Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

Jordan Belfort (2008) The Wolf of Wall Street.

As a reader it sticks in my craw that sometimes the film is better than the book (e.g. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ben Hur and Spartacus are examples of the former) but here I think it’s a honourable draw. If you want to save several hours of your life, and don’t fancy reading over 500 pages, watch the film and save several hours of your life. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as the twenty-odd-year old Jordan Belfort beginning his meteoric rise by starting a brokerage firm in 1993, Stratton Oakmont. It ends as a morality play after eight years, as all good books do, with the narrator aged thirty-four, older and wiser. Belfort no longer having a starring part in a show he likes and frequently reference, Lifestyles of the Rich and Dysfunctional—he’s arrested by the FBI, having blown millions of dollars, lots of it up his nose.

The subtext on the front page is a lead line to his gargantuan drug addiction, throw in a bit of alcoholism and a penchant for sex with hookers at every opportunity, call it sex addiction and sometimes even having sex with his supermodel wife and their you’ve got it. Jordan Belfort’s story told in a convincing fuck-you voice.

This is what happened he’s saying. My rise and fall—and while it lasted it was a blast.

John Lanchester in How to Speak Money, A Lexicon of Money has an entry ‘bullshit versus nonsense’.   

Belfort puts words in his character’s mouth. They agree that he was the smartest man they’d ever met. Smartest-man-in-the-room syndrome. And Trump, the moron’s moron, does get a walk on part, but only as a figure of fun. A reality host with wigwam hair.   And the young broker, a child prodigy with numbers, wasn’t going to disagree. Belfort quickly figured Wall Street was 99% bullshit and 1% nonsense. A giant confidence trick.  His target wasn’t the common man, but those with money, the five-percent of Americans that were rich or superrich and liked to think they were smarter than everybody else. He realized if he could get past their secretaries and those guardians of conservatism they were reckless gamblers. The would-be broker could coach a monkey into selling them stock in new and upcoming companies. Belfort fixed the market so it was win-win for him and his cronies at Stratton Oakmont and you have the legend, he was like Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving the spoils to him and his merry men (and women) and fuck the poor. Poor being here, someone down to their last $250 000.

There was no Warren Buffet starting Berkshire Hathaway with a $10 000 investment and through prudent investment and year-on-year profits creating a $50 million portfolio and making tens of millions hand over fist from a John Major, Conservative, government then in power. Belfort was making the same kind of money by training his cohort to shout down the phone and not to take no for an answer. Die or sell. Michael Lewis describes it in the preface to Liar’s Poker as a historical trend ‘a modern gold rush, never has so many unskilled twenty-four-year olds made so much money in so little time as we made in New York and London’.  

Belfort establishes what he terms ‘The Life’ was like very early when he spends over $500 000 of credit card on hookers ($5000 a pop) drugs and booze and marks it down as entertainment, a write-down for tax. His second in command Danny Porush and his first trainee, who has almost the same level of drug intake, with drug of choice Quaaludes and throw in suitcases of cocaine and crystal. In the opening exchanges Porush, after swallowing a live goldfish, is trying to convince his boss it would be a blast to have a party and throw dwarves and watch the little people land on their head in a big dartboard thing, probably without the dartboard.  Belfort wasn’t sure that’d be a good idea, but he wasn’t totally against it. A sticking point was liability and insurance.

Here we are December 13, 1993:

‘The next morning—or if you want to get technical about it, a few hours later I was having an awesome dream. It was the sort of dream every young man hopes and prays for, so I decided to go with it. I’m alone in bed, when Venice the hooker comes to me. She kneels down at the edge of my sumptuous king-size bed, hovering just out of reach, a perfect little vision. I can see her clearly now…the lusty mane and chestnut brown hair…the fine features of her face…those young juicy jugs, those incredible loamy loins, glistening with greed and desire.’

‘Loamy loins’ pop up a lot, usually in relation to The Duchess, his second wife. Other characters in his story such as the Depraved Chinaman, Steve Madden the shoe millionaire and Elliot Lavigne, the World Class Degenerate tend to be affixed qualifying labels. While trying to do a bit of money laundering in Switzerland, ($20 million, starting with small tranches of a few million) for example, the banker and master forger both smoke and at some point inhale and don’t exhale. Mixed metaphors and mixed stereotypes make clunky prose. Similarly, his second wife’s Aunt Patricia in London sounds like something out of Mary Poppins. And Belfort makes the generalization the working classes in Britain worship the royal family and can see no wrong in those royal charlatans in horsey- mediocrity-land. Perhaps Belfort isn’t as smart as he figures. I’ve got one word for that, deluded. Or perhaps I’m just deluded?

