Looking Back at the First Roaring Twenties

We are in a second Roaring Twenties, or so you might think, from the countless comments suggesting that we are entering an exuberant decade that echoes the one of a century ago.

The 1920s were marked by frenetic celebration, amazing stock market returns — and, ultimately, one of the worst crashes and most devastating depressions in modern history.

A century is a long time, and the original Roaring Twenties have become something of a lost world, glimpsed through legend, movies and pop fantasy.

It’s worth looking back more closely. History doesn’t provide a clear guide to the future — many economists avoid studying it, preferring instead to dwell on mathematical models, the latest changes in fiscal and monetary policy and statistically significant leading indicators.

Alexander Dana Noyes wrote both of “the most reckless stock speculation” and of a series of “exceedingly favorable” factors protecting the economy: a “sound banking system,” “expanding production and consumption,” “large profits,” “stability of prices,” “conservative methods of trade,” “labor’s high wages” and “increasing exports.”

As stocks rose, people who had little knowledge of the market blithely bought shares for the first time, as Eunice Fuller Barnard described in “Ladies of the Ticker,” a firsthand account in April 1929.

Recently, there has been a parallel rise in trades by inexperienced retail investors.

Early in the 1920s, people played the market as a grand game, abetted by technological innovation and new mass media.

In 1923 the Trans-Lux company came out with the “movie ticker” — a large illuminated screen showing rapidly changing stock prices. For the first time, a crowd at a retail brokerage could watch together as a facsimile of the stock ticker tape whizzed by in bright light.

And they heard about the stock market on the radio, the hot new technology of that era. Westinghouse, in Pittsburgh, created one of the world’s first commercial radio stations, KDKA, which broadcast Warren G. Harding’s victory in the presidential election on Nov. 2, 1920. Sports events, comedy shows and stock market reports soon followed, and radio stations spread throughout the United States and the world.

The world entered homes electronically, giving people an immediate sense of the possibility of new technologies and access to a global narrative about financial success.

What is startling, in retrospect, is that while there was plenty of discussion of the brave new horizons for investing in the 1920s, there was very little skeptical scrutiny of the underpinnings of the markets available in mass media, at least at first.

CAPE, which enables us to say stock prices today are quite high on a historical basis.

But my research suggests that in the early 1920s, scarcely anyone, outside of investment professionals, knew what a price-earnings ratio was. There was not a single use of the phrase in the ProQuest News & Newspapers database before 1928.

This inattention shifted in the months before the October 1929 crash. In May 1929, for example, The New York Herald Tribune published “Price-Earnings Ratio Ignored by Traders in Present Market.”

It was a sign of worry. Suddenly, many people became aware that this important measure was at record highs, indicating that prices were difficult to justify. The article helped to spread a pessimistic narrative about the stock market that began to dominate discourse.

“The purchaser of securities on tips, who gives no thought or study to intrinsic values, must suffer the consequences of his own lack of reasonable care in conserving his resources,” the article said.

As the crash approached, newspapers reported that many people had taken excessive loans from brokers, noting that the severity of a market decline could be amplified when brokers made “margin calls,” requiring repayment of those loans.

As early as March 1928, an article in The Times said there was a widespread “uncomfortable feeling” about the “unpleasant possibilities” for the still roaring stock market. Such a feeling exists today, though perhaps not in as severe a form.

the risk of excessive speculation. Yet the Standard & Poor’s Composite Index rose 29 percent from Jan. 1 to Sept. 8 that year. (The increase in the S&P 500 from March 23, 2020, to Thursday, at 86 percent, is even larger.)

In 1929, the warnings only heightened public attention to the market.

In February 1929, the singer Eddie Cantor had a hit pop song about the dangers of living. Its title was a form of baby talk: “I Faw Down an’ Go Boom!” The lyrics included this: “I got a tip to buy some stocks, lost my shirt, lost my socks. The minute that I buy some stocks, they faw down an’ go boom.”

An article by Joseph Dineen in The Boston Globe on Feb. 10, 1929, said the song had gone viral: “‘I faw down and go boom.’ Did you ever hear anything sillier, more ridiculous and inane in your life? This wisecrack is positively cuckoo, a snatch of baby talk which has swept the country, used every day in every way by broad-shouldered huskies and lithesome lounge lizards as the last word in high-powered repartee. Every broadcasting station tossed it off into the air at least once a night.”

The song, and others like it, helped to prime people into thinking about the possibility of a crash.

Are there similarities today? Certainly. The current widespread fascination with the rising market accompanied by recent concern about a possible downward spiral and strained stock market valuations echo those of 100 years ago.

