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Wall Street Redux

The perplexed's guide to the masters of the universe redux

Published: Oct 5, 2010 06:41:40 AM IST
Updated: Oct 5, 2010 08:24:09 AM IST
Wall Street Redux
Image: Richard Corman/Corbis

It is very rare to get a film character that defines an era. Gordon Gekko was definitely one. He was the Master of the Universe. He became a shorthand for moral laxity and hubris. And yet he ended up being a hero for the very people he was supposed to scare. Director Oliver Stone says he has learnt that lesson and has ensured that Bretton James, the bad guy in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps does not evoke sympathy. Here is deconstructing Gekko and James.

Gordon Gekko
The financial world and Wall Street in particular occupied a dull impression in our minds and the dirty yellow pages of dailies till Gekko entered into our psyche.

Gekko personified power, money and seduction. Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer for Wall Street and Money Never Sleeps feels, “Gekko brought in the language of power dressing for men in Wall Street. He elevated an entire genre.” His wardrobe comprised:

Suits by Alan Flusser - Always darker depicting power and control
Shirts by Alexander Kabbaz – Horizontal stripes with contrasting collars and cuffs depicting a self made and carefree attitude
Braces / suspenders – vertical stripes or colorful
Watch – Gold Cartier Santos
Slick gelled hair completed his look

Gekko was conceptualised as an amalgamation of

Ivan Boesky gained notoriety for insider trading. Gordon Gekko’s infamous “greed is good” speech in Wall Street (1987) was derived from Boesky’s lecture

Dennis Levine A mergers & acquisitions expert, Levine built an empire from Wall St. to Bahamas with secret subsidiaries of Swiss Banks. He was charged by US Attorney Rudy Giuliani and sentenced to two years in prison.

Corporate Raiders
Asher Edelman Known for his bitter takeover of Datapoint in 1985, Edelman taught Corporate Raiding at various business schools and corporate forums.

Carl Icahn One of the most notorious corporate raiders, Icahn is famous for promoting shareholders’ welfare, a trait exemplified by Gekko.

Junk Bond King
Mike Milken Father of the high-yield bonds, Mike Milken almost single-handedly built and made attractive the concept of junk paper.

Gekko wasn’t just another ruthless vulgarian. He displayed a veneer of chic and intellect. He captured the imagination of Wall Street wannabies. Wall Streeters followed him to the proverbial hilt. He influenced the way Wall Streeters dressed, behaved, cultivated hobbies and went about their business.

  • Because Gekko lived in Manhattan and had a beach front house on The Hamptons, a lot of Wall Streeters rented apartments on Manhattan and bought beach homes out of their incentives.
  • Heads of Wall Street companies ordered their own private jets because Gekko flew in his private jet.
  • Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ became the new Bible because Gekko preached it
  • Because Gekko was an avid art connoisseur,  art collection became a fad and then a business for Wall Streeters. His Hamptons house was skillfully decorated with Bokhara & Etruscan pottery. These started being utilised as embellishments in Wall Street offices.

  • Money never sleeps.
  • Lunch is for wimps.
  • Read Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War.’ “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”
  • I’m not talking about some $400,000-a-year Wall Street stiff... flying first class and being comfortable. I’m talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time. Fifty, a hundred million dollars. A player... or nothing.
  • The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the
  • unfittest.
  • Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Wall Street Redux
Image: Fox Movies

Bretton James
Oliver Stone created this character based on the powerful bankers of Wall Street who had tremendous clout over Washington. In Oliver Stone’s words, James is a mix of:

Lloyd Blankfein Named as one of the “The Most Outrageous CEOs of 2009” by Forbes, Blankfein has been at the helm of Goldman Sachs since 2006.    
Jamie Dimon Rumored to have played a major part in Federal Reserve’s denying Bear Stearns a $25 billion bailout, JPMorgan Chase subsequently purchased Bear Stearns at a throwaway
$2 per share.

Robert Ruben Secretary of the Treasury under the Clinton administration, he was instrumental in repealing of the Glass-Steagall Act (that prohibited any financial institution from operating as commercial bank, investment bank and an insurance company) in 1999. President Obama has openly blamed this repealing as the precursor of the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.


  • Too big to fail.
  • On Wall Street, when you don’t know what you doing, it’s a fatal misdemeanor.

According to Ellen Mirojnick, “James is about presentation, money, power and conquering the world. He is ruthless and willing to take anybody down. The stakes are bigger than Gekko’s in 1987. When I thought of designing the look of James, I thought of Darth Vader.” James’s wardrobe comprised:

Suits - Stiff tailored dark
Shirts - Crisp tailored by Anto of Beverly Hills.
Tie - with a Windsor knot
Watch - Vacheron Constantin Les Historiques American 1921


Bretton James is the Gekko of the 21st Century - an offspring of the ideology preached by the 1987 Gekko. He too displays ostentatious tastes like his predecessor in the previous film. These include:

  • Chomping on Cohibas (cigars)
  • Flying in his private helicopter
  • Racing Ducatis for fun

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(This story appears in the 08 October, 2010 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Sunil Vasavada

    Wow! Maharshi....!

    on Oct 6, 2010