Wall Street’s First 22 Minutes

Dan Tarnowski
Wall Street’s First 22 Minutes

I never had cable TV as a child, and was accustomed to watching TV shows buried under white snow. I’d wrap coils of aluminum foil around the metal bunny ears of the antenna, trying to expand it’s reach and pick up more airwaves, but any improvements to the video quality were negligible. Eventually I got used to poor reception. I didn’t really need to know exactly what Bart Simpson, Chandler Bing, or Alex Trebeck’s faces looked like. I could use my imagination.

When I was 17, I discovered how to download TV shows off the internet. Being able to watch whatever I wanted, with no commercials, in pristine quality, was intoxicating. I got such a buzz from the endless boundaries of piracy, that while my friends were out getting drunk at house parties on a Friday night, I preferred to stay at home watching TV on my computer.

One Friday afternoon, after leaving my computer on all night to download stuff, I ran home from the bus stop. I had discovered a cache of Seinfeld episodes on a bootleg site and queued up the entire series to be downloaded. I threw my backpack down in the kitchen, then hauled a tray up to my room with two sandwich rolls, a block of Monterey Jack cheese, a bag of potato chips, and a six-pack of V8. I turned on my monitor just in time to see my download manager change from 99.9% to 100% completion.

When I think about what went down in my room from Friday night through Sunday, I become filled with shame. If only an adventurous friend had thrown a pebble at my window and demanded that I go out that night, the catastrophe could have been averted. I still cringe thinking that I spent that entire weekend watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld, one episode after another. When a show ended and the room filled with silence and darkness, I clamored for the mouse and fired up the next episode. I didn’t laugh out loud, I didn’t shower or sleep, and I left the lights off the whole time. By the time Monday rolled around, I was just a shell of a teenager, a teenager with Jerry Seinfeld’s pink, high definition face burned into my memory.

I’ve never had it diagnosed, but I think the Great Seinfeld Marathon of 2002 ruined my brain. I am now unable to follow a storyline for more than 22 minutes without becoming severely distracted, often falling asleep on the 23rd minute mark.

This makes it impossible to watch an entire feature length film, a loss that deeply, deeply upsets me, because I have long aspired to be a film critic. I have always loved the art of film, and even at 17 years old I knew I was playing with fire by indulging in repeated half-hour blocks of stupefying television. When I revisit the reviews I wrote in my high school film class, brilliant reviews in their own right, the pages become soaked with tears.


If you haven’t heard of it, Wall Street is a film from 1987 starring Charlie Sheen and Michael Douglas. It’s about the stock market. I thought Wall Street might be an interesting examination of capitalism and the distribution of wealth in a modern metropolis. This sparked my interest, since I mistrust capitalism, and the wealth in my metropolis seems to be distributed everywhere but my own pockets. Wall Street seemed like the perfect film for my first 22 minute review. I would have loved to watch the entire film, but as you know, I cannot follow a lengthy plot without becoming distracted by the shiny, metal grommets on my shoes.


The movie opens with a fairly typical montage of a bustling New York City set to ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ by Frank Sinatra. It didn‘t knock my socks off, perhaps because I had already taken them off knowing I might fall asleep. However, I thought the following shot of buildings framing a star-shaped piece of sky was cool and it got me excited to keep watching the film.

At 3:01, Charlie Sheen’s character struts into a huge, busy office. The first thing he does is say hello to an old timer who instantly replies, “Get out while you’re young, kid! I came in here one day, I sat down, and look at me now!”

All of the film’s opening dialogue sets up the plot so blatantly, that if this film was The Godfather, the first scene would probably feature The Godfather yelling to Michael Corlean, “You’re going to have to choose between inheriting my empire and leading a normal life!”

At 5:19, we see Charlie Sheen’s character (I never learned his name because my brain shut down at 22:00) fumbling through enormous binders of dot matrix printouts, and calling people on the phone, trying to get them to buy stock. I figured Charlie Sheen’s character started out as a form of telemarketer, and that he’d have to advance in rank to become a proper stock broker.

