The Musketeers Of Pig Alley

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The gangster genre of film has been on of the few genres which has evolved over time whilst still remaining close to the basic formula of each film. One of the firsts to mark the start of the gangster/crime genre was D. W. Griffith’s “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (1912). The earlier films were set in the silent era if film.

Meaning the narrative would often be crude and lack depth, due to the lack of any true dialogue. It wasn’t until the 1927 film that the first modern gangster film was created, in the form of Josef von Sternberg’s melodrama “Underworld”.

It held many of the standard conventions and filmed from the gangster’s point of view, a first for the genre. When the 1930’s and the emergence of sound being used in the film dawned.

So did the use of real-life crime bosses being used in the narrative for the crime/gangster drama. Many films were made about Al Capone. The films also because more appealing to the audience, as the added excitement of screeching tyres and gun shots. As the 30’s continued, a wave of gangster films was released, each using the same narrative formula each time.

Usually involving a gangster or bootlegger cast in an “ant-hero” role, however, towards the end of the film, he would meet his demise.

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One of the main formulas on the gangster genre was it’s mise en scene. The lighting was always dark. The costumes and props were also set to a specific formula, gangsters wore nice suits (usually black) and carried “Tommy Guns”. Police officers wore their uniforms and carried batons and private detectives always wore a brown trenchcoat and hat. In the early 1930’s, the Hays Production Code brought the curtain down on the days of glorifying the main role of gangsters as hero.

The Musketeers Of Pig Alley Analysis

The code brought us new gangster films, portraying the police or private detectives on the right side of the law as the “Good Guys”. Most of the films carried a moral of “Crime doesn’t pay”. This quietened the uproar from the audience as the narrative gave the audience a hero that they could truly get behind. Gangster films kept to the same kind of formula which were tried and tested, until 1972. “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse. ” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972) reinvented the genre. Based on the book, written by Mario Puzo, of the same name, the film was about the Corleone family.

A Sicilian family who settled into New York, who’s crime syndicate made them as powerful as the Government and Big Business. One thing that’s strikes with “The Godfather” is the non-diegetic soundtrack. It has one of the most recognisable theme tunes in a film. However, every piece of music is parallel. This may add to the soundtrack in one way, yet the lack of contrapuntal may be a detriment in another.

This could be due to Francis Ford Coppola wanting to play it safe, and to not tamper with the atmosphere the music creates. The Godfather” also had many selling points to the audience. The most obvious being it’s cast, featuring Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan and Diane Keaton. However, one can look towards the book aswell to draw in an audience. The narrative structure remained focused on a single story throughout the course of the film. This is rare for a film with such a long approximate running time (Nearly 3 hours). This have been detrimental to the appeal of the film, as people may find it hard to sit through a single story for 3 hours The language in the film is also very important to the film.

One thing the audience might notice is the lack of the words “Mafia” and “Cosa Nostra”. These being replaced with a euphemism of “The Family” (Or “La Famiglia”). This is quite the Juxta position, as such euphemisms are used; yet there are brutal murders which take place throughout the course of the film. There is also the use of both Italian and English. This could be interpreted as Coppola and Puzo trying to make them film as authentic as possible. People who are of different ethnicity still speak their mother tongue, even though they have immigrated to another country.

The costume used in the film continues on with the gangster formula, with the Corleone males in expensive suits, the women in expensive clothing too. This is a shift from the moral of “Crime doesn’t pay” which was placed on the genre some 40 years earlier. The opening shot of the film is a close up a face of a man in the Don’s dark hone office; this opens up with intrigue, as the audience doesn’t know who this man is. Most of the camera angles used in the film are used to make Don Vito Corleone look as powerful as possible, usually a high angle mid shot, to make him superior.

There are also scenes where he has a light shining from above him, to make him look God like, despite his actions being more of reminiscent the devil. The Godfather laid the template for future films of the genre, while still following. It continues the representation of Italian-Americans being very family-orientated, complimented with a fiery temper. This is a double-edged stereotype, as it is positive that Italians are very close knit families, yet negative because of the short fuse.

