Evolving The Gangster Genre

Topics: Goodfellas

The word Genre is used in film to describe and categorize the different types of films that have certain elements that make them the same as the other films that would fit into that genre. The audience of the films should be able to recognise what the genre is through the way the characters act during the film, the certain places that its set in, and the actors chosen. These are the code and conventions that make a genre film. There are different types of genre like Horror, Comedy, Sci-fi, etc, but a popular one is the gangster genre.

This genre includes many classic films of the genre such as Public Enemy (W. Wellman, US, 1931), Ones that you think might be a bit of a parody on the genre such as Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, US, 1991) and the films that completely question whether it should even be part of the genre like Pulp Fiction (Q. Tarantino, US, 1994). However, all 3 of these films, use the same codes and conventions, which put them all together in the gangster genre, even though these three films are completely different

When I think of a film within the gangster genre movie I think of things like lots of bloody and gory violence, machine guns, the expensive cars, and the mafia family.

I also think of two main characters that take themselves from the bottom of the society food chain, and work their way up to be one of the top gangster in the “family”. The gang or gangs in every different film will always have a don who runs the gang overall.

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As part of one of the main codes and conventions for gangster films, revenge always plays a big part. There is never a happy ending in any gangster film.

At least one of the anti-heroes ends ups dieing at the end or during the course of the film. Most films in the gangster genre are set in cities like Chicago, New York, etc and normally have the characters exposing the myth of the American dream by showing that you don’t have to stick to the rules to get rich, and lead a good life quickly. In gangster films we see the actors that we look as gangster actors today such as Robert DeNiro. The narrative structure in a gangster film would be the same structure that every other film made would have.

It would have equilibrium to start off with, followed by a dis-equilibrium which is the middle of the film and then end it with the new equilibrium. The first gangster film that we watched was Public Enemy. When you watch the film, you immediately know you are watching a gangster film because all of the basic codes and conventions that are used within the genre. It is set in the city of Chicago, and through most of the film you see the illegal dealings that you associate with the gangster films. In the public enemy’s case it the dealing of alcohol due to the fact that the film is set in the time where the prohibition in America was around.

The Public Enemy boasts one of the biggest gangster stars to ever appear in a gangster film called James Cagney who plays the role of one of the main characters, Tom Powers. What makes Public Enemy different to the two other films (Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction) that is that the main character Tom Powers is a very violent man and cannot stay settled down to one women at a time, as you see throughout the film when he jumps between two women. Public Enemy is not an Italian gangster film like most of the audience would expect before they sit to watch it.

The gang members are mostly Irish, which shows they used to timing correctly when they made this film because at the time the film is set, the Irish were at the bottom of society in America, because they were the immigrants and had to do the things we see in the film, to give themselves power. The director also shows the Irish descent of the gangsters because Powers and Doyle are typical Irish names and their Irish descent is mentioned near the beginning of the film. The Public Enemy also exposes the myth of the American dream in great detail.

They do this when they show Mike (Tommy’s brother) getting married & working hard in the army and earning very little money whereas we have Tommy who purposely breaks the law and does no hard work whatsoever, yet he’s earning a lot of money. Because of Tom doing this all through the film, it is giving the impression that he is telling the audience that you can get a job but you will have to work hard and never earn anything as much as you would being in a gangster movement through lying to people, robbing people, and performing heists.

But what it doesn’t say is that there’s always a massive consequence if you choose the life that Tom and Matt chose. You see this at the end of the film when first off all Matt is killed by the rival gang, and as Tom goes to seek out revenge, he is beaten up, then kidnapped from the hospital and killed. This also shows the death of the anti-hero code that goes together with the gangster genre. The second film that we watched was Goodfellas which (in a lot of ways) is very similar to Public Enemy. Like Public Enemy, we have a character called Tom (played By Joe Pesci).

He is very similar to the Tom from Public Enemy because they are both very violent and unhinged figures in both films and both of them are murdered at the end of each film. Tommy in Goodfellas is not one of the two main characters that you get in gangster films. However, he does play one of the most important parts in the film because he is so unpredictable. The film is set around two Irish Americans, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro). Both Henry (Goodfellas) and Tommy (Public Enemy) show no remorse when it comes to women.

You see this when they both cheat on their partners and show violence towards them as well, and both have very similar childhoods where both films show them in their past getting beatings from their fathers. This gives out the message that they were bound to live for committing crimes. The main focus in both films (Public Enemy and Goodfellas) is that the main characters are part of the “surrogate” or the gang family that Tommy and Henry are both adopted into at a young age and that their lives subsequently belong to those families.

As you would expect in the gangster film, there are illegal substances being shipped around in Goodfellas as there was in Public Enemy, the only difference is that in Goodfellas it is cocaine and in Public Enemy it was alcohol. Both of the main characters when the join their gangs are introduced to the group of gangsters and are told and shown how you have to work your way up the gang hierarchy. The don or the gangs leader acts as the second father to both Henry in Goodfellas and Tommy in Public Enemy.

