Loading
Note di Apprendimento
Study Reminders
Support
Text Version

Gangster Genres and Cinema

Set your study reminders

We will email you at these times to remind you to study.
  • Monday

    -

    7am

    +

    Tuesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Wednesday

    -

    7am

    +

    Thursday

    -

    7am

    +

    Friday

    -

    7am

    +

    Saturday

    -

    7am

    +

    Sunday

    -

    7am

    +

Good morning.We will continue with what Rick Altman has been telling us a list of 10 defining features of a genre.We ended up how genres cater to certain expectations.And Rick Altman, according to Rick Altman; producers, readers and critics, all share the same interest in genre.Now, this is an interesting idea that readers are not just readers, but also, theaudience we are talking about if film is considered a text. So, producer’s not just readersor the audience, who wait for a particular kind of a movie to come along.But it is also the producers, who are highly interested in genres.Now, can you give me some examples? What kind of genres would producers be interested in?High concept cinema?Are we talking about that? Get me George Clooney Brad Pitt,Tom Cruise and you have a movie. But if look at a highest cinema like Ocean’s series, thiswould be a typical genre that producers would be interested in. A super hero movie,that is another genre which producers would like to have. But how many producers do you thinkwill be very enthusiastic to finance a film like Fargo?Student: Very few Not many; or, The Big Lebowski or A Serious Manor even A Single Man? Are you aware of Single Man?Student: Colin Firth. Colin Firth; and it is directed by a fashiondesigner Tom Ford, is a very fashion conscious kind of a film.But how many people would be interested in those kinds of movies?Not many producers. So, it is not impossible to have a Punch-Drunk Love.We do find something like The Master; we do find occasionally somethinglike Fight Club or a Fargo; it is Coen brothers’ work, no Country for Old Men. What do they do?They subvert the expectations that we have of a western; consider both No Country for Old Menand There Will Be Blood, 2007 movies starring one stars Daniel Day-Lewisdirected by Paul Thomas Anderson, one stars Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolindirected by Coen brothers based on a great novel, very successful novel by Cormac McCarthy.Now, what generic expectations are they fulfilling here? These are the westerns.Student: Both were greatsNo, I am asking about, are they fulling the expectations?There are producers; there are audiences; there are critics. They expect something in a genre.Student: They expect hero to be die. The hero dies.The so-called hero dies; that is voice of reason,the rational voice, it is quite in. That is, Tommy Lee Jones, he accepts defeat.He accepts that, he is tired and can get no longer go on; even the wife, who is the onlynoble character in the movie apart from the Sheriff. There are not many characters in the film.Have you noticed that? In No Country for Old Men, it is not populated with people;the setting is a sparse and the characters are also minimum,they keep it to the minimum dialogue is minimalistic.So, it is a very minimalistic kind of movies in many ways. But the bestperson, human being in the movie; Llewlyn’s wife; she is killed off for no reason.Why does he kill her? Is he out on revenge? He has already killed off her husband.Student: Fate. It is her fate to die. So, what is he then?The villain becomes the messenger of death; maybe Satan himself, maybe he personifiesa walking evil through the deserts, who knows. It subverts in other ways; both these moviessubvert the expectations of conventional western. There is no hero; there is no sanity,there is no affirmative consequential model any more. Remember that is what we expect in a typical genre,cause and effect, logic. But these two movies define every logic. So, whydid critics go overboard in praising both, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood?Between these two movies, they won all the academy awards in 2008. Javier Bardem gotthe best supporting actor; Day-Lewis won it for the best acting. No Country for Old Menwas also the best movie that year. What makes for this kind of a phenomenal popularity amongthe audience as well as among the critics? Because they defied genres; and, it is up to us,as consumers, how much we want to take. And, after that, did you notice that therehas been no conventional western? Student: True GritBut True Grit is a remake. And then again remakes have their own lives. At one level,these movies also generated interest in the western as a genre. So, the audiences were ready;3:10 to Yuma, yes. So, I think 3:10 to Yuma came a little before these two movies.Student: 3:10 to Yuma also is a remake. Is also remake, yes. So, on one hand, we arehaving remakes of very successful popular westerns or we are having completely subverting westerns.So, it is a very interesting film. After Public Enemies and after The Town, didwe have any