Gordon Gekko became one of Hollywood's most memorable villains in the 1987 film Wall Street, in which he brazenly told a room of fictional shareholders that "greed" was "good." Now, to the delight of its fans, actor Michael Douglas is set to reprise the role for a sequel to be released next year.
The timing should be perfect: The world will hopefully be emerging from the worst financial crisis in generations--one caused by bankers, no less--and the film's script will have been "ripped from the headlines," its producers have told the press. But don't expect many more movies like this. Far from giving filmmakers a buzz about the financial world, the credit crisis seems to have given Hollywood a warm, fuzzy feeling.
One example from this year's Cannes Film Festival is Broken Embraces, an intimate melodrama starting Penelope Cruz, whose character breaks away from an aging millionaire patron and lover to find happiness elsewhere.
Article Controls Over the next few years, filmmakers won't be telling the tale of the Wall Street crisis or the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as fascinating as those stories may be--they'll be telling stories of finding happiness and meaning beyond riches.
The Pursuit of Happyness, a 2006 movie in which Will Smith plays a man who goes from living on the edge of homelessness to becoming a successful stock-market trader, would have no chance of being produced today, says Ben Gibson, the director of the London Film School and a former executive producer of feature films. Smith's movie had implied that being involved in capitalism and being happy were the same thing--no longer a popular viewpoint.
Gibson expects more Frank Capra-style sentimental pieces from Hollywood in the next few years. Capra was a populist filmmaker in the '30s and '40s and was the creative force behind It's a Wonderful Life, in which the protagonist, played by James Stewart, nearly commits suicide after mistakenly thinking he has lost someone else's money. In the end, his community saves the day, glorifying small-town American life and family love over corporate greed.
Ironically, we may also see fewer villains as bankers, even though public opinion has put them at the center of evil-doing in the credit crisis and they featured prominently as the baddies in Bond films, as well as the recent blockbuster The International. While audiences still perceive bankers as greedy and reckless, they now also seem a bit, well, pathetic.
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"If you think about the movies Wall Street and Trading Places, you've got to have some mysterious power to be the personification of the enemy in a dramatic tone ... But now we're looking at how all this happened," says Gibson. "The bankers look weak and greedy and self-indulgent, but they don't look powerful."
British producer Alexander Cameron is thus giving bankers a chance to find redemption in his films. Inspired by the public furor surrounding HBOS, a British bank that went to the wall last year after relying too heavily on the short-term lending market, Cameron, 30, decided to write something about the economic crisis.
What he came up with was along the lines of Memento meets Falling Down, in which a series of flashbacks shows the film's main character going on a violent rampage after being made redundant, eventually coming to terms with the fact that life has been a collection futile attempts to derive meaning from institutions. "The credit crunch is making people question what's important," says Cameron.
Gordon Gekko would be rolling his eyes at all this, but Cameron's new film, Michael's Resignation, has already struck a chord. After spending three days on his couch typing out a narrative for the film, Cameron got 65 young screenwriters to help him piece together the script through collaborative writing tool Plotbot.com.
Within a few days of publicizing the film in early May, he'd racked up 40,000 pounds (around 60,000 U.S. dollars) in investment from about 700 contributors. "It's captured people's imagination," he says. "There's a great amount of frustration about the recession, so it's cathartic."
Cameron is making six more films along similar lines, where a central character builds his or her life "around something false ... and something in the credit crunch happens that destroys their sense of purpose and meaning."
Warm and fuzzy is the way forward--we should probably expect a softer side to Gekko in Wall Street 2.
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Image: Money Can't Buy 'Happyness'