But the autobiography isn’t about us, the working class; it’s about him and his cronies. What it shows quite convincingly is the rich can break the law and suffer no consequence. This was before the moron’s moron got elected President for doing many of the same things Belfort done. But hey, at least one of them got prison time and I’m sorry it was the latter and not the former. Belfort writes a rip-snorting book. It’s entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. You can’t say any fairer than that.  I’m glad Belfort is rehabilitated and doing the right thing. As for the other charlatan…

Michael Punke (2002) The Revenant

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Underneath the title on the cover, in brackets, is a dictionary definition of what The Revenant means (n. one who has returned from the dead). Every actor after every new release must also return from the dead. Leonardo Di Caprio banked another $20 million, and got the added bonus of an Oscar as Best Actor playing the part of frontiersman Hugh Glass, a man that just wouldn’t lie down and die. This is a novel of derring-do, with a lot of daring and a lot of do.

September 1, 1823

They were abandoning him. The wounded man knew it when he looked at the boy, who looked down, then away, unwilling to hold his gaze.

There are familiar names and locations. For example, The Rocky Mountains and Fort on the Bighorn. That’s a river, but most folk will be familiar with it as the place where General Custard and American Calvary honed the practice of genocide and were wiped out by massed Indian tribes. But this is long before this when there were no maps, but frontiers filled with Indians, with savages. Around six million buffalo still roamed the plains. Yellowstone wasn’t a park.  Punke provides a map on the first pages and time moves back and forward with Hugh Glass and where X marks the spot of the Grizzly attack that minces his body, crudely scalps him and almost tore his head off near the Grande River.

The path of Captain Henry of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company is mapped alongside the path of Glass. Both were frontiersmen. Henry’s title was an affectation (as most titles are) as he led a ragtag of men into the wilderness to trap plentiful game and bring valuable furs back to St Louis to sell. There was money in them there Black hills, but also Indian tribes warring with each other and the trickle of white men that moved through their territory. Punke leads us gently into their backstories. Winners and losers.

Hugh Glass, starts as first mate and gun running and rum running in the war of Independence with England. Captain of his own ship. Sunk, as he was prone to be. His fiancée and intended dies, but he doesn’t know this until later because he’s been forced to become a pirate sailing under the flag of the Pirate Jean Lafitte. When he escapes—in the nick of time—as is the case with most adventure stories, and finds himself wandering across vast stretches of Mexican Texas, Pawnee Indians plan to make a barbecue of his carcass, but he pulls a conjuring trick and survives. Hugh Glass always survives even though he might lose his hair now and again to passing Grizzlies. On the map is marked the First Arikara attack and then hundreds of miles North, on the North Platter River, the Second Arikara attack. Fling in the hundreds of miles Glass crawled, yomped, canoed, and covered by horseback and you’ve got a survival story worth telling.

But this isn’t just a survival story. This is a story of morality. Hugh Glass rages like a Grizzly and wants more than his pound of flesh from the boy and man that left him and been paid to stay with him until the end and bury his body. Instead they robbed him of his powder, rifle, flint and knife all the tools that could keep him alive in the wilderness and left him to his fate.

Hugh Glass began to crawl.

Jim Bridger, the boy had at least tried to make Glass comfortable before he left. He was the less culpable of the two. Glass follows Fitzgerald hundreds of miles to Fort Atkinson. He’s  a sociopathic figure, dragooned into the US army for stabbing a fellow gambler at Fort Atkinson, which was build the river for ease of access and a military presence trying to drive a wedge into the wilderness for commerce. None of these things interest Glass, he wants his rifle back and he intends to use it on Fitzgerald. It’s a hair-trigger denouement, but the book (and I imagine the film) is the righting of all wrongs (well, apart from genocide and millions of bison) and a story of human endurance.  But a word of warning, do not under any circumstances hang about with anybody called Hugh Glass or, friend or foe, there’s not a revenant of a chance, you’ll end badly.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lily-Poole-Jack-ODonnell/dp/1783522356