very popular gangster? I am talking, basically interested in the western and the gangster,because they are typical Hollywood products. Musicals and romantic comedies are common in every country.But can you give me one single example of a very celebratedgangster movie after Johnny Depp’s and Michael Mann's Public Enemies?Student: There were some, but I do not think they were very celebrated.Yes, we are not even aware of most of these films.Gangster has been a very popular genre in our country as well.Why do you think in India, we do not have the western? Let me tell you.We never had that western culture, the typical western hero, culture in our countryalthough our landscape can also give encouragement to that kind of a plot. But we never had avery successful example of a western; except, Sholay is often sighted, but then, it is a curry.Like in the west, we have the spaghetti version; we have the curry western in the form of Sholay.But then, it is a mish mash of many things that we have already talkedabout; the strong, emotional connect that is the kind of characters that we had in Sholay.So, that made for its popularity that accounted for its phenomenal popularity.But, gangster? Yes, we do have. Why do you think gangster heroes are so popular with us?Student: They subvert authority.Exactly, we always need a hero in our country or in any country; it is a very universalneed to have a hero, who subverts authority. At the same time, he comes along a musicaland a family drama; family drama is quite peculiar to Asian cinema; I do not think inEuropean cinema or in Hollywood brand of cinema, we have this genre of family dramas.Maybe they have melodramas of another kind, but not these joint family sagas. Hum Saath Saath Hain,Hum Aapke Hai Kaun; the mother of all musicals and family dramas. Are you aware of these movies?Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge; it is a love story, but with strong overdose of family.So, it is a family drama. The boy is not out there just to win over the girl;he has to win over the entire family. We have our own category of musicals and family dramas.But at the same time, we also have gangster hero. So, the heroine in a family drama upholdstradition; the hero in gangster cinema subverts tradition.And, what are we witnessing right now in our country?Mostly remakes; we were just talking about Himmatwala. Himmatwala is being remade.Student: Zanjeer.We are having Zanjeer, yes. But then Zanjeer is yet to come out. But then, we have alreadyseen a very successful Bodyguard, which is a remake of one of our own other Indian languages movie.And then, we also have example of something like Singham. And then, Dabbang was so phenomenallysuccessful that it is fond of a sequel as well. So, these heroes are not upholding familyvalues at the same time, they are not subverting authority. Am I right? What are we getting?What kind of heroes are we witnessing at the moment?Student: Kind of mixed. Mixed, maybe we are still a society in transitionand we do have a tendency to lap up those kinds of films, which are mass entertainers.Ready for example, is it a family drama? To an extent it is a musical; to an extent hero,he subverts as well as upholds. So, it is a mixed kind of a hero we are witnessingStudent: So, he is the authority; but at the same time, he is an unorthodox.Yes, he is very unorthodox. So, we have that kind of a; so see the idea of having a corruptcop is nothing new to cinema, we have Amitabh Bachchan’s Zanjeer was an individual against society.He was a product of a certain kind of socio-political context. Amitabh Bachchan’sDeewar was a response to certain kind of a political situation in India.We also have a post-colonial cinema; that is something a vast area in itself. When India was justout of the colonial regime, and then how did our cinema respond to the changing facets of society in that period?That is another category in itself.Rick Altman talks about genre and he says that, not much attention has been paid togenres as history; the question of generic history has not been satisfactorily answered.If it is the case in Hollywood, then the need is more acutely felt in our country, becausewe do not know that how many of genres exist; no one has done a very critical study of genresin our country, in our cinema. At the most, we have these mixed masala kind of films,where everything is mixed and we are served kind of a potpourri of many genres. But thisis not the kind of genre bending that Tarantino indulges. It is something like, giving theaudience a dish, where there is something for everyone. So, genres can never be neutral categories.If it is a genre, then it has to have a category; otherwise, you becomeThe Big Lebowski or you become Fargo. Now, coming to this popular category gangster cinema;we are talking about genre and gangster is a very popular genre. American Gangster;we had a very good example, a successful example of Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe;one of the most identifiable genre from Hollywood cinema. Interestingly, the gangster cinemaor the genre was a precursor to the film noir. Historically, it was influenced by two socio-economic forces;when is Prohibition? 