A massive similarity between Goodfellas and Public Enemy is that both main characters have brothers called Mike. It is things like this that we can use to back ourselves up when the point of Scorsese basing some of Goodfellas on Public Enemy comes into play. However, Goodfellas does have its differences. For example the film starts at a point that’s also shown half way through in Goodfellas. But with Goodfellas, it’s a good way to start as it is a big part in the film where everything starts to go wrong and the fortunes change for Jimmy and Henry.

However, after they do that, it does go back to the beginning to show the audience how they got into that situation and how they get out of it. Scorsese plays with the order of the film, by putting the dis-equilibrium at the start to keep the audience interested and make them want to watch to see how they got into that situation, and to make them think and get involved with the film. Goodfellas is set around the typical mafia family that you would expect to see in gangster films.

As you see near the start, Henry messes his women about and cheats on them but eventually he settles down and marries Karen which you don’t see with Tom in Public Enemy. In Goodfellas, our main character does not die but because he tells on his fellow gang members, he is forced to live in secrecy which because of this, it is as if he is dead, because he can’t contact anybody from his “previous life” as a gangster. In Goodfellas, Henry is shown to be the “nice guy” gangster as he is really not into killing people and we see this in the scene with one of the other gangsters in the boot of the car.

Henry steps back as the other two gangsters stab and finish the body off. At one point in the film, we get Karen’s point of view which shows a shift in representation and treatment of women from the 1930’s in Public Enemy to the 1990’s in Goodfellas. Also, in Goodfellas there are a lot more bent law enforcement people ranging from policemen through to lawyers, judges and also prison officers. You can still say that Goodfellas as a gangster film even though there are a lot of differences between the Public Enemy and Goodfellas.

You can see that things used in a documentary are used throughout for example the voice over, and the freeze frames. There is also a sense with Goodfellas that Scorsese makes fun of the gangster genre with mockery and the fact that they are so well off they buy things even though they are tacky and horrible for example the T. V. area that turns around that Harry and Karen buy during the film, and with the name Jimmy two times because he ends sentences by saying the same word twice.

Scorsese also puts a lot of upbeat music some shocking violence; this gives the impression that it is not such a big deal to kill someone in that kind of lifestyle. Also with the character Tommy we can see that the character is happy to kill anyone he can, so Scorsese is tries to make us happy and feel easier that the mafia is killing people in his film. The final film that we sat, watched and studied was Pulp Fiction.

Pulp fiction is not like any of the other gangster films and some, may even say that you cant really class it as a gangster film. I personally think you can class it as part of the gangster genre; I think this because you can see that is doesn’t have many things in common with classic gangster films like Public Enemy and Goodfellas which is what is good about the film, because it makes it completely different from the other gangster films, which would make fans of the genre want to sit down and watch it.

Like Public Enemy and Goodfellas it has the basic elements of violence and guns, and has the main characters in men in suits, but hat makes them different are the fact that you can tell they are not expensive suits, because they look so tacky. And also another basic element with gangster films, are illegal substances, but this time they are getting used for personal use instead of being sold of to others by the gangsters. The gang has another “don” style character who is called Marsellus Wallace.

There is also a revenge factor with Butch getting back at Marsellus. And just like Public Enemy our anti-hero, Vince, is killed. But for every similarity Pulp Fiction has with Goodfellas and Public Enemy there are also the differences that make it a completely different film. Tarantino plays mainly with the narrative structure of Pulp Fiction. By doing this he leaves the audience confused but thinking about what is going on and what is going to happen. He also has put multiple narrative structures into the film which focuses on the different characters.

The reason Tarantino does this is because he knows that his own gangster film can be so much different from the likes of Goodfellas, and Public Enemy. Tarantino also plays with the basic codes and conventions that you would expect to be in a gangster film. A prime example of him doing this is when he puts in a happy ending which is not common in the gangster genre, because with gangsters you never expect a happy ending. There is no money making schemes at all in the film and we don’t see any illegal substances being sold to other dealers.

In another uncommon scene we see a different way as to how women in gangster films are shown with Mia Wallace (Uma Thurmann) being powerful and the subject of a rumour that is going around that makes Vince fear for her when he takes her out as a favour for Marcellus and also when she overdoses on the drugs she finds in his jacket pocket. I don’t think that any of the 3 films I have descried are the same because I have shown so many differences between each of them, that in my opinion, can swing anyone’s views on these 3 films if they thought differently to me.

I know that they are very different from eachother, because if every film of its genre was the same, then I wouldn’t want to watch them because I would know what is going to happen and it would become boring. Also because of the changes in society that happen every single day, it would become very hard to make the same film because we see the changes that are representing the social groups such as women so if we were to make a film like Public Enemy, It would come under a lot of criticism because of what happens in public enemy when it comes to women, and it wouldn’t happen nowadays to women.

However, the similarities between the 3 films are needed so we can categorize them into the gangster genre but we also need differences to tell the genres apart and also to tell the films apart, so the films end up making us feel familiar with the genre that its part of, but at the same time, gives us some original ideas that could also help us define it as a gangster film, and the audience also like to be able to know what is going to happen in the film but at the same time they want to have the element of surprise that most of the time actually ends up making the film as good as its meant to be.

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Evolving The Gangster Genre. (2017, Dec 19). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-evolving-gangster-genre/

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