ran completely contrary to the message the film tried to impart.
Which brings us to “Wall Street 2,” where Stone will try once again to address how greed is legal within the workings of our financial establishments and how that institutional avarice wreaks havoc with the fortunes (or lack thereof) of everyday people.
Will anybody listen this time? And what have other movies taught us about money over the years? It’s too early to answer the first question, but we can strap on that Rolex and knot that insanely expensive tie and review our favorite financial film lessons.
Lesson: It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.
Instructors: Sonny Corleone. Whether it’s severing the head of a prize thoroughbred, shooting a crooked police captain … more in the noggin or taking out the Don himself, the morally dubious choices made by the crime families in “The Godfather” can always be justified by the ruthless maxim embodied in the make-him-an-offer-he-can’t-refuse ethos. Hotheaded Sonny was never suited to that kind of calculated approach, but brother, Michael had it nailed by the end of the movie.
Lesson: If you get caught between the moon and New York City, the best that you can do (we repeat) … the best that you can do is fall in love.
Instructor: Alcoholic millionaire playboy Arthur Bach.
OK, on the face of it, this doesn’t really seem like astute … more financial advice or any kind of financial advice at all. But hear us out. Arthur, you see, does what he pleases, and his family is fed up, believing it’s high time for this spoiled man-child to grow up and enter the real world.
So unless Arthur goes through with an arranged marriage, he’s going to lose his inheritance. But somewhere between the moon and New York City, Arthur has fallen in love with a waitress from Queens and, in the end, he realizes money can’t buy you love. He calls his family’s bluff and not only gets the girl, but the fortune as well.
So, Christopher Cross (God help us), was right. The best that Arthur could do was fall in love. Though that outcome might hold true only in the movies and in sappy love songs.
Lesson: When someone requests your money or valuables, always ask for proper identification.
Instructors: A roving band of Mexican “Federales.”
This would seem like basic common sense and yet, we’re still receiving those e-mails … morefrom the widow of some Nigerian general looking for help to recover her vast fortune, or the mysterious Interpol accountant working overtime to retrieve stolen funds. It’s an old variation of Wimpy’s, I’ll-gladly-pay-you-Tuesday-for-a-hamburger-today routine. Yet it must work, because those urgent pleas keep coming. To which we say: Badges? Why yes, you have to show some stinkin’ badges. Thank you.
Lesson: When you write an unsolicited mission statement for your company, before titling it “The Things We Think and Do Not Say,” consider whether you actually want to say those things you’re thinking, much less print up 110 copies adorned with a cover … more straight out of “Catcher in the Rye.”
Instructor: Sports agent Jerry Maguire.
You can’t say Maguire wasn’t warned. Whenever a long-haired freak working the counter at a copy center tells you, “That’s how you become great, man. Hang your balls out there,” you need to find a second set of eyes before taking the proverbial professional leap. Of course, once Maguire is canned for his boldness, it’s only a matter of time before karma comes back around and he is completed in ways that run deeper than showing his clients the money.
Lesson: If a billionaire offers you a million dollars for a night with your wife, take your wife’s advice and tell him to go to hell.
Instructor: Gatsby-like rich man, John Gage.
David Murphy doesn’t take wife Diana’s advice, but, then, these … morelovebirds haven’t exactly shown themselves to be the sharpest tools in the shed, betting their life’s savings on red in roulette in an effort to forestall foreclosure on a dream property. When Gage spies Diana and their misfortune, he moves in for the kill, believing that not only can everyone be bought, but they like the thrill that comes with the act.
There aren’t that many thrills once Diana decides to let Gage whisk her away on his helicopter for that no-strings night. The million dollars goes unused and, following, a whole lot of moping and tears, love, or something that looks sort of like it, wins out. They should have just said no in the first place. And instead of roulette, they should have hit the sports book and bet their money on whatever team the Raiders were playing. Surest thing in Vegas.
Lesson: Environment makes the man.
Instructors: Wealthy snot Louis Winthrope III and savvy con artist Billy Ray Valentine.
You don’t need to wager a dollar to know that if you flip the circumstances belonging to a silver-spoon-fed trust-fund kid and … more a street-smart hustler, the hustler will come out ahead nine times out of 10. Especially if the field is politics or, in the case of Winthrope and Valentine in “Trading Places,” finances. Of course, you could do worse than losing everything and having to sleep on Jamie Lee Curtis‘ couch.
Lesson: Coffee’s for closers only.
Instructor: Browbeating motivator Blake.
Do you know what it takes to sell real estate? Alec Baldwin‘s cocksure taunter, Blake will let you know it takes brass balls and even brings in a pair to illustrate his … morepoint. And if you’re not sure you possess said cojones and you haven’t made a sale in really long time and you’re nervous about losing your job, you probably don’t want to be over at the coffee machine grabbing a refill when the hotshot who drove the $80,000 BMW to the office begins the windup on his “mission of mercy.” Always Be Closing. And you can’t be closing if you’re sitting in the drive-through at Starbucks in a car that undoubtedly costs less money than that gold watch Blake tosses on Ed Harris‘ desk.
Lesson: Differentiate between what you want and what you need.
Instructor: Gangster Tony Montana.
A grand blast of excess from beginning to end, “Scarface” isn’t a movie you come to for subtle grace notes. When Tony Montana looks to the sky and sees a … moreblimp, the message isn’t for a tire company. It’s “The World Is Yours,” confirming Tony’s conviction in complete ambition. “Me, I want what’s coming to me. The world and everything in it.”
But when Tony gets what he wants, the blonde, the mansion, the pile of cocaine, he discovers, almost immediately, that he’s a prisoner of his desires, weary, alienated and alone. (Well … almost alone. He does have his little friend.) There’s never any sense that the selfish, sadistic Tony could have been satisfied by anyone or anything (his drug of choice only adds to the problem), and that gnawing emptiness fuels both his meteoric rise and spectacular fall.
Lesson: If you have a milkshake and someone else has a milkshake, find a really long straw.
Instructor: Operatic oilman Daniel Plainview.
“Blood” writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson lifted the “I-drink-your-milkshake” metaphor straight out of … morethe 1924 congressional hearings during the Teapot Dome scandal. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall used it to explain the concept of drainage — sucking oil from land surrounding your drilling operation. Fall knew something of drainage himself, taking bribes from his oilmen buddies, so they could win drilling leases without any open bidding.
Fall did go to jail for a year, but that hasn’t stopped other businessmen and institutions from fine-tuning the drainage notion. Take a look at your next pay stub for sobering confirmation.
Lesson: When it comes to possessions, it’s quality over quantity.
Instructor: Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski.
And besides … it really ties the room together.