Power in “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”

One of the three sections I wrote for my paper on the similarity of “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in their critiques of excess among the elite.

Power is central to both The Wolf of Wall Street and The Apartment; Scorsese continues this critique from The Apartment to The Wolf of Wall Street by paralleling the mise-en-scène of their workspaces. Both Consolidated Life Insurance Company and Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm convey the sense of security and professionalism to the common person. This façade is depicted in the beginnings of both films: The Apartment with its documentary-like footage of the Consolidated Life Insurance Company building and voiceover narration of statistics and The Wolf of Wall Street with the confident TV commercial of the Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm. Inside the buildings’ floor plans and offices are set up quite similarly. Wilder and Scorsese both set up their protagonists in the center of the frames with a repetitive, monotonous set up. However, in contrast to symmetric and orderly set up of The Apartment, The Wolf of Wall Street is much more chaotic with the various (male) employees flailing their arms. Like the floor plans, the offices for higher associates are much larger and roomy than the general office floor space. These offices are set apart from the common area and are made for one person: the higher the person, the bigger the room, or, the bigger the office, the bigger the jerk.

However these are only façades of the companies. The faux professionalism covers up the true and excessive behaviors of the employees. The main difference between The Apartment and The Wolf of Wall Street are their protagonists. In The Apartment Wilder wants the viewer to sympathize with C.C. Baxter because he is an ordinary person who lives within his means, whereas in The Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese wants the viewer to laugh at and be angry with Jordan Belfort because he is so excessive and selfish. However, Wilder does not drop critique of human excess. Throughout the entirety of The Apartment Dr. Dreyfuss tells C.C. Baxter to “slow down” and “grow up.” Baxter is a scapegoat for Wilder to drive this critique on the excess of higher associates, like Sheldrake and Kirkeby, to ridicule and bash them. Scorsese conversely uses his critique much more subtly because his main character is the excessive character of The Apartment. Both films essentially comment that those in power are too excessive.

Examples that sum up this idea of power are the parties that occur in the films. For The Wolf of Street, just about everyday is party and excess day, but it is clear that Scorsese had the office Christmas party from The Apartment in mind when he filmed his scenes. The office Christmas office party explicitly intermingles the common office space and the separate offices, both areas containing lots of drinking and philandering. At one point the phone operator Sylvia is seen doing a striptease for the employees on an office table. In comparing this party with the party scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street, the similarities are striking. In The Wolf of Wall Street the parties consist of people drinking, hooking up, and dancing on tables. The only real difference in The Wolf of Wall Street is the lack of romance in its scene plot line and the women as prostitutes than employees. Overall power in these films is not presented as professional, but rather faux and devious.

À bout de souffle (1960)

Despite my very few viewings of Jean Luc-Godard’s films, I will be quick to admit that he is not my cup of tea. However, it seems that I’ve always a craving to watch one of his movies; like something forbidden to me until once I start to watch it, I remember why I didn’t want to keep watching his films in the first place lol. But as being new to film, I think it’s important to keep watching them so I can be more familiar with his style and be able to compare and to contrast them with other New Wave directors such as Truffaut.

To my surprise, this film was not bad in my eye. Compared to Masculin Féminin, it was more appealing because of its (loose) story line. Michel was, as he admits in the very first line, an asshole and I did not like him. Perhaps the one aspect of him that I did like was his admiration for Bogie. His character can be described as judgmental, cynical, impatient, blunt, and selfish. His girlfriend, Patricia  I had more sympathy for. Though she claims to be independent yet I’m not sure why she did not kick Michel out after the first three times of pestering her to have sex with him. Aside from that, she seems to have it together: she is working at New York Herald Tribune, practical, and quite pensive. My favorite scene of the film was when she went to interview and while everyone was asking him about love and women in France vs. America, Patricia asked about his biggest ambition in life; that question goes unanswered.

As for Godard’s directing and editing, it’s rather different. He seems to skip pieces of time in scenes where he feels it’s not important. It passes the time along and gets straight to the point. An example is when he goes to the woman’s apartment to hide the gun. While the dialogue connects, the shots do not. One shot is a medium shot of Michel and the women where the next the composition is different, like Michel is now holding a cigarette and lighting it. This editing shows us what is important to Michel and at times how quick an action happens, like when he murders the cop.

I’m well aware of the New Wave’s break from the typical classical Hollywood narrative and non-linear structure (ESPECIALLY in Masculin Féminin), however for the time being I believe that Truffaut is more my speed. The only trouble is that I’ll have to remind myself that before I watch another one of his films.

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Rating: ♚♚♚ 1/2