Wednesday, October 26, 2016

I saw a movie the other night...

...called Futures Past which was part of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival. I have to say I came away disappointed.

First a little personal history. I "came down" to the "Merc" (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) as a runner back in January, 1981. I had almost no knowledge of the place before setting foot on the trading floor; in fact, my initial question upon visiting for the first time was, "Is it pronounced 'Mercan-teel' or 'Mercan-tile'?" (It's the former.)

After working my way up the ranks of a local commodity brokerage firm -- phone clerk, out-trade clerk -- I borrowed some money from my father and leased a seat to trade S&P futures. I survived in the S&Ps as a "local" -- one who trades solely for his own account -- but admittedly never got the hang of it. I left the pit after two years (slightly in the black), never having progressed beyond a "minnow," or small trader. Correction: I aspired to be a minnow.

For the next two decades I worked at a series of banks on the trading floor, mostly advising and executing orders for customers in the S&Ps. It wasn't glamorous or even that lucrative, but I got to fulfill my version of the American Dream: I got married and raised two kids in the suburbs. I was home every night for dinner and was a committed husband and father. Of that I have no regrets.

Now, about that movie I saw. Futures Past is given this synopsis on the Film Festival's website:

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange and its mercurial pioneer, Leo Melamed, anchor this poignant documentary about a father, a son, and the struggle for success. Director Jordan Melamed, Leo’s son, skillfully portrays his competitive relationship with his dad alongside the CME’s recent period of momentous technological change. Nearly 10 years in the making, Futures Past deftly examines the importance of human contact, whether in families or in “the pits.”

And the Sun-Times had this to say:

Jordan Melamed set out to document the last days of open outcry trading at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. What ensues is a 10-year sojourn of a son forsaking the path of his father. We are bystanders to alternately testy and touching exchanges between Jordan and his father Leo, renowned for currency futures and later electronic trading. The elder Melamed let down his own father by turning away from a law career. The younger Melamed quit as a commodity trader and chose filmmaking, with mixed success.

Abstract finance and filial therapy reconcile for a reflexive exercise in transparent cinema, with the father critiquing his son’s technique. “Futures Past” recalls both “Floored,” James Allen Smith’s 2010 documentary about computer programs replacing Chicago Board of Trade pits, and “Tell Them Who You Are,” Mark Wexler’s 2005 personal documentary about his famous filmmaker father Haskell Wexler.

I remember Jordan Melamed from my days in the S&Ps. I didn't know "Jordy" (as everyone called him) personally -- I didn't really know anyone in the pit -- all I knew was that he was a fellow "local" with a famous last name. (At least it was famous at the Merc. Leo Melamed was often described around the place as the "father of financial futures.")

But if I did know Jordy Melamed personally, and if I had seen the film before its release, I would have asked him, "Jordy, what kind of movie do you want to make?" Was Futures Past about the history of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange? Was it about the evolution of futures trading from the pits to the "screens"? Was it about Jordy Melamed? Was it about his father? Was it about his relationship with his father? I would have told him to pick one -- they're all good topics -- and make that movie. The resulting film was a great big hot mess that went on way too long. Honestly, I couldn't wait for it to be over.

And, by the way, I could have done without the cringe-worthy "therapy session" between the father and son. (I felt like a voyeur.) Jordy has obviously been through therapy and his father obviously hasn't. It was uncomfortable for me to watch.

(Okay; that was the generous portion of my review. If I have the guts I'll write a follow-up post on how I really felt.)

I went to the movie Monday night with an old friend from the trading floor and his wife, daughter and her roommate. I sat to his right and a woman came in and sat down on my right.

"Are you an old floor person?" I asked her. (There were a lot of familiar faces but hers was not one of them.)

"No, just a film buff. I love the Film Festival and schedule my vacation time around it so I can see as many as I can. One of my friends saw this last week and recommended it."

After it was over I was positively dying to ask her what she thought. I don't go to many movies  and the ones I do see usually put me to sleep. In fact, I've often thought of a movie as an "expensive nap." So I'm admittedly no expert. But she seemed to be. I couldn't ask her, though, because one of the film's makers was sitting directly behind us (she was introduced during the Q&A session which followed) and I felt a little inhibited.

The people who went with me seemed to like Futures Past a lot. Maybe I'm way off base; maybe it was every bit as good as they thought. But, personally, I thought it was a "miss."

Did you see it? Let me know what you thought. I've been told it's cumbersome to leave a comment on this blog so you can tweet to me @BoringOldWhtGuy. I look forward to hearing from you.

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