The new Martin Scorsese film Wolf of Wall Street is particularly handy if you need to figure out how to open the door to your Lamborghini after you’ve been severely impaired by vintage Quaaludes. Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, has just taken three very strong, very expired sedatives. He was only a few hundred yards from his mansion, but why wait it out if you’ve got a fast car? The trick is to get a Lamborghini with jack-knife doors and low clearance, so that when you writhe and roll on the ground you can still kick the door upwards and crawl in. And if you drive slowly, you’ll miraculously arrive at your mansion without causing any harm.
Or so he thought. When Belfort woke up from his drug daze, he was greeted by police officers who arrested him for causing seven different accidents that he knew nothing about.
The story comes from the real Jordan Belfort’s 2007 “memoir,” which bears the same name as the film. (Belfort wrote a sequel as well, Catching the Wolf of Wall Street.) The set piece is really very funny, a Chaplin slapstick for the 1 percent. The scene is lifted almost verbatim, but a few details peel off from reality—the fact that the car was not a Lamborghini but a Mercedes matters not at all, but Belfort actually sent someone to the hospital in a head-on collision. In fact, the entire movie is rather faithfully adapted in the same way, but the episode exposes the problem of a narrator like Belfort. How can you trust a man who couldn’t observe his own life accurately as he lived it? What you see is what Belfort claims is true, and he’s a very unreliable narrator, even in his own story. Especially in his own story.
That’s because the Jordan Belfort of the memoirs comes off as a delusional, vulgar fraud. In the prologue he apologizes for his crimes, but the rest of the book, he says, will be a “reconstruction,” one that’s played out in a “glib,” “self-serving,” and “despicable voice.” He’s absolutely right. He’s belligerent, obnoxious, and delights in making fun of Japanese accents and graphically describing all sorts of sexual depravity with prostitutes and even a 17-year-old sales assistant. At the start of the book he is greeted, on his first day of work at the Wall Street brokerage L.F. Rothschild, by a boss who says, “You’re lower than pond scum.” Oh, how right you are.
It is 1987, and Belfort, a young man from Queens, has been hired to cold call prospective investors—500 of them a day, as the boss demands, the first sign that this would be a world where everyone exaggerates. Belfort claims that an investor named Mark Hanna told him that the ticket to success was in jerking off, cocaine, and hookers—and also to make your customer reinvest his winnings so you get the commission. A man with such charming unsolicited advice could only be played by a Matthew McConaughey who has thrown all caution to the wacky wind, and we’re sad to learn that soon the stock market crash of 1987 wiped out the entire firm, and McConaughey’s screen time with it, a loss that the film would never recover from.
Belfort soon found a job hawking pink sheets, or penny stocks. The commissions were great, and he was so good at it that he recruited his friend Danny Porush (changed to Donnie Azoff in the film, and played by Jonah Hill) to found their own brokerage firm, which they called Stratton Oakmont. He had a number of nicknames, like Gordon Gekko, his hero, and Don Corleone. His favorite was the Wolf of Wall Street, although Stratton Oakmont wasn’t on Wall Street…it was in Long Island. And the nom de plume wasn’t featured on the cover of Forbes magazine, although reporter Roula Khalaf did do an article on him, calling him “a twisted version of Robin Hood, who robs from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.”
Stratton Oakmont was a classic boiler room—it even inspired a 2000 movie called Boiler Room. It employed more than 1,000 brokers at its peak in the 1990s, and Belfort would stand in front of his followers with mic in hand and give speeches like a cult leader. The con was that Belfort and Porush would own shares of risky companies that were going public or that they were taking public, and they had their brokers aggressively sell the stock to inflate the price. They would then sell their shares and make a nice profit, and as the stock collapsed, the investors would be left with nothing. Which is exactly what they did when they took the shoe company of Steve Madden, a childhood friend of Porush’s, public. This was called “pump and dump,” and very illegal. They made about $23 million in two hours from the deal, and all three of them, including Madden, went to jail for it.
With the money came the filth, and the contemptuous lewdness you see in the film are based on actual claims in the book. If all of it was true, Stratford Oakmont must have had some of the most awkward water-cooler talks in corporate history. How did you like yesterday’s midget-tossing competition? It happened, according to Belfort’s memoir. A female employee might really have let them shave off her blonde hair for $10,000, which she used to pay for her D-cup breast implants, says the book. The firm did seem to have charged prostitutes on the corporate credit card, and in one particularly unsavory passage Belfort “classified” them into Blue Chips, NASDAQs, and Pink Sheets. They even wrote them off on their taxes. “Tits and Ass!” he writes, employing one of his hundreds of exclamation marks.
He boasted of doing so much drugs that he had enough “running through my circulatory system to sedate Guatemala.” Apparently he did almost crash his helicopter in his yard, flying it high on Quaaludes. He boasted of “mountains” of cocaine, and we are never far from being reminded of the excess, as Scorsese dutifully presents to us slow-motion ballets of pills bouncing on the ground, drinks spilled everywhere (alcohol is mostly there just to wash down the Quaaludes), and clouds of coke billowing. The excess is never only hinted at—it must be coupled with as many self-important voiceovers as allowable, as long a bullying running time as tolerable. read more…
source: the daily beast0