1919 to 1933, and the Great Depression 1929 to 34. I wasjust talking about ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, it combines the two events; thegangster hero’s are a product of the Prohibition as well as the Great Depression era.And interestingly, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, those heroes or not Italian norAmericans neither Jewish. So, the 20s and the 30s historically speaking, the Prohibitionin 1919 played an important role in bringing the underworld into national prominence.We had regional or big city gangs. So, we had gangs of all kind. If you watch Bruce Willis’s‘Last Man Standing’, again it is set during the prohibition period and it is a small town.So, most of these gangs; they belong to ethnic and immigrant groups, you already know whatwe are talking about which took charge of the illicit liquor trade, Al Capone basically most famously.The gangs quickly grew powerful and they controlled first neighborhoods and then entire cities.So, they would start of small ghettos and then, soon they would befighting rival gangs for domination. Sometimes even the government, they had their one footvery firmly planted among all decision making authorities as well.Some of the leading gangsters; and you will find these characters very often in cinema,Al Capone, who was nick names Scarface. And, they had very interesting names; Lucky luciano,Legs diamond, Pretty Boy Floyd; who makes an appearance in ‘Public Enemies’, Baby face Nelson.In ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, De Niro’s character is called Noodles.And, you have Bonnie and Clyde of course, immortalized by Warren Beatty.Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker’s Gang, Alvin Karpis.And then we had John Dillinger, who had almostlike a movie star fan following. When he was shot dead on the streets, some people evencollected his blood, which was still fresh on the pavement; he had that kind of fan following.Because as you rightly pointed out, what did he symbolize? Subversion of authority;people were sick of this government, but here there was someone,who had risen from ashes to such great heights.And, he died quite young. John Dillinger happens to be quite an interestingcharacter (1903 to 34), so he died at age 31. And, ironically, he loved gangster films.And, the last movie that he watched was ‘Manhattan Melodrama’, starring William Powell and Clark Gable.And, very interestingly, the movie was co-writtenby Joseph Mankiewicz, who later went on, he became a big director, hot-shot director,a big time screen writer. He directed the Oscar winning movie, All about Eve; Joseph Mankiewicz.So, Manhattan Melodrama in which Clark Gable plays a gangster, and at the end,he sent to the electric chair. And, while in hiding John Dillinger decided to watcha movie and the FBI is tipped off and then he is shot dead right outside the theater;theater is biographed in Chicago. And, he was gunned down by the agents. And, this wasthe end of the crime wave of the 1930s; it was almost like closing of an era in American history.These people collectively called by the FBI as Public Enemies.They were held responsible for hires, bang jobs, kidnappings and killings, and of course, boot leggingand illicit liquor dealing. What was the upshot of John Dillinger’s killing?And, there was a gangster movie even before. But what happened once John Dillinger was shot dead?Cinema has started almost like defying these people. So, they were not, Gangstermovie were not just entertainment flicks anymore, but they became something more serious. Thegangster hero became a corruptive; yes, corruptive force, yet at the same time, he also symbolizeda revolutionary; he became a revolutionary force, subverting the authority, popular morality.He questioned and interrogated popular morality, and redefined popular culture. So, a gangstercinema of Hollywood and the Hay’s code declaring war on crime movies, we were talking but classicHollywood; they had declared war on excessive sex and violence in cinema.These things became a critical influence on the course of American cinema for decades to come.The gangster heroes were glamorized by the media. Sensational and juicy stories werewritten about these people. The public adored them, most importantly. They were looked uponas in a classic American hero, almost like that lone ranger, who rises from rags to riches.Symbolizing the elusive American dream; America is a land of opportunities. And very interestingly,these reporters and journalists, who chronicled their lives; the lives of these gangsters,later went on to become successful screenwriters. So you see, they have had firsthand experiencewith these people; some of them had even interviewed these real life gangsters.Therefore, that touch of authenticity was always there. So, gangsterism and gangster cinema parallelsthe concept of American dream. The myth is America is a democratic, classless society;the reality is there are