That said, there is no particular reason to expect a market collapse that would be as bad as the 1929 crash, and the government and the Fed have shown themselves to be far more adept in staving off prolonged recessions than their predecessors. But we shouldn’t be surprised if uncomfortable feelings about the market grow to unmanageable proportions, leading eventually to a major stock market decline.

Robert J. Shiller is Sterling professor of economics at Yale.


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Movie theater chain in Los Angeles, forced to close by the pandemic, will not reopen.

ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, including the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, will permanently close all its locations, Pacific Theatres announced Monday, after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

ArcLight’s locations in and around Hollywood have played host to many a movie premiere, in addition to being favorite spots for moviegoers seeking out blockbusters and prestige titles. They are operated by Pacific Theatres, which also manages a handful of theaters under the Pacific name, and are owned by Decurion.

“After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres locations,” the company said in a statement.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” it added, “but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.”

announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but would keep most of its locations operational while it restructured.

That does not seem to be the case for Pacific Theatres, which, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, fired its entire staff on Monday.

The reaction to ArcLight’s closing around Hollywood has been emotional, including an outpouring on Twitter.

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Will Smith’s Production Pulls Film Out of Georgia, Citing Voting Laws

Will Smith and the director Antoine Fuqua said on Monday that they were pulling their upcoming film production “Emancipation” out of Georgia because of the state’s new voting law, which has been denounced by activists as an effort to make voting harder for the state’s Black population.

The slavery-era drama, which is being produced and financed by Apple Studios, is the first major production to cite the law as a reason to leave the state, which offers generous tax incentives to Hollywood productions and has become a major hub for Marvel Studios, Netflix and other industry heavyweights.

“At this moment in time, the nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” Mr. Smith and Mr. Fuqua said in a joint statement. “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting. Regrettably, we feel compelled to move our film production work from Georgia to another state.”

In the film, set to begin production this summer, Mr. Smith was set to play the real-life enslaved man named Peter, who emancipated himself from a Southern plantation and joined the Union Army. His story became famous after photographs of his back, scarred by whippings, appeared in the pages of Harper’s Weekly.

outrage over the new law.

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‘Nomadland’ Wins Big at Diverse BAFTAs

LONDON — “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao’s film about a woman forced to join the rising numbers of Americans living out of vans as they search for work, was the big winner at the EE British Academy Film Awards in London on Sunday.

It was named best film at Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars, better known as the BAFTAs, beating the likes of Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and the much-hyped “Promising Young Woman,” starring Carey Mulligan.

Zhao was also named best director, while Frances McDormand, the star of “Nomadland,” won best actress. The film, which has been heavily praised by British critics for its “delicate, incisive portrait of a life lived on the road,” also took the award for best cinematography.

notable for their diversity, in stark contrast to last year’s awards when no people of color were nominated in the main acting categories, and no women were nominated for best director, prompting a social media outcry.

In response, BAFTA made a host of rule changes, including requiring its members to undergo unconscious bias training before voting and involving juries in several categories.

The Father,” where he plays a man struggling with dementia, beating the likes of Riz Ahmed for his portrayal of a musician losing his hearing in “Sound of Metal,” and Chadwick Boseman for his starring role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

But Daniel Kaluuya was named best supporting actor for his role as Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” repeating his success at the Golden Globes. Yuh-Jung Youn, the veteran Korean actress, won best supporting actress for her role in “Minari.”

British people “are known as very snobbish” Youn said in her acceptance speech, saying the award meant more because of that.

The success of “Nomadland” is likely to increase hype around the film ahead of this year’s Oscars, scheduled for April 25, where it is nominated for six awards.

The BAFTAs are normally seen as a bellwether for the Academy Awards because there is some overlap between the 7,000-strong membership of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which organizes the BAFTAs, and the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Although four of the movies contending for the best picture Oscar — “Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Mank,” “Minari” and “Sound of Metal” — were not nominated in the BAFTAs best film category.

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Without Parties, There’s No Place to Show Off That Expensive Watch

With so many people awash in content streaming into their homes in the pandemic, brands are struggling to figure out a way to connect.

That has been particularly true in the marketing of expensive luxury goods — the type of items people like to be seen wearing and using. For the last year, the parties and the cultural and charitable events, where the wealthy can see and be seen, have not been happening.

“Why do I put on a $200,000 timepiece if I have a clock on my microwave and haven’t left my house in four months?” said Chris Olshan, global chief executive of the Luxury Marketing Council, an organization that promotes luxury brands. “What’s the value of a $10,000 Brioni suit when I’m not going out and no one is seeing it?”

