Archive for Inside Job

Wall Street Bull

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2018 by dcairns


Adam McKay’s entertaining, broad cop comedy THE OTHER GUYS actually hinges on financial crimes involving the police pension fund, and unexpectedly ends with an animated credits sequence explaining stuff like Ponzi schemes and wealth inequality in America — it’s by some way the cleverest and most serious thing about the movie. The subject obviously fascinates the director, and having rather shoehorned it into that film, he centres THE BIG SHORT on those financial services dudes who saw the coming financial crisis and enriched themselves by betting against the housing market, previously thought to be the most stable of institutions.THE BIG SHORT is eager to have us understand the issues at stake — it has an uphill task with me, since I tend to go blurry whenever the stock market of high finance enter the picture. I can just about follow TRADING PLACES (“You guys are a couple of bookies!”) until the ending, at which point it becomes like one of those poker scenes in a western — I don’t understand the game, but I know something important is happening with money and somebody will win and somebody will lose. The documentary INSIDE JOB had set me up with some useful terminology, and it’s full of little mini-lectures that set out the key concepts in simple terms (“When you hear ‘sub-prime,’ think ‘shit.'”)Where INSIDE JOB can simply tell us stuff using talking heads, and encourages us to be interested by laying out the stakes, McKay knows that a drama has to convey its information through scenes of rising dramatic tension. He can break this rule with the mini-lectures by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain et al, by keeping things entertaining, but he has to give his actors meat. Fortunately, the real-life characters are adapted into appealing, extreme personality types (I don’t know how accurately, but Steve Carell, Christian Bale et al are interesting and convincing) and the script gives them plenty of funny, explosive scenes. This stuff is also dressed up with some creative fracturing of the fourth wall, which doesn’t stop us caring (Brecht was wrong) but does mix up the approach and keeps things snappy and surprising.

The cast includes Batman, Driver, Nebula, Gru, Spiderman’s Aunt May, Tyler Durden…The film’s choppy cutting style is also worthy of note. I didn’t exactly like it, but it’s worthy of note. Many of the conversations are shot in a fragmented, zoom-happy mockumentary manner, using the reframings and adjustments you’re normally supposed to leave out (Hill St. Blues seems to have originated this approach for its morning briefing scenes) and the edits are also often abrupt, premature, cutting out of a scene before it a gesture or word has been completed. The earliest example of THAT which I can think of is HAROLD AND MAUDE, where a traumatic moment is cut short before Harold can quite finish the word “WHAAA-” That movie does it once — this one seems to do it constantly. It’s enervating, which is sort of effective, and it’s an innovation, but it’s one I rather hope doesn’t catch on. It could potentially take the joy out of editing the way the BOURNE series takes the joy out of cinematography.

There are also some photomontages. These are surprisingly poor. Is this a lost art? Or did the film not have enough money to get enough good stills? I think it’s a lack of editing skill, maybe. Like, the ugly cutting of the staged scenes is definitely deliberate, is going for ungainliness as an effect. But I can’t see any advantage to the clumsiness of the photomontage.

But in a way this is all just window-dressing — perhaps necessary stuff to help tell this complicated and technical story — there are multiple narratives, each with its own protagonist, all of which explore the abstruse world of financial services — but the film thrives on its multiple scenes of dramatic confrontation, unfolding like a detective story garnished with bizarre human comedy, and powered by sorrow and anger which it transmits with skill. The methods used, ultimately, may not matter, so long as they provide clear context for the Big Scenes.

 

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Financial Crisis Actors

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , on May 25, 2018 by dcairns

What follows is an extract from INSIDE JOB, the excellent documentary by Charles Ferguson on the 2008 financial crisis. Since so few of the truly guilty bankers and regulators choose to appear in the film, the dean of Columbia’s business school, R. Glenn Hubbard kindly steps forward to assume to role of villain. This is slightly disingenuous of him since his part of the film’s argument is at best a sidebar: narrator Matt Damon talks about how banking abuses have not only nearly destroyed the world economy, but corrupted even the teaching of economics.

Even within this small section of the film, there are more obvious antagonists. Frederic Mishkin has already come to the audience’s attention for his (disastrous) role as a Federal Reserve board governor. It transpires that he published an article entitled Financial Stability in Iceland, without disclosing that the piece was funded by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce. Also, after Iceland’s economy abruptly went down the salerni, the article appeared on Mishkin’s CV as Financial Instability in Iceland. Economists make brilliant prophets, as long as their prophets only refer to things that have already happened.

But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at Mishkin —He’s so affable, so professorial! His downward smile when he ruefully suggests that his self-serving alteration of a paper’s title is a mere “typo” is so charming! His only brief moment of surliness is when he declines to state how much the Icelanders paid him. ($124,000, not even a half-decent NDA’s worth, although at least the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce don’t insist on physically fucking you, just ethically.)

Mishkin looks bad, certainly — but he convincingly blurs the line, at least sometimes, between hapless incompetence and outright corruption. You feel you should hate him, but your anger isn’t as intense as by rights it ought to be. He has charm.Hubbard is doing fine until things turn against him, at which point he inexplicably decides that the best policy is to be a huge swinging dick on camera. I think “They’ll never use this!” must have been going through his mind. However much he knows about business, he clearly has no understanding of documentary. “Give it your best shot,” sneered through a pugilistic expression, is cinematic gold.

Hubbard was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W Bush, which already sounds ominous. Still, in early comments in the film he seems mild, reasonable, a model of probity. We wait eagerly for him to be smeared with the filth of his own intellectual dishonesty. Asked if there’s a conflict of interest problem in the discipline of economics, he at first doesn’t understand the question. Then he catches on and argues that most economic educators aren’t “wealthy business-people,” which I would think might make them more prone to temptation. Matt Damon, our friend and humble narrator, cuts in and says that Hubbard makes $25,000 a year from the board of Met Life.

Hubbard takes the high ground: everybody should disclose if they do have any financial conflict regarding a topic they’re weighing in on. “But if I recall, there is no policy to that effect?” inquires the interviewer. “I can’t imagine anybody not doing that,” says Hubbard, with Great Seriousness. “There would be significant professional sanction for failing to do that.” It’s here that the clip begins, with the interviewer pointing out Hubbard’s outside activities mainly consist of consulting and directorship for the services industry. And Hubbard’s immediate reply is that those jobs AREN’T LISTED on his C.V. Like, that’s his defense.

And then it all kicks off. Enjoy!

It’s just really interesting to see someone confronted with something about themselves that might look bad, and NOT taking the opportunity to even attempt to clear his name, just expressing snarling resentment that he’s been found out. This middle-aged business professor isn’t really a convincing tough guy, but there’s no denying his ferocious hostility to any suggestion that he ought to be accountable for his actions.

Footnote: I can’t find any suggestion that Hubbard has faced any “significant professional sanction.” Instead, all we have is the clip above, which will live with Hubbard all his life and hopefully play on a loop on a video screen embedded in his tombstone so passers-by can see what kind of individual lies beneath the sod.

Footfootnote: having enjoyed and been horrified by INSIDE JOB, I then watched THE BIG SHORT, hoping to understand the terminology better. I’ll write that one up next.