At 6:05, we see a character wearing a novelty pair of geek glasses with an oversized plastic nose. If this is explained later in the film, I wouldn’t know. Maybe he broke his glasses rushing to get ready for work and the only other glasses he owned were the prescription lenses in his Groucho Marx Halloween costume.

At 6:11, an actor who was on the television show Scrubs yells into a telephone receiver, “No, I need it now or else it’s history! At 4:00, I’m a dinosaur!” This line conveys a very complex and delicate subtext: that things move fast in the stock market. Either that, or this was actually a behind-the-scenes shot of the actor on the phone with his agent, desperate for a role to follow up Wall Street, so he wouldn’t have to take a job wearing a dinosaur costume outside the Museum of Natural History.

At 6:15, Charlie Sheen’s character is seen with a can of Pepsi and a slice of pizza on his desk. The fact that dinosaurs, Pepsi, and pizza are all referenced by the film within a 15 second interval is clear evidence that this film was produced in the 1980’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a short-lived Saturday-Morning cartoon based on Wall Street. They could’ve slipped it in between Police Academy and Robocop, making a moronic hat trick of cartoons based on movies for adults.

At 7:00, Charlie Sheen’s character (henceforth CSc) becomes irate as a client calls in to back out of a deal. Before he’s even finished with the phone call, CSc’s boss appears and threatens that if he loses the account, CSc will have to pay for the losses out of his own pocket. I don’t know how the stock trade works, but it seems preposterous that a broker would have to pay tens of millions of dollars back to his place of work out of his own pocket. Oh well, I guess one has to shed some disbelief, something I should’ve done as soon as I heard the guy from Scrubs’s corny laugh (he literally goes “KAH-HAH-HAH!”).

CSc then reveals to his buddy that he’s in debt and that “American Express’s hit men are after him.” CSc’s buddy does what anyone would do and passes him a $100.00 bill to make him feel better.

At 8:43, CSc calls up Gordon Gecko, a Wall Street bigwig who’s richness is very subtly symbolized by a painting in his office of a hand setting a $20.00 bill on fire.

At around 9:02, the name ‘Gordon Gecko’ gets said a lot. When the above shot of Japanese businessmen going into Gecko’s office was on the screen, my A.D.D. started acting up and I went into a reverie about geckos. “Their tales come off, right?” I thought. I remembered looking at a diagram in a children’s encyclopedia of a cat with it’s paw over a gecko’s tale, the gecko running to freedom with only a flat stump for a butt. When I snapped out of the reverie, CSc was visiting his father in a smoky bar.

The bar room looks vaguely exotic and CSc’s father is revealed to be Martin Sheen. In a moment of A.D.D., I forgot I was watching Wall Street and thought I was watching Apocalypse Now!

What ensues is a surprisingly interesting conversation regarding CSc’s economic plight. CSc reveals that he makes $50,000 annually, which is, apparently, barely enough to afford what his father calls a “roach infested hovel.”

“There’s no nobility in poverty any more,” replies CSc, which makes one wonder just exactly when it was considered noble to be poor. MSc says that CSc should have worked at Blue Star Airlines with him all along.

“I’ll make you proud. You’ll see,” CSc tells his father, who in turn says, “It’s your self you gotta make proud, Huckleberry.” If this is a reference to Mark Twain’s novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I wouldn’t know, because when I read it, I lost focus after 37 pages and went to my room to play with marbles.

The two actors’ chemistry is some of the best thus far, which begs the question, “why aren’t character’s dads always played by their real dads?” Wouldn’t it be more exciting if when Darth Vader said, “Luke, I am your father,” we knew that Darth Vader really was Mark Hammil’s father?

A lot of ground is covered in the first 22 minutes of this movie. You might say this movie about economics has economical pacing. The characters in this movie are likable and have snappy dialogue; I wouldn’t mind watching it past the 22 minute mark.