He said brands were being forced to explain why a new product was worth their interest and their money. “It’s, ‘Hey, you can dive in this watch, and it has this button that if you press it we’ll come rescue you off of an island,’” he said. “It has to be more than another Swiss watch. It has to have something more to justify the value.”

dates to the 1870s, has been the leading maker of golf shoes since 1945, with a classic image akin to Audemars Piguet. But that image has been challenged with social media influencers promoting more athletic-looking golf shoes.

Max Homa, a younger professional who rose to social media prominence in the pandemic with his gently sarcastic Twitter takes on people’s golf swings.

“My brand is to take the seriousness out of golf but also play at a high level,” said Mr. Homa, 30, who won his second PGA Tour event in February at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles. “I want people to understand there are a lot of ways to go about it.”

The shoemaker announced on Thursday that it was also teaming with Todd Snyder, a men’s wear designer who favors camouflage and doesn’t golf but has a large social media following and can bring in different types of consumers.

“We’re contrasting Adam Scott, who’s out of central casting, and layering on someone like Max Homa,” said Ken LaRose, senior vice president of brand and consumer experience at FootJoy. “But we’re also looking for style influencers outside of the world of golf.”

cost more than $1,000, is looking at an affluent demographic of young mothers who live in cities and will be doing a lot of walking with their stroller.

“People want to see real people using our product,” said Schafer Stewart, head of marketing in the United States for Bugaboo. “We’re looking for those people who marry up with our aesthetic. We’re never paying for it.”

(Influencers, like Bruna Tenório, a Brazilian model who just had her first baby, do get free products.)

“We’ve been talking a lot about ways to market without spending one red cent,” Mr. Olshan said. “A lot of brands are panicked about doing anything. How do you engage inexpensively?”

Brands have also been helping one another, with Le Creuset, the French cookware company, promoting General Electric’s high-end appliance brand, Café, and vice versa.

“Look, if you’re buying pots and pans from me, you’re buying the oven from someone else,” Mr. Olshan said. “We’re seeing a lot of partnerships of noncompeting brands.”

In tough times, even luxury brands need to rethink their age-old strategies.

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Netflix and Sony Sign Four-Year Streaming Deal

In another sign of Netflix’s growing dominance, Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a five-year deal that will give the streaming giant the exclusive U.S. rights to Sony’s films once they leave theaters and premium video-on-demand services.

The deal, which begins with the studio’s 2022 releases, builds on Netflix’s existing partnership with Sony Pictures Animation and replaces the agreement Sony, one of the few major studios without its own streaming service, has had with Starz Entertainment since 2005.

That means that upcoming films like “Morbius,” which features Jared Leto playing the Marvel vampire, and “Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland in an adaptation of a Playstation game, will become available on Netflix after they complete their theatrical and on-demand runs. As part of the deal, Sony will make two to three direct-to-streaming movies a year for Netflix, expanding Sony’s slate and giving Netflix exclusive films for its service.

“This not only allows us to bring Sony’s impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new I.P. to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first-run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide,” Netflix’s head of global films, Scott Stuber, said in a statement on Thursday.

Sony emphasized that the arrangement would not alter its theatrical strategy. Before the pandemic, the studio released 15 to 20 films a year in theaters, a plan it intends to resume now that theaters are reopening. Films made for Netflix will be in addition to the theatrical releases, it said.

With the pandemic shutting down movie theaters for much of last year, Sony Pictures, like most studios, pushed many of its films into 2021. It also sold a handful to streaming services, including “Greyhound” with Tom Hanks to Apple and the upcoming animated comedy “The Mitchells vs The Machines,” from the creators of Sony’s Oscar-winning film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse,” to Netflix.

(An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Sony signed a four-year deal.)

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Sony Pictures enters a streaming deal with Netflix.

In another sign of Netflix’s growing dominance, Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a four-year deal that will give the streaming giant the exclusive U.S. rights to Sony’s films once they leave theaters and premium video-on-demand services.

The deal, which begins with the studio’s 2022 releases, builds on Netflix’s existing partnership with Sony Pictures Animation and replaces the agreement Sony, one of the few major studios without its own streaming service, has had with Starz Entertainment since 2005.

That means that upcoming films like “Morbius,” which features Jared Leto playing the Marvel vampire, and “Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland in an adaptation of a Playstation game, will become available on Netflix after they complete their theatrical and on-demand runs. As part of the deal, Sony will make two to three movies a year for Netflix, expanding Sony’s slate and giving Netflix exclusive films for its service.

