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Film Notes #5: Wall Street (1987)

Oliver Stone’s 1987 drama about corruption in American finance forms the fifth part of my Film Notes series.

* SPOILER WARNING: Plot details will be revealed *

Oliver Stone’s 1987 drama about corruption in American finance forms the fifth part of my Film Notes series.

For newcomers, the deal is that I must watch a film every day and make notes about it, with the following rules:

  • It must be a film I’ve already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as post interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Wall Street (1987) which I watched on a Blu-ray on Monday 26th March (today).

  • Opening sequence is tinged with a post 9/11 sadness as it features prominent shots of the Twin Towers (I last saw this film in October 2000)
  • Big, old style Hollywood fonts on the titles
  • Hal Holbrook’s character is based on Oliver Stone’s father who was a stockbroker
  • The green text and lack of GUIs on the computer screens is noticeable
  • But the film reflects how technology even then was changing the nature of finance
  • Before the subprime crisis of the late 2000s, there was the crazy period in the 1980s
  • No-one had done a mainstream business film in years partly because of ROLLOVER (1981) and also because the genre is not deemed sexy enough
  • Richard Gere turned down the role of Gecko and later regretted it – possibly why he played a similar character in PRETTY WOMAN (1990)
  • Jeff Beck (not the guitarist) was the adviser on the Gecko character but Stone and Douglas later found out he had lied about being in Vietnam.
  • Confidence is the key to Gecko’s appeal and the fact that he knows how to aggressively play the system.
  • Ellen Mirojnick did the costumes, which are actually a key part of the film.
  • Douglas was not ‘on text’ for the first few days of filming, meaning that Oliver Stone had to pull him aside and get him to stick to the script.
  • His final performance is really precise and on point – clearly the pep talk from Stone worked (like Gecko’s to Bud!)
  • Lighting change at the end of the squash club sequence goes to dark (shadows form around Gecko’s head), possibly reflect Bud’s crossing over to the dark side.
  • British business tycoon played by Terence Stamp is apparently based on Sir James Goldsmith
  • Gecko’s line about British arrogance might have been influenced by certain people he had worked with
  • Music is interesting: Sinatra, Eno/Byrne and score by Stuart Copeland.
  • Bud becomes Gecko’s corporate spy because of the allure of the closed world of Wall Street.
  • Stone filmed actual sessions on the trading floor.
  • The Anacott Steel deal is loosely based the dispute between Jimmy Goldsmith and Carl Ichann over TWA
  • Stone cameo in the square block 60s montage
  • Sean Young pissed off Stone by saying she was Dariane in front of Daryl Hannah (who eventually won the role). Ironically Hannah ended up not liking the role.
  • Julian Schnabel provided most of the paintings in Gecko’s house.
  • Ernest Lehmann’s punchy dialogue for THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957) was an influence on Stone and Stanley Weiser’s screenplay
  • Stone cast Terence Stamp after seeing him in THE HIT (1984)
  • Robert Richardson’s visuals are interesting – lots of real locations mixed with beautiful shots of the Manhattan skyline
  • Yuppie lifestyle now looks tame and understated compared to the boom of the 2000s
  • Hard to state how influential this film was on the real Wall Street: dialogue, red braces and juicy dialogue all were a big inspiration on a generation of traders.
  • Gecko’s famous speech works because it contains elements of truth about corporate bureaucracy.
  • Stone intended it for to be ambivalent – equating evolution with greed.
  • The phrase “greed is good” has become synonymous with that era of late 80s greed – one of the most resonant lines in film history.
  • People even write about Gecko as though he’s a real person.
  • Ivan Boesky once said “greed is right” and Stone modified it to “greed is good”Boesky once said “greed is right” and Stone modified it to “greed is good”
  • A paper company is a brilliant metaphor for stodgy, indulgent business as practiced by old, complacent men.
  • Scene on Gecko’s jet very well lit – notice how the light moves up and down Charlie Sheen’s face (apparently Robert Richardson’s first plane sequence).
  • Douglas is brilliant in the dinner party sequence – he really sells the deal with the unions and the look of pride on his face is noticeable
  • The argument between the Sheens has added juice because the actors are actually father and son.
  • Nice swinging camera movements in the elevator scene and in Spader’s law firm
  • Jeff Beck of Drexel Burnham plays someone in the scene where Bud finds out Gecko has betrayed him – he was a leading light of Wall Street who knew Douglas socially and was an influence on the Gecko character
  • Stone claims that Kirk Kerkorian asset stripped MGM in the same way Gecko strips Bluestar Airlines
  • David Byrne’s wife plays the woman who tells Bud his father has had a heart attack
  • Moving scene between the Sheens provides the emotional motivation for Bud’s rescue plan.
  • Gecko’s meltdown after Bud tells him not to “get emotional about stock” is shot intriguingly wide and then Richardson goes for the same lighting trick that he did in the squash club scene (i.e. Gecko’s head fades to black)
  • Unusually long tracking shot as Bud is led out by Stock Watch
  • Confrontation scene in Central Park was shot in the July, 1987 on a wet summer day.
  • Final music cue is great as the camera pulls back on the Manhattan skyline – this scene was shot on July 3rd 1987.
  • Stone feels that BROADCAST NEWS (1987) was favoured by Barry Diller (who ran Fox then).
  • Scott Rudin – then a Fox executive – had left before the theatrical release and Stone felt they had lost an ally of the movie.
  • Stone felt that they shouldn’t have opened wide immediately on 2,000 screens and instead gone for a buzz-building platform release, like they did with BROADCAST NEWS which earned several Oscar nominations
  • Although WALL STREET was only nominated for one Oscar (Best Actor) it ended up winning – one more than BROADCAST NEWS – that year was dominated by THE LAST EMPEROR (1987).
  • It ended up making about the same money as BROADCAST NEWS but has had a much longer legacy, even though.

By Ambrose Heron

Editor of FILMdetail

1 reply on “Film Notes #5: Wall Street (1987)”

I like this idea a lot. Very interesting.

Btw, doesn’t Sean Young piss everyone off?

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