The Wolf of Wall Street and the Selling of Jordan Belfort

ImageThe world we live in can be categorized by producers and consumers, winners and losers, along with buyers and sellers. This film by Scorsese and company essentially is trying to sell us on the story of the real life Jordan Belfort.

Scorsese forewent his signature voiceover style in favor of more direct address: Throughout the movie, DiCaprio, playing the lupine financial hustler Jordan Belfort, looks into the camera and speaks right to the audience in a comparable way that the fictional Francis Underwood from House of Cards likes to do.

This style was well chosen since it suites the character of Jordan to a tee: pompous, egotistic and elitist as he speaks down to you (the audience) throughout the film like the little pion that you are. After all, how could you know what an IPO is or how a small company goes about putting themselves on the open financial market for exposure and trade?

It can be hard to tell if this film stays true to the real life tale of Mr. Belfort, especially since some of its more outlandish tales turn out to be true. Nonetheless, below is an effort to snort-out the true-to-life from the merely true-to-Belfort in the film version of his story.

The broad outlines of Belfort’s story are loyally rendered by the film: A talented but struggling salesman from Long Island, he got a job at esteemed investment firm L.F. Rothschild, and then was laid off after the infamous Black Monday during 1987. He went to work at Investors Center, a penny stock house, and a year later opened the franchise of “Stratton Securities” a veritable ham sandwich without a lot of mayo type brokerage, in a friend’s shitty car dealership in Queens. He and his partner earned enough to buy out Stratton and form Stratton Oakmont, which he built into one of the largest over-the-counter brokerage firms in the country( as in the film, he hired some old con-artist friends).

He did partake in an enormous about of solvent abuse—including, yes, the infamous and rare Lemmon 714’s— employed the very expensive services of countless high to low end prostitutes, and eventually ended up in prison for his life of continuous pump-and dump schemes (not talking just about prostitutes) that made him enormously rich.

Much of DiCaprio’s dialogue comes straight from Belfort’s book, as do nearly all of the hard-to-believe misadventures: landing the helicopter on his lawn while stoned, crashing his car while severely high on Quaaludes, insisting that the captain of his gigantic yacht sail through choppy waters only to have the boat capsize and then get rescued by the Italian navy. Some of these stories are difficult to verify, but, for what it’s worth, the FBI agent who investigated Belfort told the New York Times, “I tracked this guy for ten years, and everything he wrote is true. Even the yacht story checks out as well.

The names of Belfort’s wives were also changed for the film. Belfort divorced Denise Lombardo, called Teresa in the movie, after meeting Nadine Caridi at a Stratton Oakmont party. Caridi, called Naomi and played by Margot Robbie, was a model who had appeared in beer commercials; in the book, Belfort calls her “the Miller Lite girl.” And let me say she was just as hot as her portrayal by Margot Robbie and I now understand that scene in the film where Jonah Hill’s character (although on drugs) decides to start “greasing his gator” in front of her at the house party. Margot Robbie was probably the best thing about this film (as all the guys can attest) and I am sure that we will be seeing more of her in movies to come after this one. She was perfect in the way that represented everyman’s fantasy, whether rich or poor.

We do see Matthew McConaughey give a surprisingly brief performance with his character Mark Hanna who essentially coaches and mentors Leo’s Belfort in the film about the Wall Street game— in how it all is just a giant guessing game and casino with no real economy. The real Mark Hanna has since recently told his own version of his time with Jordan Belfort and their experiences together. It is fake, just like all the people who are involved in its daily operations. That may be the partial reason why McConaughey’s character constantly instructs Belfort to partake in the delights of cocaine to ease the stress of having to deal with all the bullshit that goes with the territory along with jacking-off daily substituted with banging hookers on the side to relieve the tension built up from all the “high frequency” pings and numbers; a coping mechanism for a machine that is running on fairy dust.

The case of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) is more complicated. For one thing, Azoff is a fictional name, and the character is sometimes described as a composite. His story closely matches that of Danny Porush—but Porush himself has disputed some details. Here are the basic facts: Porush lived in Belfort’s building, and he went to work as a trainee under Belfort before Stratton Oakmont. He did not meet Belfort in a restaurant and instead were introduced by Porush’s wife( and yes, she was indeed his cousin; they have since divorced) He has admitted to eating a live goldfish that belonged to a Stratton employee, as depicted in the memoir and the movie, but denies the three-way with Belfort and their teenage employee.

Porush was indeed a childhood friend of Steve Madden’s, and the initial public offering for that women’s shoe company was the biggest bit of business Stratton Oakmont ever did. Madden, like Porush and Belfort, served time in prison for participating in the Stratton scheme.

When it’s all said and done, this film and the story of Jordan Belfort should serve as a cautionary tale and commentary on the sub-culture of the rich and elite. Although hyperbolized, a lot of this extravagance, orgies, prostitutes, solvent abuse and general debauchery is very much alive today as it has been for all of human history. I didn’t need this film to tell me this; it’s common knowledge if you are an observer of human nature and history but it was a great story in the way of showing one man’s life crumbling before your eyes as he goes from rags to riches, and then to prison.

People like Jordan Belfort though always seem to come out on top even after prison time because they just don’t really give a shit anything except for that sweet sexy coin, and keep on selling and pushing themselves for more. Like him or not, the man could probably sell you a pile of rooster shit out of the back of a pick-up truck.

www.frankcervi.com

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