“This not only allows us to bring Sony’s impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new I.P. to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first-run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide,” Netflix’s head of global films, Scott Stuber, said in a statement on Thursday.

Sony emphasized that the arrangement would not alter its theatrical strategy. Before the pandemic, the studio released 15 to 20 films a year in theaters, a plan it intends to resume now that theaters are reopening. Films made for Netflix will be in addition to the theatrical releases, it said.

With the pandemic shutting down movie theaters for much of last year, Sony Pictures, like most studios, pushed many of its films into 2021. It also sold a handful to streaming services, including “Greyhound” with Tom Hanks to Apple and the upcoming animated comedy “The Mitchells vs The Machines,” from the creators of Sony’s Oscar-winning film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse,” to Netflix.

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Hollywood Actor Charged With Running Film-Distribution Ponzi Scheme

The 2017 film “Bitter Harvest” would not, by many definitions, be considered a success.

“It’s a bad sign when even the prayers in this movie are crappy,” observed one reviewer, who contributed to the film’s 15 percent critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It pulled in less than $600,000 in the United States. But that did not mean it did not still have moneymaking potential abroad. All investors needed to do was help buy the rights to distribute it and a number of other films in Latin America, Africa and New Zealand. Major distribution deals with HBO and Netflix were on the cusp of being formalized, they were told. Once those fell into place, the investors would get returns of at least 35 percent.

That is the essence of what the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors are calling a Ponzi scheme run by Zachary J. Horwitz, a not particularly famous actor with a rather extravagant home. Mr. Horwitz, who went by the stage name Zach Avery, was arrested on Tuesday on wire fraud charges. He is accused of defrauding investors of at least $227 million and fabricating his company’s business relationship with HBO and Netflix.

“We allege that Horwitz promised extremely high returns and made them seem plausible by invoking the names of two well-known entertainment companies and fabricating documents,” Michele Wein Layne, director of the S.E.C.’s Los Angeles regional office, said in a news release on Tuesday.

most recent film, the horror movie “The Devil Below” (Rotten Tomatoes critic score: 0 percent). Mr. Horwitz did not star in any of the 50 or so films he promised could make investors millions, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Mr. Horwitz was in jail on Wednesday, Mr. Mrozek said. Attempts to reach other employees of One in a Million Productions, whose website features the tag line “When Odds Are One in a Million. Be That One,” were unsuccessful. (Later Wednesday afternoon, the site had been taken down.)

Mr. Horwitz’s lawyer, Anthony Pacheco, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Ponzi scheme began to unravel when an investor wanted money refunded in 2019 and could not get it, Mr. Mrozek said.

For several years, 1inMM — as the company styles its name — found ways to pay investors, according to the S.E.C. Court documents do not list all of the films investors thought they had helped buy rights to, but the complaint features an image from 1inMM’s “library”; the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “The Kickboxer” and the 2013 romantic comedy “The Spectacular Now” are included.

The way that money can be made in the movie distribution world is to say, “I’ll give you $100,000 for Latin America rights,” for example, Mr. Mrozek said, adding, “I go to HBO or whomever and say, ‘Give me $200,000 to show the movie.’”

according to the S.E.C.

Since December 2019, 1inMM has defaulted on more than 160 payments, according to court documents. One investor in Chicago, who was owed more than $160 million in principal and $59 million in profits, wanted his returns and could not get them, Mr. Mrozek said. That investor contacted the authorities.

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A Fierce Election Tests Modi’s Campaign to Remake India

NANDIGRAM, India — The challenger arrived with police vehicles, a band of drummers and the backing of the country’s powerful prime minister. The crowd joined him in full-throated chants of glory to the Hindu god Ram: “Jai Shree Ram!” He brought a warning: If Hindus did not unite around him, even their most basic religious practices would be in danger in the face of Muslim appeasement.

In another part of town, the incumbent took the stage in a wheelchair, the result of what she said was a politically motivated assault. Though her injuries kept her from stalking the stage in her white sari and sandals as usual, she still regaled the audience with taunts for the opposition. And she had a warning of her own: Her defeat would be a victory for an ideology that has no place for minorities like Muslims.

The monthlong election unfolding in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal is deeply personal. Mamata Banerjee, the state’s chief minister for the past decade, is facing off against her former protégé of 20 years, Suvendu Adhikari. He and dozens of other local leaders have defected from her party and are now allied with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

But the heated vote could indicate something broader: whether anybody can stop Mr. Modi’s movement to reshape India’s secular republic into a Hindu-first nation.

state victories. His Bharatiya Janata Party has reduced the main opposition group, the Indian National Congress, to a shadow of its past glory, pushing the country toward becoming a one-party democracy.

