12 September 2010 | TheEconoclast
Destined to become a Finance Classic
The other night I watched James Allen Smith's Floored, a documentary about the floor traders at the various Chicago exchanges.
It was fantastic. If you work in the industry or have an interest in trading, I will guarantee your satisfaction.
Perhaps it was merely chance, but I found it rather fitting that I had finished up season three of Mad Men a couple nights before. "Change", of course, is one of the major themes that runs implicitly throughout that show and that theme becomes rather explicit as the third season draws to a close. The novelty of the whole Mad Men era is a really neat hook, but what really grabbed my attention and kept me watching was the subtle dramatic irony. It's ridiculous fun getting to know these ad men, their secretaries, clients, and wives. All the while the 1960′s loom on the horizon and none of them can see the tempest that's coming.
Watching Floored was a similar experience. It was shot during the middle of this last decade on a shoestring budget of only a few hundred grand. These are the final days of the floor traders, the descent of whom dovetails the rise of the machines. I'd say that here too is another situation rich with enough dramatic irony to satisfy the ancient Greeks, but Floored's characters are in on the joke. These guys are aware that they are dinosaurs, nobly plodding along toward their ultimate, collective demise. Their world is burning down around them but they carry their heads up high. There's something to be said for that, I suppose.
Different traders respond to this in different ways: a few embrace the computers, others deny their significance. Some leave the industry altogether while a tortured handful rage, rage against the dying of the light. Gentleness is not part of a floor trader's DNA.
I think the movie speaks more broadly to everyone in the industry. Those of you that work in finance don't need to be told how dynamic a world it is. I came of age during a technological tsunami; my first job was at a traditional retail brokerage while stocks like E*Trade and Ameritrade IPO'd and shot to the moon. Talk about irony!
All my generation has known is change, especially those of us that work in finance. Trying to keep up is impossible at best and anxiety-inducing at worst.
Some of these traders in the film are a little rough-and-tumble, a necessary characteristic for survival on the floor. But they share that same struggle as the rest of us, the endless battle to keep up. You may just sympathize with them. Beyond that, I think there's a deeper theme that speaks to all men specifically. On a fundamental level it's about the challenges of providing for one's family and those who trust you to succeed. Each day these men venture into the jungle; to eat, they must kill. One of the traders that Smith chooses to follow is also big game hunter. That wasn't an accidental decision on the director's part. The metaphor is clear.
Mark my words now: this movie is destined to become a cult classic within the industry, much the way Wall Street and Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross have. Those are all excellent films. But the difference with Floored is that it is true story. These traders and this industry are not romanticized. This isn't a glorification of the capitalistic dream. There is a brutal honesty here that you will respond to in one way or another.