Michael Douglas

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Michael Douglas Pencil Portrait
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The diabolical charm, slicked-back hair, city-college chip on his shoulder, and era-defining “greed-is-good” mantra, all combined in an intoxicating cocktail, to make the character of Gordon Gekko an all-time corporate anti-hero. The film Wall Street,’ was a cautionary tale of greed turning an intelligent and ambitious man into a criminal, who generates ‘added margin’ on his stockmarket dealings off the pain of others. Embarrassingly, the next generation of Wall Street embraced him as an icon and followed his business model. As Gekko said: “If you need a friend, get a dog.” The role brought Michael Douglas his Best Actor Oscar, a near perfect two hour rollercoaster encapsulation of his real life.

The late 80’s represented his commercial peak with back to back hits. Whilst Fatal Attraction,’ his 1987 release, might have been a great psychological thriller but for its chronically flawed last act, the movie would do wonders for his bankability as a leading man. Continuing a theme explored sixteen years earlier in Clint Eastwood’s infinitely superior Play Misty for Me,” Douglas is a married man who has an opportunistic weekend affair with a woman who refuses to allow it to end, her ensuing obsession resulting in emotional blackmail, stalking, and physical intimidation. The highest-grossing film of the year worldwide, critical reaction was enthusiastic, with only a few dissenting voices flagging up the more implausible elements of the screenplay. Initiating a trend which Douglas would continue in Basic Instinct some five years later, the movie features some of the silliest sex scenes ever filmed, and a premise that is never fully explored; namely a man who ‘knows the score’ and expects a woman to think likewise.

The character of Alex Forest (played by Glenn Close), would introduce the concept of a “bunny boiler,” a person – especially a woman – who is considered to be emotionally unstable and likely to be dangerously vengeful. In the movie, she boils a pet rabbit to terrorize the family of the lover who spurns her. Given sufficient time to investigate Alex, the character of Dan Gallagher would have discovered little trace of amicable former lovers, a dearth of any substantial friendship circle, and an irretrievably self-centered person. The classic ‘bunny bolier’ is dangerously vengeful, she threatens you or maybe herself, destroys property, in fact anything to get your attention. She attempts to use carrot and stick to get her lost lover back, no matter the cost. She will either get him back into her web of love and lies, or she will destroy his life. There is no middle ground. She shows no grace or dignity when he leaves her. Childish and self-centered, he will be hers, or nobody will have him. In some cases, the result is actually physical violence. In most cases, the man will require the endurance of a long distance runner, and endure her attempts to undo his life and happiness over a protracted period of time. In the film, Gallagher can’t respond to her in any way, because even if he does after 100 attempts, Alex will simply conclude that all she needs to do to get his attention is to contact him 100 times. Even negative attention will encourage her.

The ‘bunny boiler’ phrase, taking the lead from the film, was first used to refer to someone who is unable to remain rational at the end of a romantic relationship. Very quickly that became moderated and used, with some degree of irony, in much less extreme situations. Any needy, mildly possessive or even just annoying woman is now liable to be described in a similar fashion. The most dangerous species of this ilk of course, is the older woman who has learned to control any outward excess, but nonetheless remains supremely adept at manipulating a situation. The vast majority of them operate clandestinely and most successfully, but occasionally come unstuck with a male target who is prepared to bring matters out into the open. From that moment on, the situation may well rebound upon them with unforeseen consequences. This is precisely where ‘Fatal Attraction’ falls down as a movie.

The original theatrical version of the movie featured a revised ending shot eight months after the original filming had wrapped. The more acceptable climactic finale featured Close, presumably drowned in the bathtub – if only common sense had prevailed – yet rising again for one final stab, only to be shot dead by Douglas’ wife (Anne Archer.) The loving, stay-at-home wife ends up being the heroine who slays the insane career woman, leaving her husband, the one who committed the infidelity, without major repercussions from his wife.

The original ending, as it turns out, was completely different. Instead of the more violent scene we are all familiar with, Close kills herself and frames Douglas, although salvation lies in a cassette tape recording in which the femme fatale outlines her plan. According to Director Adrian Lyne, it was his own decision to swap out the ending for a more audience friendly resolution, after seeing the viewer reactions from three separate screenings.

“I could feel the film go flat,” Lyne told the LA Times. “And the audience was so with the movie until that point, that it felt dramatically unsatisfying at the end. So we decided to make a change, only and purely for dramatic reasons.” So, the cast and crew were brought back months after the shoot had wrapped to record the alternate ending.

The character of Alex had a pattern of repeating bad relationships, without seemingly, ever considering the possibility of doing more with her life were she not so driven by sexual and romantic pursuits – the former being so patently overrated and the latter naively idealistic. In the modern world, relationships for women have become tantamount to a religion. They get older, whilst still clinging to that Prince Charming ideal. The psychologist Stanton Peele, has been writing treatises on addiction for more than two decades. “It’s complicated. So many powerful experiences can be addictive, and love is the most powerful of these,” asserts the author of ‘Love and Addiction.’ “These experiences can form the basis for addiction, but since responses are so variable over people…they can’t really be classified as diseases.” Peele doesn’t buy into the disease model, and claims that love addiction is neither lifelong nor inbred. According to him, as we mature in life, most of us eventually overcome love “addiction” — which is why there are more love-struck teenagers than adults. For those perennial love addicts still trapped in some form of extended adolescence, maybe it’s time to grow up and get over it?

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Recommended viewing

Romancing the stone (1984)

Wall Street (1987)

As corrupt financier Gordon Gekko, he famously claimed that ‘greed is good’, yet at the heart of Wall Street’s operations, ‘insider trading’ remains a very real problem.

The practice of buying or selling a security, by someone who has access to material about it currently unavailable to the general public, was at the heart of Gekko\‘s modus operandi. Gekko\‘s character was not specifically based on any real-life person, but is said to have been loosely modelled on junk-bond king Michael Milken, the executive at investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. during the 1980s, who used high-yield junk bonds for corporate financing and mergers and acquisitions. During this period, he amassed an enormous personal fortune, but in 1989 was indicted by a federal grand jury, and eventually spent nearly two years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of securities fraud. While he is credited with founding the high-yield debt market, he was banned for life from the securities industry. Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1993, he has since devoted much of his time and resources to the pursuit of a cure for the disease.

Gekko’s a fascinating character and I’ve met lower grade versions of him all my life. Enjoy the repartee and a convivial drink, but make sure you vacate the hotel lounge bar after an hour, and never – absolutely never- accept a job offer from them.

‘The richest one percent of this country owns half our country\‘s wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. Now you’re not naive enough to think we\‘re living in a democracy, are you buddy? It’s the free market. And you’re a part of it. You\‘ve got that killer instinct. Stick around pal, I’ve still got a lot to teach you.’

Falling Down (1993)

Behind the candalabra (2013)


Recommended reading

Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul (Anthony Scaramucci)