deep social divisions even in the American society, and the gangstersor the gangster heroes, they become fundamental in a socio-cultural approval.They are the people who can bring revolution, a change. Even someone from the slums can rises up;you look at a movie like ‘Scarface’, Tony Montana; who is he? He is an illegal immigrant to America;he does not even hold the green card; he kills a man to acquire his green card. Remember?And then, his subsequent rise to unimaginable wealth and success. So, thegangster hero causes a subversion of traditional values, yes.Now, major screen writers of this period; Joseph Mankiewicz, who made Manhattan Melodrama,W. R. Burnett, screen writer for ‘Little Caesar’. And Ben Hecht; who was never interestedin writing about conventional heroes and heroines, but focused generally only about the so-called anti-heroes.Hecht wrote ‘Underworld’ in 1927 for Paramount Pictures; a contemporarytale of big city gangster or bull weed. So, typical qualities of a gangster hero;we are still talking about a typical genre. So, a typical gangster hero; and we were, Sandeep,if you just remember, we are talking about describable and observable times,this is the quality of a gangster hero. And, please apply it to our Sathya, our Once Upon a Timein Mumbai hero, our Company hero, and our hero from Deewar. Do not think of Shahrukh'sDon; it is a very glamorized version, very post-liberalized version of Gangsterism,we are talking about a typical gangster hero from our country.Invariably from the proletariat class, who access his wealth by stealing, yes he doesnot follow the rules; he need not follow the rules, he always takes the crooked path.He embodies the contradiction in any society. I mean you look at a gangster hero in any society,and what we are told that whenever there is a discrepancy in any society,there would be the growth in the underworld. Do you know Russia is known for its underworld and its mafia?Why? You would think that the country, which so prides itself on its socialistand communist ideology, why would such a society have discrepancy and why would such a societywitness growth of this kind of culture? Student: Actually, like that it is only on the surface.It is only on the surface. The so-called equalityand so-called socialism is only on the surface. The rich in Russia are really rich, unbelievably rich.So, whenever there is a society, where there is a big or huge casteism between thepoor and the very rich, there is always a space or the growth of this anti-hero.And this anti-hero becomes iconoclastic; he is defying the rules, he is defying the existingtraditions and value system. Therefore, he is a hero after all.However anti, however negative but he is still a hero. And, ordinary man would route for this hero, because heis one of us and not that super rich and super wealthy person. Robin Hood; it is always atake on the Robin Hood legend, the robin wood legend. So, ideologically, yes his death isnecessary to restore the so-called calm in our society. He has die because he has brokenso many rules, so he has to die. But while he is alive, people route for him.I stand corrected; do you have anything to add here? Student: Movies like Godfather, he does diebecause of his lifestyle; he dies for natural causes, he just has a heart attack and he dies.But his sons die as a result of violence. Yes, his sons die as a result of violence.So, early gangster films, and this is important to note; most of these films are producedby the Warner Brothers, you were discussing classic Hollywood, remember?Associated with low budget films,made very popularistic kind of cinema, labbed up by the working class Americans;some of the earlier films were, ‘The Lights of New York’, ‘Little Caesar’,‘Public Enemy,Angels with Dirty Faces,The Roaring Twenties,White Heat.And the most popular actors were; Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. And thenlater on, we had Al Pacino; there was a period when he made a careerout of playing the essential gangster hero.De Niro always a gangster. I mean, Al Pacino till, what was that moviewith Johnny-Depp, Donnie Brasco? Yes, he played a gangster till then, which was late 90s or so.What is an iconography? When we were doing semiotics;and we discussed ‘Seven’, semiotics particularly in relation to ‘Seven’.The idea is that the filmmakers employ certain tropes, certain signs, certain symbols to create an iconography.When we are talking about iconography of a star, we talked about James Dean;how his entire persona conveyed that kind of a youthful energy that was his iconography.And his films consolidated; the kinds of roles he played, they consolidated that persona.So, an icon is created. So, gangster hero; iconography of a gangster movie,the charismatic hero who embodies good as well as bad; remember an anti-hero has tobe an embodiment of both these elements, good as well as bad. He cannot be an out and outnegative hero, negative person; not a dark hearted villain who kills for no reason.Generally, it has a dangerous woman. There is a good woman who with the love interest; mother