“Say ‘ello to mah ‘lil friend” Scarface” (1983) was loosely based on Al Capone, however, the lead role was that of Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Played by Godfather star Al Pacino). “Scarface” has a different selling point to “The Godfather”, which is that it is loosely based on Al Capone. However, the use of Al Pacino, who was in “The Godfather” can also be its selling point. One major difference between “Scarface” and “The Godfather” is it’s non-diegetic soundtrack. There is one scene in the film which is reminiscent of a “Rocky” movie.

There was a montage where Montana and his associates were committing many illegal activities, however, the music used was contrapuntal, and it had a very positive sound to it. The language used was modern, with lots of expletives, showing that the gangsters are now starting to lose their class. Gangsters used to be like upper class businessmen, however, now the audience were starting to see gangsters as lower class people, who just happen to have money. The costume was a slight variation on the classic gangster attire. They were still wearing suits, however, the style is modern.

One also notices the style of suit change as the film progresses, especially on Tony Montana. When he first enters Florida’s crime world, he was wearing a cheap, pea-green polyester suit. However, towards the end of the film, his style becomes more and more expensive. Compare this to “The Godfather”, almost everyone is in a black suit, this could be due to Coppola wanting the audience to view the Corleone family as the “Bad Guys” and Brian LaPalma wanting the audience to root for Tony Montana. One of the first props the audience will take notice of is the Chainsaw which is used to kill Tony’s friend “Angel”.

This showed that the genre was getting more brutal and there was blood in abundance. This again can be referred back to “The Godfather”, as Tony cared for his friends and family, which is a positive social trait, however, this is sandwiched between the brutality and criminal activities. “Scarface” borrowed a lot of it’s Mise en Scene from “The Godfather”, despite being made some eleven years later. The audience was still seeing big guns, luxury cars, suits and money. The camera angles were made to look Tony Montana look very powerful, with lots of close ups and high angle mid shows and back lighting.

The film also kept with a single narrative structure. “Look, can everyone stop getting shot? ” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) did something most films have tried, but haven’t really succeeded in. Making working class people look like gangsters. Gangsters were becoming working class heroes. The narrative has multiple stories, the first being the card game which has put the four central characters into £500,000 worth of debt, and the second being the shifting of marijuana between two different gangs who have never even met before.

The camera angles used were very different; there weren’t as many close-ups as there wasn’t really one single central character. That being said, the first shot is an extreme close up of Eddy and other unnamed men (who later turn out to be policemen). One camera shot that is used to good effect is the slow motion shot. It makes an action-packed shot seem more realistic, as it is thought that when something like getting shot at happens, everything seems to happen in slow motion. The diegetic sound in these scenes are also “muffled”. There was also a lack of any direct brutality. The Godfather” and “Scarface” show killings in great detail, however, when someone got shot in “Lock, Stock”, we don’t actually see it happening. The musical score was also very different from the norm when it comes to the Gangster genre. The use of bands such as Ocean Colour Scene made the soundtrack more appealing to the audience, as opposed to constant parallel soundtrack. The costume made reference to the films predecessors; however, it was given a more casual look. Suits were not always the clothing of choice. Many characters opting for jeans and a shirt.

However, the use of leather jackets and trench coats by almost all characters made it a new norm in the genre. The film had a selling point of Sting and Vinnie Jones starring in the film. “Mustard? I don’t care if he’s Mohammed I’m-Hard Bruce Lee” “Snatch” (2000) continued where “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” left off. Using many of the same values used, the multi tier narrative and the semi-open endings. Both “Lock Stock” and “Snatch” had relatively open endings, with Tom straddling the bridge at the end of “Lock, Stock” and with someone coming over from America to buy the diamond in “Snatch”.

The genre of the gangster has evolved greatly since it’s primitive early beginnings and has been somewhat cyclical. In the beginning, the gangsters were glorified, then vilified, now we seem to be living in an era where gangsters are glorified once again. We have also seen a shift from an Italian-American dominated genre to a more global genre, with some of the more successful films taking place in London. The films have also become shorter, with “The Godfather” and “Scarface” being longer films with a single narrative structure with a definite ending. To shorter, multiple narrative films where things are constantly changing.

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The Musketeers Of Pig Alley
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