West Bengal represents a test of Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist reach. The state of 90 million people remains deeply proud of its Indigenous culture and tolerance of minorities. It is run by a strong regional leader with the heft and profile to challenge Mr. Modi directly.

has chronicled the rise of the B.J.P.

“They would have shown that the B.J.P. is an all-India party, that our Hindu nationalism is capable of vernacular adaptation,” Mr. Sitapati said. “And that is a powerful symbol.”

beat her head with metal rods. She trounced the Communists in elections nevertheless.

Last month, in the midst of a jostling crowd, a car door slammed on Ms. Banerjee’s leg. She declared the incident a politically motivated attack, a contention her opponents have questioned. Still, her party has made her cast a symbol of a leader putting her body on the line for her cause.

Mithun Chakraborty, a Bengali actor famous for movies like “Disco Dancer” and “Cobra.”

“I am a pure cobra,” Mr. Chakraborty told one recent rally, as B.J.P. leaders behind him applauded. “One bite, and you will be at the cremation ground!”

Ms. Banerjee’s iron grip over state politics looms over the vote. The B.J.P. is trying to ride anti-incumbent sentiment fueled by her party’s corruption scandals and the way its members have used extortion and violence to keep power.

But Mr. Adhikari and many of the B.J.P.’s local candidates for the state’s 294-seat local assembly were themselves, until recently, members of her party. After decades of heavy-handedness by the Communists and Ms. Banerjee, Mr. Modi’s party began actively expanding in West Bengal only after he became prime minister in 2014, though its infrastructure is still lacking. One joke in the state holds that Trinamool will win a third term even if the B.J.P. prevails.

Ms. Banerjee’s success could depend on convincing voters that her party’s bad apples now work for the B.J.P. The B.J.P.’s dependence on Trinamool defectors has also led to a revolt among local Modi supporters who saw their presence as an insult to their years of work in the face of intimidation by the same people now chosen to represent them.

One defector, an 89-year-old assembly member named Rabindranath Bhattacharya, said he had switched parties only because Ms. Banerjee didn’t nominate him to serve a fifth term.

“I changed my party, but I am not changed,” Mr. Bhattacharya said in an interview at his house. Trinamool flags still hung from the trees and gate.

His candidacy moved hundreds of B.J.P. workers and supporters to pressure Mr. Bhattacharya to step aside. They went on a hunger strike, painted over party signs and ransacked the home of the local B.J.P. chief.

“We started here when no one dared speak as a B.J.P. member,” said Gautam Modak, who has worked for the B.J.P. in the district since 2003. “He got the party ticket three days after joining the B.J.P.”

Mr. Adhikari has said he defected from Ms. Banerjee’s camp because she and her nephew and heir-apparent, Abhishek Banerjee, use other party leaders as “employees” without sharing power. Still, in recent rallies he has put greater emphasis on identity politics, ending with chants of “Jai Shree Ram!”

Voting took place on Saturday in the town of Nandigram, a lush agricultural area, and both candidates were there. At rallies, crowds energized by their moment of power over sometimes abusive politicians braved the heat to listen, cheer and support. Turnout totaled 88 percent.

Satish Prasad Jana, a 54-year-old B.J.P. supporter at Mr. Adhikari’s rally, said he mainly supported Mr. Modi. He had no dispute with Ms. Banerjee except that she couldn’t control the abuse of her party workers, and he knew that some of those same people now work for Mr. Adhikari.

“I have 90 percent faith in Modi, 10 percent faith in Adhikari,” he said.

Hours later, a large rally of Ms. Banerjee’s supporters took place in a school courtyard surrounded by coconut trees. Women in colorful saris outnumbered men. They praised Ms. Banerjee’s government for paving the road that led to the school, for distributing rice at low prices and for making payments to families to keep their girls in school and prevent child marriage, among other initiatives.

But the energy was focused squarely on teaching Mr. Adhikari a lesson.

“You said Mamata is like your mother. The mother made you a leader, a minister, and in charge of the whole district,” said Suhajata Maity, a local leader, addressing Mr. Adhikari.

“Then, you stabbed the mother in her back.”

To resounding applause, she ended her speech with a call to the mothers in the crowd: “Will you teach him such a lesson that he abandons politics all together?”

Chandrasekhar Bhattacharjee contributed reporting.

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