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Thursday, January 23, 2014

New York Dead: Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Bringing Out the Dead"

The Wolf of Wall Street marks Martin Scorsese’s first New York film since 2002’s Gangs of New York. Yet Wolf, though its title refers to a specific location, is curiously removed from the city, more so than Gangs’ oneiric 19th century reproduction in Rome’s Cinecitta Studios.  Other than a few shots of Wall Street in Jordon Belfort’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) earliest days as a financial connector, Scorsese limits the scope in this epic (three hour) film to Belfort’s luxurious habitats: the Ferrari, yacht, mansion, and Long Island offices of Stratton Oakmont, with excursions to London, Miami, and Switzerland. It seems the most we see of the city is the skyscraping Metropolis perspective of Belfort’s magnificent apartment, where he reigns like a boy king above the weather and the people. As if to starkly allude to the closing moments of Pabst’s The Three Penny Opera, where the poor march aimlessly into the shadows, the director’s famed mean streets and the people coloring the sidewalks are kept at bay, in the dark.

Wolf of  Wall Street

This invites one of the more significant complaints arrayed against Scorsese, in how his film about one very rich individual neglects the unfortunate victims of his financial schemes. The approach recalls Dr. Strangelove, where Stratton Oakmont’s offices function similarly to Kubrick’s War Room, mechanical men in suits playing dice with the fates of faceless thousands (not to mention the repugnant misogyny; think of Strangelove’s mine shaft bunker plan of ten women to every man, warmly received by his government and military colleagues, and you have the absurd sense at play throughout The Wolf of Wall Street). But the pronounced absence of “New York” from this latest New York story also proposes how the director is in dialogue with other representations of his home. It’s common to hear an aging director’s new films unfavorably compared to his older masterpieces—something Scorsese has dealt with since The Age of Innocence in 1993—but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Scorsese’s somber late period works are enhanced through their reflecting with his other films.

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