At around 13:30, things really pick up, because you get to see nudity. It’s also a pretty cool shot of CSc’s aforementioned roach motel, packed to the gills with stacks of documents, the window revealing a blue night sky. With a salary of $50,000 in 1985, you’d think CSc would live in the heart of the financial district, but judging by his view, it looks like he lives in a completely remote area, if not a house boat.

Next, CSc loads up a schedule on his antiquated computer and the camera very slowly zooms in on a box that reads “GEKKO’S BIRTHDAY” in red type. I now realize Gecko’s name is actually spelled ‘Gekko.’ I apologize for the error, and I will spell his name correctly for the rest of this article.

Around 15:30, CSc charms his way into Gordon Gekko’s office by jokingly asking Gekko’s secretary to marry him and then revealing that he has a birthday present for Gekko: a wrapped box of Cuban cigars. I wonder which of the two gestures won her over. Maybe this movie ends with a wedding between CSc and Gekko’s secretary. Maybe it ends with Gekko burning CSc, forcing CSc bankrupt, then Gekko kicking his feet up on his desk and lighting up one of CSc’s cigars as he laughs maniacally. This outcome seems so likely, in fact, that I hope that wasn’t a spoiler. Keep in mind I only watched the first 22 minutes of this film.

Either way, the ploy affords CSc 5 minutes with Gekko, who’s wealth is further hinted at when CSc holds up an issue of Fortune magazine with Gekko on the cover. Before entering the meeting, CSc eloquently declares, as he fixes his tie in a mirror, “Well, life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of ‘em!”

Gordon Gekko is revealed to be Michael Douglas. Placing Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen in the same movie is a masterstroke of casting, clearly designed to prove that they aren’t the same person. This is a daring aesthetic choice, a bit like placing Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton in the same film. Douglas and Sheen never appear onscreen at the same time, though, so I’m still not convinced.

“This is the kid who calls me 59 days in a row asking me for a position,” Douglas says in reference to CSc. “You oughta be in the dictionary under the word persistence.” While Gekko is on the phone, he uses such hot shot terms as “Books are cooked,” “Looks good on paper,” and “Kill zone.” ‘Gordon Gekko’ ought to be in the dictionary under the word, “douchebag.”

You can tell Gekko is much richer than CSc, because Gekko has a cup of 20 sharpened, red pencils on his desk, while, earlier in the movie, CSc is seen with the typical yellow pencil on-the-ear. Also, Gekko works in a high-tech facility with four computers and a Picasso.

Gekko interrupts their meeting about 44 times to take a phone call in which he spouts confusing jargon mixed with violent hunting metaphors. If you were to spread those phone calls out across the first 22 minutes of the film, that would make two phone calls per minute.

During the CSc/Gekko meeting, at around 19:07, my eyelids started to droop severely. It wasn’t that the scene was boring, in fact, the film had been doing nothing but pick up steam since 13:30, but my mind was starting to get exhausted by the lack of rapid fire jokes or a laugh track. If I didn’t see a klutzy man trip over a couch soon, I knew my brain would tip its hat and bid me adieu.

CSc pitches various deals to Gekko, but the lizard-man remains unimpressed. “Give me something I can use. It‘s my birthday,” says Gekko sternly, as he runs a birthday card through a paper shredder. Inspirational music kicks in and a look of realization appears on CSc’s face. He tells Gekko about a plane crash that happened on Blue Star Airlines, which was kept under wraps, but will result in a lawsuit begging to be exploited by an unscrupulous investor.

“How do you know?” asks Gekko. “I just… know,” replies CSc, suavely (and illegally) concealing that his father works for Blue Star. Gekko looks vaguely interested, takes Charlie Sheen’s character’s card, and kicks him out of his office.

Then, during the following shot of the actor from Scrubs looking at CSc, I slammed my laptop closed, put down my can of V8, and fell asleep.

Based on the first 22 minutes, I recommend Wall Street for people with proper attention spans. Perhaps someone will watch the whole thing and tell me what happens. Until then, I’ll be watching TiVo on one TV while playing Xbox on a second.

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