mostly,especially in our cinema. In Scarface, sister is a very important part of the movie.And, if you watch earlier Scarface, it is there even in Al Pacino’s Scarface.But the earlier version Paul Muni’s Scarface; the incest tone is so highlighted that hehad a strong feelings of attraction towards his sister. The sister becomes an integralfeature in most of these films. There is always a mentor. Yes, there is; think of Batman.The glowing city streets during night lights; watch ‘Public Enemies’ once more and youwill find, the cars, the clothes, the streets. Michael Mann is a master in creating these iconographies;LA is his space, LA is his city.Student: Collateral. Exactly; watch Collateral; thank you so much, Collateral.Student: HeatHeat is another highest gangster drama. The spaces are like; the night clubs, the streets,the bars, the restaurants and the weaponry of course, ‘say hello to my little friend’The Scarface. And, invariably all these leading to invariably very violent climax, it doesnot get more violent than Al Pacino’s the Scarface. What is the significance of the gangster genre?If you are looking at the overall history of cinema; it brought newwigger and new kind of vitality to the films, stories became more and more realistic and hard hitting,characters became more colorful and varied, so we no longer had the same goody-goody hero anymore.And very interestingly, language of the streets, you know what I mean;the jargon, the slang, these things found their way in the films, otherwise films are verycareful about the kind of. It was almost like reading a play or watching a play that kind of language.But then we had that kind of language finding its way in cinema.One of the earlier examples of this genre, Scarface; 1932, produced by Howard Hughesand directed by Howard Hawks, starring Paul Muni, scripted by Ben Hecht along with W.R. Burnett and John Lee Mahin. These are names that you should know; if you are studentsof film studies, you should know film history. And, based on a Pulp novel; this is also why isTarantino so interested in Pulp, why does he call his best movie Pulp Fiction? He isan avid consumer of Pulp Fiction, Pulp novel because from pulp, we get so much of material,so much of detailing of American culture and history and society. Therefore that is theimportance of; do not be dismissive of pulp, pulp says a lot of things, it may be low heart,low culture but it gives you a slice of life. Scarface is rooted in contemporary reality;with people and incidence drawn directly from Chicago gangster history.The other day, I was telling you about how Howard Hughes; he did not want to release Scarface anymore,and it was released only after his death because he had to fight a long prolong battle withthe censors to release the movie. There is a dialogue in Scarface in 1932 version, where he says;‘there is only one thing that gets orders and gives orders and this is it’,and indicates his machine gun. And if you watch Al Pacino’s version of this,this is exactly a thing he says to his boss, ‘you giving me order’. Watch the movie; haveyou watched the movie off late? It is one of my all time favorite films.He further says, ‘that is how I got the south side for you’, you know the barrows in the city Chicago;and that is how I am going to get the north side for you. It is a little typewriter.Machine gun, gangster is also an auteur; camera is estilo that is camera is pen for a filmmaker,for a writer it is typewriter, for the gangster? It is his machine gun; punches holes in people.So, it is a typewriter; I am going to write my name all over the town with it.Now, Hays code, which we have already done. So, the release of Scarface; this is very interesting;a movie was almost delayed by a year because the producer Howard Hugheshad to battle with the Hays office, and regional censor boards. And the films could no longshow crimes; that is the idea that is what the code prescribed. And the exact clausewas that films cannot show crime in such a way as to throw sympathy with the crime, asagainst law and justice or to inspire others with a desire for imitation; that is whatpeople say, all the corruption in our society, blames it on the movies. They are the murder somewhere;people say this is the influence of the movies, which could be true to an extent.People watch a movie and they say, oh I learnt this scene exactly from a movie.Films should not show such things, which inspire sympathy for the wrong doer because it creates a verybad template for the society. That is the idea, and therefore, the producer had to fight a law.And how did they manage to release the movie, do you know? It is like a cigarette pack is always accompanied;today, if you watch a movie where the characters are smoking, what do you see?Scroll running through out that, ‘cigarette smoking causes cancer;and then there is a list of ailments that you are given, not just cancer but so manythings are shown to you. The other day, I was watching a movie directedby Sudhir Mishra; ‘Inkaar’, starring Arjun Rampal, where hero is a media executive andhe