Posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by Russ Fischer
In this age of disgusting financial misdeeds, it’s good to remember the roots of the art of big-time financial cons. So tip your hat to turn of the century shitbag Charles Ponzi, who refined a fraudulent scheme of creating the illusion of short-term gains by leveraging new investment to pay off other investors. He didn’t invent the con, but perpetrated it on a scale that was previously unheard of. The Ponzi scheme is basically a trademark financial con, and is the root of the scamming that led to the 2008 financial meltdown. Bernie Madoff ran basically the largest Ponzi Scheme ever, bilking people out of $21 billion.
And now Milos Forman, whose career has been seemingly close to dormant for a decade (though he’s never been the most prolific director, with three major films in the ’80s and two in the ’90s) is going to direct a film about Charles Ponzi.
Variety says that Christopher Weekes is adapting the book Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend, originally written by Mitchell Zuckoff. This is the same screenwriter who penned the much buzzed-about script Muppet Man, which combined biographic tales of Jim Henson with wild, essentially hallucinogenic sequences featuring the Muppets.
Milos Forman has made a solid biopic or two — Amadeus, The People vs Larry Flynt, and talk amongst yourselves about Man on the Moon — as well as other landmark films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Loves of a Blonde and The Fireman’s Ball. (The last one there being commonly available via Criterion, and a great early film.) I’m not sure what he’ll do now that he’s in the twilight of his career, but I would have been thrilled to have the golden-age Forman making this film. He’s just adventurous enough to do something a little off the beaten path, and he once brought a certain outsider perspective to films that have specifically American qualities or texts.
And the Ponzi story could be a perfect analog to tales of current financial manipulations — there’s real reason to point out that the roots of the financial issues that plague us now are rooted deeper in American history.
Here’s Amazon’s description of the book upon which the film will be based:
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Before Charles Ponzi (1882â€“1949) sailed from Italy to the shores of America in 1903, his father assured him that the streets were really paved with gold – and that Ponzi would be able to get a piece. As journalist Zuckoff observes in this engaging and fast-paced biography, Ponzi learned as soon as he disembarked that though the streets were often cobblestone, he could still make a fortune in a culture caught in the throes of the Gilded Age. Zuckoff deftly chronicles Ponzi’s mercurial rise and fall as he conjured up one get-rich-quick scheme after another. Charming, gregarious and popular, Ponzi devised and carried out the scheme that carries his name in 1920 in the open (and with a brief period of approval from Boston’s newspapers and financial sector). Many investors did indeed double their investments, as Ponzi would use money of new investors to pay old investors, and Ponzi himself became a millionaire. Eventually, Zuckoff shows, the Boston Post uncovered this “robbing Peter to pay Paul” system (as it was then known), and Ponzi’s life unraveled. Zuckoff provides not only a definitive portrait of Ponzi’s life but also insights into immigrant life and the social world of early 20th-century Boston.