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Playing in the nursery

Playing in the nursery

One of the most brazen moments in  this brilliant , highly entertaining and  void work is  the moment when a female stockbroker’s head is shaved in front of a mob of her male associates. She weeps as the crowd of male stockbrokers jeer and chant. Of course, she is given $10,000 for the privilege of this humiliation in order to get “size D cup” breasts.

Martin Scorsese, the director and one of the most learned cinephiles around, had to be aware of the scenes harrowing antecedent, Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. In the film, Joan of Arc’s head is shaved  for punishment against church and crown. It is an epicenter moment. Pauline Kael called Renee Falconetti’s  portrayal, “the greatest performance ever captured on film.”

In Scorsese’s movie the head shaving is  pretty much a throwaway. As the movie damns the debasing  act in its sly way,  the movie also fully celebrates it.  Is it any wonder that as Business Insider reports, Wall Street bankers cheer throughout the movie?   As George Martin wrote in Game of Thrones, “The scent of blood or the scent of gold, they smell the same in the end.”

Jellybean Colors

The Wolf of Wall Street is a retread of Goodfellas’  themes but with prettier, blonder people. It also contains tons of sex shot in Hollywood’s favorite colors – Jellybean.

Female bodies are used as “flesh altars” with every orifice  entered, drugged and abused … and sometimes with burning candles.   There is no dignity in any of it. In this movie, every woman can be bought. There are no madonnas, only whores. I am surprised that women groups have not come out in droves against the picture.

The big question is  how this picture ever got an R rating  through the MPAA. This matter requires further investigation. Paramount Chairman, Brad Grey, might be able to have sweet talked  himself out of a Federal  indictment for  wiretapping with his buddy,Anthony Pellicano, but how could Brad Grey ever talk his way into  an R rating with  the  San Fernando  soccer moms  who compose the  ratings panels.

Something is rotten in the state of San Fernando.

Vitality at 71?

Ever since former über agent Michael Ovitz, turned Scorsese away from his rebel roots and forced him into Beverly Hills packaged product with The Color Of Money with then mega-stars Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, Scorsese has been fighting against the system. With The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese,  proves at 71, it is never too late to join the party.

Most everyone I talk to is mesmerized by the youthful vitality of the piece. “It could have been directed by a 25-year-old,” a friend of mine said.  There is no question that the protracted lude sequence was turned  into high art of which  even Max Sennett or Buster Keaton would have been proud. Other sequences also dazzle. But is it youthful vitality or  the sly glorification of untamed animalism?

Martin Scorsese said recently at the Marrakech Film Festival, “I miss the time when I had the desire to experiment and try different kinds of films, I miss that time, but that’s done, it’s over. There is obligation as you get older, you have family. I’ve been very lucky in the last 10 years or so to have found projects that combine the desire [and fulfil] the obligation to my family and the financiers.”

Obligation to family and backers is good, but what about the family of man which might expect more from the 71-year-old white-haired master? What happened to the virtue of wisdom that was a hallmark in American movie-making? Marty, you sound like a sold-out altacocker.

The  Megaphone

“So when I make the films, I become aware that I am teaching on  a much larger scale as a parent or someone walking through life because as a director, I have this megaphone. I try to be aware of what it is I am saying,” said George Lucas, a contemporary of Scorsese’s.

What happened to Martin Scorsese? Did the desire to succeed simply weigh so heavy that he was conned into a retread? Is he just too old and cannot learn new tricks?

This is the man who so brilliantly provided,  just three years ago,  such incisive commentary on storytelling in his analysis of Elia Kazan’s work in East of Eden and On The Waterfront.

Growing Old

I am certainly not trying to be a moral imperialist here. Although, I admit I sound like one. For that, I apologize.

Watching The Wolf Of Wall Street made me sad. The only hope seemed to be that the FBI cop who ensnared the protagonist got to ride home on the “same old shitty subway”. The alternatives seem bleak and there is  absolutely no  hope or redemption for anyone. But what made me sadder was the director.

In watching the movie, I sensed that Scorsese had  given up. I have known him since he was a teacher at NYU and have worked with him when I was at Paramount Pictures.  As  Ernest Hemingway famously said in A Farewell to Arms, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I remember the letter that F. Scott Fitzgerald sent to  Thomas Wolfe after reading Look Homeward, Angel.  “Genius is not enough,” wrote Fitzgerald.

I think that is especially true when you are dealing with a megaphone to world culture.