Oliver Stone on Wall Street, Gordon Gekko, and Hugo Chávez
Oliver Stone talks about his two latest films, “South of the Border” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
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He brought the idea to us that Goldman Sachs – which we call Churchill-Schwartz in the film – was hedging its investments in sub-prime mortgages, going long and short simultaneously. He said the deal was suspect when AIG, using the government’s tax payer bailout money indemnified Goldman 100 percent, giving them $13 billion back as their counterparty instead of discounting it.Skip to next paragraph
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Gardels: Aside from your earlier “Wall Street” has there ever been another Hollywood film about finance?
Stone: Several. There was a wonderful 1954 film called “Executive Suite,” directed by Robert Wise with Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden. It is story about how, at America’s most prosperous moment, it was losing focus on production and shifting to marketing and accounting bottom line. Instead of focusing on the car’s engine we began focusing on the tailfins. It was when Madison Avenue started to take over.
Gardels: And your subtitle, “Money Never Sleeps” reflects the continuing financialization of the American economy over the decades?
Stone: Yes. In the film, Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, points out a statistic: Finance companies account for 47 percent of corporate profits in America today. Back in the 1980s, I believe it was on the order of 15 percent. Usury has become America’s largest industry. Greed is legal.
Gardels: How much of a problem is it to portray the convoluted, opaque, and boring business of finance in a dramatic film?
Stone: Well, there is no question we have to exaggerate and simplify.
Most of the shenanigans that go on are so complicated to portray. We had to cut a very well-done scene on AIG because it was just too complex to follow.
In documentaries and books you can go right to the issues. In a film you need to dramatize it.
Through several major characters – Gekko, his protégé, Jake Moore, who is also Gekko’s estranged daughter’s fiancé, and two bankers, we try to dramatize the present condition on Wall Street.
The first Wall Street was simpler. Gekko’s protégé, a greedy young man who came from a blue-collar family (Charlie Sheen), met his comeuppance in the end. His father was a honest union chief (Martin Sheen).
In this film, there are no unions because, frankly the unions have lost so much power there is no call for such a character. Companies in 2010 are no longer being taken over, they’ve already been downsized and subsumed into some conglomerate.
In this film, the protégé starts as an idealist investment banker, not a trader. He’s trying to raise money for an alternative energy company he believes in.
While the economy has changed, the choices in life haven’t. The issues in this film are the same as those in the last one: Is greed good? Does it work? Are human values more important than financial ones? These are all issues we face in our own ways.
Gardels: For you, those issues are what link you two latest film projects, “South of the Border” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Hugo Chávez is your anti-Gordon Gekko?
Stone: Yes. One clarifies the other for me.