Chasing Madoff

Chasing Madoff argues that Bernie Madoff was more typical of systemic abuses than deviant.

Chasing Madoff

Director: Jeff Prosserman
Cast: Harry Markopolos, Frank Casey, Neil Chelo, Michael Ocrant, Gaytri Kachroo
Rated: NR
Studio: Cohen Media Group
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-08-26 (Limited release)

"Nothing about this case was ever believable. It was always the twilight zone in the Madoff case, because every time you saw something, it never made sense." Set against an abstracting black background and addressing the camera, Harry Markopolos looks like he's had experience in the twilight zone. But for him, as he tells it, Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme was immediately identifiable as such. When presented with Madoff's proposal, investment officer Markopolos told his boss at Rampart Investment Management, Frank Casey, not to believe it: "This was," he says now, "the biggest fraud ever."

Now, as they're interviewed in Chasing Madoff, it's plain that Markopolos was right. But at the time, in the early 2000s, they had trouble getting other people to see it. As Rampart was in the same money managing business as Madoff, Casey was initially concerned with finding a way to compete, a strategy to lure clients with attractive returns on their investments. Of course, that was impossible, as Markopolos asserts more than once here. Even when he did come up with an idea, with good returns, he was advised it was too risky. Still, he says, it was nothing like Madoff's strategy. "He's a crook," he imagines telling those "fools" who objected to his proposal. "I'm legit."

But being a crook, then as now, apparently, is not a deal-breaker on Wall Street. In fact, as recent history reveals, Madoff was more typical of systemic abuses than deviant. As the financial industry headed toward 2008's near-catastrophe, the crooks kept making money. And as much as Markopolos and Casey, along with a third colleague at Rampart, Neil Chelo, and journalist Michael Ocrant, worked to expose Madoff, their efforts were repeatedly rebuffed. More specifically, they were ignored. Still, their efforts when on for years, as Markopolos, the designated point person, the whistleblower with his name on the papers, went again and again to the SEC with evidence that Madoff was stealing from people.

Based on Markopolos' book, No One Would Listen, Chasing Madoff makes no bones about its point of view. More like a first-person detective story than a conventionally "objective" documentary, it presents Markopolos as a kind of seer, able to read accurately what was in front of him and willing to speak out about it. As Markopolos presents his findings, he's supported on either side, literally, by Casey and Chelo, as the camera swiftly pans from each to the other, all set against the same black screen. The interviews appear to match on a kind of action, as the men not only narrate a coherent story, but also finish or bolster one another's thoughts.

These thoughts are further buttressed by interviews with Madoff's victims, identified here by their Madoff numbered accounts. Angry and grieving, their personal stories are similar, but each provides a stricken face for the effects of Madoff's recklessness, and more to this film's point, systemic corruption. One woman expresses the fury felt by so many, that Madoff had a "green light" from the agencies who were supposed to monitor such activities. "They said it's safe," she laments, and she had no way of knowing otherwise.

Understandably, the film doesn't interview investors who might now claim to have had some sense of what was afoot. If some remember being impressed by Madoff's companies' extraordinary performance, they don't now admit they had an inkling that something was wrong. (Casey does describe his friendship with Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, the investor and investment solicitor with Madoff who killed himself when the case finally broke.) This speaks -- however silently -- to the film's primary argument, that Madoff had help in keeping the scheme afloat for so many years, that Markopolos' decade's worth of whistleblowing was repressed by people who knew something, and that the huge-scale investors, those who made millions and billions, had to know what was going on.

As Chasing Madoff suggests, the system depends on silence, or at least on people saying a lot of nothing when they do speak, Just so, Madoff appears occasionally in a TV Interview. His image framed by an old-style TV set, he recedes into a depthless screen as he advises, "For the most part, you can ignore all of that stuff. If you're investing for your retirement or whatever, you don’t have to get involved in all of these insane moves that occur in the marketplace. It's unfortunate for me that I have to deal with this every day."

Or not. For years, it seems he didn't deal with any of it, only kept raising money from richer and richer Peters to pay a series of Pauls. The film doesn’t show how this works so much as it offers up some creative illustration, including sepia-toned footage of horse races and men on Wall Street from the 1920s and '30s, implying that the system is less different now than it is expanded and exacerbated. The amounts of money being made and lost are exponentially larger now, but the financial industry is premised on a majority of investors paying no attention to daily moves on the Street.

That doesn't mean that everyone is so willfully or accidentally ignorant. And, as Markopolos phrases it, having knowledge and being known can also be costly. He describes the emotional tolls of his position as self-identified whistleblower. As he and his wife were having children and building a life in the suburbs (indicated by shots of his twins getting off a school bus, as well as a house with a picket fence), they were also convinced that he was in mortal danger, and came up with plans, in case he met an untimely end. He made sure that Casey and Chelo had all the information he gathered, says Markopolos. If he or his wife were killed, he says, "That was bad for us, but Frank and Neil could go forward to the authorities and this thing is pretty compelling: 'Hey, Harry died of acute lead poisoning of the high speed multiple entry wounds variety.'" Pretty compelling, yes, not to mention sensationally rendered in the film's images of Markopolos, strikingly shadowed and cocking a rifle again and again.

An interview with police sergeant Harry Bates, indicates that he was also concerned when Markopolos showed up at the station one day, looking "white as a ghost." Gates says he offered him a bulletproof vest, and in the film they reenact the scene where Harry tries it on, the camera low and the ceiling looming over them. Military veteran Markopolos testifies, "There are three things that you have to do to survive on the battlefield, shoot, move, and communicate." He looks stiff as he pats the vest: "The thing I was worried about was the moving. This thing was gonna prevent me from moving." And so, Bates recalls as the music turns ominous and the shadows lengthen, "I didn't want him to leave here without any protection, but it was his choice."

Yes, it's dramatic, but not even so dramatic as the story's well-known semi-conclusion, when at last the House Financial Services Committee holds hearings, and Representative Gary Ackerman berates SEC officials for seeming so unconscionably stupid and deliberately slow. Markopolos' righteously irate testimony is set in direct contrast to those officials' stammering non-statements and averted gazes.

As extravagant as Chasing Madoff can seem at times, as preposterous as its aesthetic choices might be, these serve to underline the outrageousness of the $50 billion scheme and its many layers of cover-ups, over so many years. Madoff is not anomalous. He's only more of the same.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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