is a chain smoker. So, for the first 5 or 10 minutes, we were just treated to whathappens to your lungs and to your body if you smoke too much. I actually thought thatI have inserted a wrong DVD; perhaps what I bought is not what I really got, and then it comes.So, this is all part of the film, because censorship has become so strong. So,that is the way it is and we have to accept that. How did they get away with Scarface then?It also comes with a statutory warning. You watch that Scarface;Oliver Stone’s, Al Pacino, Brain DePalma version does not come with any statutory warning,Paul Muni version does come.And, it tells you in a very moralistic tone that crime does not pay.Student: Crime scenes, they would not allow to be shown in those cinemas.But do you think that today you watch a movie like Scarface.Student: Not, today ma’am. But, in the 80s also; you had all these Rambomovies releasing at the same time. Perhaps you see that is the difference; Rambo in spiteof his excessive violence, is a politically correct film? What does it tell you? Rambois an out and out and all American good guy and he is fighting the so-called others,defeating the Vietnamese, the Russians, the Afghans, all the bad people of the world.And, Rambo goes on a killing gun. I love the spoof, what was that, ‘Hotshot’?Yes, with Charlie Sheen. It was a very intelligently, very cleverly done spoof of the film. Butthe Scarface, very realistic; realistically, then of course, it had the stardom of Al Pacinolooming large over the movie. And, Al Pacino is always over the top. He is operatic inhis performance; never the kind of actor who would give into any under playing or subtleties.He is always over the top, and that is part of his charm. Perhaps, the role was enactedin such a way; the performance itself was so powerful. It just over took the messagethat crime does not pay. I mean who would bother with that if you could lead a life like Tony Montana.Therefore, perhaps x rate; what is the so-called x-rating is important for that movie?A result of this prolongs fight between the producer and the censorboard was that. Hollywood producers; they panicked and embraced the code for self defense;they said we will regulate our self. The other day we were talking about notorious and thefamous kissing scene; you cannot have a kiss more than two or three seconds.But then how Hitchcock managed to?So, there is always a way around to do certain things.Now, because the code became so strong and because the producers were so scared to makethe kind of movies that they wanted to do, that they just shied away from making thegangster movies, because how do you make a gangster movie without glorifying the hero?You need to that; you need to use certain kind of language, you need to use certainkind of accesses on screen, and they were not allowed to do that. So, what did that lead to?Audiences were ready for this kind of cinema; they still wanted this kind of cinema,the so-called anti-hero, a dangerous woman; not the goody two shoes kinds of characters any more.They wanted; there was the audience, there was a demand. So, all these lead towards film noir.Now, noir hero is essentially a cop, a detective, a truth seeker.So, you are using the same elements; a dangerous woman, a morally ambivalent hero, but he is no longerthe law breaker that is the idea. Therefore, noir could get away in spite of the very strictcode, which the gangster hero could not get away with. So, there was a lull in all thesefilms about gangster heroes; there was at the rise of film noir during the classic Hollywoodtimes, there were certain high concept movies which did not do well. And then we have alreadytalked about new Hollywood cinema at length.And now, post-vietnam, there was another wave of gangster cinema.Now, the code is no longer in existence. Bonnie and Clyde had redefinedthe rules of censorship of all the existing codes. So, what happened; we had films likeBonnie and Clyde (1967) you know the list, The St. Valentine Day’s Massacre (1967), Bloody Mama (1970).Boxcar Bertha, directed by?Student: Martin Scorsese. Scorsese, good 1972, Capone (1975), and then of course,the mother of all gangster films; The Godfather, and now it has become, the genre is here to stay.So, we are talking about a very popular genre which has becomea part of all collective consciousness; the gangster hero and, how a gangster movie satisfiesmost of the requirements of genre film, a highly recognized, a highly popular kind ofcinema, the gangster cinema. So, from genre, a fixed category of genre,we will move on to genre blending; the category of genre blending where the semantics andsemiotics are confusing. They send us mixed signals. We were talking about the signifier and the signified.And we will see how these codes, which so firmly establish identitiesand categories in generic films; the same codes are used to defy genres. In films, deliberatelyseek to defy or blend genres. There are certain fixed categories genres, and we have seenhow gangster satisfies the features of or expectations of a genre. There are certainf