NEW YORK (Reuters) - Twenty-two years after appearing on the big screen, and one year after the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers, the film character Gordon Gekko continues to resonate on Wall Street.
The “strip and flip” corporate raider played by Michael Douglas will make his comeback in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street 2,” which began filming in New York this week. The sequel is set in 2008 during the run-up to the financial meltdown with Gekko emerging from two decades behind bars.
Stone is bringing back the character famous for his “greed is good” mantra at a time when other titans of Wall Street have fallen from grace and the excesses of the financial industry have come under fire from the White House and an angry public.
“It is mystifying to me to see people lionize this crook who went to jail,” Stanley Weiser, who co-wrote the original Wall Street with Stone, told Reuters.
Stone called it “a quintessentially American story.”
“Seeing how he manages to survive in this new shark tank 22 years later is a fascinating and challenging proposition,” Stone told Variety. “So much has changed. Not just Gordon Gekko. The world, too.”
Bankers and analysts agree that Gekko’s style of buying a company, cutting costs and jobs, and then selling for a quick profit was more a product of the 1980s. But his character has remained popular among financial professionals who saw him as a hero.
“In a certain part of Wall Street there is a gunslinger mentality,” said Yves-Andre Istel, a senior adviser at Rothschild and former chairman of Wasserstein Perella and Co. International.
Lawrence McDonald, a former vice president at Lehman Brothers who wrote a book about its collapse, said something like Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” ethos pushed Wall Street heavy hitters into taking greater and greater risks.
“Dick Fuld is definitely a Gekko type,” McDonald said of the former chief executive of Lehman Brothers who has mostly retreated to his country house in Ketchum, Idaho, since Lehman declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008.
But he said the Gordon Gekkos of the 2008 crisis would not be raiding corporations but looking for mischief in collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) or some of the other exotic instruments that caused havoc in financial markets.
“A Gordon Gekko today wouldn’t do that (raid corporations),” McDonald said. “He’d be mis-marking CDOs for example. There were Gordon Gekko types in all of these banks.”
Then he thought of the movie itself.
“‘Wall Street,’ I’ve watched it 50 times, I own it, I love it,” McDonald said.
Gordon Gekko’s gelled-back hair and easy mix of beautiful women, black town cars and sharp suits made a lasting impression on Wall Street, and helped lure in new talent hoping to make it big.
“There is a sexiness attached to characters like that in the 1980s,” said Steven Fraser, a historian who focuses on the economy. “Power tripping was part of the scene: that rip-their-eyes-out brutality.”
Part of Gekko’s enduring force is that he elicits both attraction and repulsion, and though he fascinates, he is not universally admired. Fraser wondered if his appeal was bruised by the severity of the financial meltdown.
“People thought the greed decade was over but it never really ended, and it came back tenfold. People said about the movie, ‘Oh, it’s outdated.’ Then came Bernie Madoff and the thousands of others like him.”
Weiser, the screenwriter, said his biggest regret about the original movie was that it didn’t include a scene of Gordon Gekko behind bars.
Besides Douglas, the sequel also stars Shia LaBeouf, Susan Sarandon, Josh Brolin and Frank Langella and is scheduled for release in April 2010.