Conventions of a gangster film


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Conventions of a gangster film and film opening analysis
by Casey Jefferies

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Conventions of a gangster film

  1. 1. Conventions of a mob gangster film By Casey Jefferies
  2. 2. Although codes and conventions change all the time, I am exploring the typical codes and conventions of the mob gangster genre in order to create a film opening based up these codes and conventions. Gangsters are also called mobsters, a term derived from mob and the suffix -ster. Violence and murder are often seen as a typical gangster genre convention. This has been a convention of the gangster genre as violence and murder represent a lot of power and authority and that role is well established by a gangster in a gangster film, for example in „Reservoir Dogs‟ the scene were Mr Blonde cuts of the victims ear, this represents the power that the antagonist has over the protagonist and therefore how violence is a convention of the gangster genre. Furthermore the affect the spectator feels from scenes of violence would be that of disgust but also know that these are key scenes in establishing the gangster within the film. Another convention of the gangster genre would be the use of wealth, again being wealthy in a gangster movie means that the antagonist (gangster) has more power and authorities therefore making the antagonist seem like a more powerful figure within the film. Wealth is also used as a way of making a gangster lifestyle more appealing to the spectator, as usually in the films the gangster has a classic, expensive cars which makes them seem more appealing as a hero rather than someone would does bad things for a personal gain.
  3. 3. Lastly a convention of the gangster genre would be the rise and fall of the gangster. This is where by the spectator has seen the gangster throughout the film getting what he wants through crime, all these crimes lead to success. At the end of the film the gangster or mob of gangster are often punished for their crimes, either by being brought to justice by the authorities or being killed by rival gangs. An example of this is „The Godfather‟ (1972) were Vito Corleone (head mobster) and his gang are all killed, following this a new boss (Don Corleone) is put in charge and „The Godfather 2‟ is followed. In conclusion I believe that the gangster codes and conventions make sure that the spectator knows that the gangster is in a position of authority and has power upon his control. Although a rise and fall storyline is a convention it‟s to make sure that good reins over evil and that crime doesn‟t pay, the message of „The Godfather‟ was certainly that and as a convention is what is expected however codes and conventions are only their as a guide line and can be broken. Another key point that I have learnt is that to make a successful gangster movie a lot of the codes and conventions have to be well thought about to be made successful and to come across to the audience in a way that represents the gangster genre.
  4. 4. Mise en scene Mise en scene is a term used to signify the director‟s control over what appears in the film frame. Mise en scene includes those aspects of film that overlap with the art of a theatre: setting, lighting, costume, and the behavior of the figures. Realism is also tied in to this concept because it allows the viewer to determine if the setting, characters, and costumes are realistic. In controlling the mise en scene, the director stages the event for the camera. Mise en scene often affects the conventions of the gangster genre. In gangster films the gangsters often wear suits which again show wealth and power over anyone less superior then they are. Suits may also represent how they think that they look professional and that what they do is a career and that this lifestyle fits into the norm of everyday society. Suits also represent how they present themselves well and therefore care for other people‟s opinions, although through violence and murder they show how they‟re not ready to accept other peoples values and opinions and therefore are people who are often misunderstood through their actions and how they behave themselves.
  5. 5. Mise en scene Location is a key element in making a gangster movie. Typically big cities are used as these are the places were more crime is committed and therefore more crime is ready to commit. Also a big city location means that there are more people to control as a gangster is all about gaining power within the less powerful of society. Big cities such a New York and Chicago are typically used, films which are set in New York or Chicago include: · · · · Goodfella‟s (NYC) The Godfather and the Godfather 2 (NYC) Public Enemy (Chicago) Gangs of New York (NYC) By having a large location like New York and Chicago it means that there are many locations to choose from and a typical location for a killing or crime would be in many of New York‟s alleyways. And in old style gangster movies usually a shoot-out would occur in a bar or club between rival gang members. Another location for a robbery is usually a bank were by the gangster takes from the hard working and keeps the money for himself, bank robberies of this sort usually end in a fatality. An example of a gangster bank robbery would be „Public Enemy‟ were by John Dillinger (played by Johnny Depp and based upon a bank robber/ gang member) robs a bank during the great depression in America (1930s).
  6. 6. MiseScorsese'sscene en Goodfellas in One director who is known for his cinematography and use of mise en scene is Martin Scorsese. Scorsese‟s film Goodfellas, has multiple examples of the theatrical concept of mise en scene. One aspect of mise en scene is the setting. Goodfellas takes place in Queens in New York City. It beings during the 1950s and ends in the 1980s. Historically, New York City is a known place for the Italian mob. By having the setting in this area, the viewer would believe that mob related activities take place there. Two other aspects are costumes and the behavior of the characters. In many gangster films, the Italian mobster is usually well dressed. They typically wear nice clothes such as a shirt and tie. Scorsese went along with this notion in Goodfellas. All of the characters wear fancy clothes and look like they are Italian so they could be depicted as Italian mobsters. They have an Italian accent and many of their conversations are about illegal activities that they would partake in. They give off a hard and fierce attitude to those who do not know them. Lighting is also an aspect of mise en scene. In the beginning scene of the movie, the three main characters are shown murdering a high-ranking Italian mobster. There is a red light in the scene, which has an underlying significance. The red light appears to almost look like a flashlight. The lighting resembles a blood like color and it does not allow the viewer to see the blood that is covering the characters. The red light gives off a notion of death. The beginning scene is the movie is a flash-forward to a later part of the movie. Scorsese uses a strong narrative form to tie in the significance of that scene to what happens to the characters after it. After the beginning scene in the film, it tells the story that builds up to that particular part of the movie. It is significant because after the murder, it turns series of events that leads to the demise of the three main characters
  7. 7. Goodfellas Analysing film openings In the first few seconds of the opening, we see credits wipe and fly across the screen in a white/grey text and black background. These include the director and institution of the film. There are sounds of passing cars in the background acting as a synchronous sound with the credit‟s movement. There‟s then a jump cut to a mid shot of the characters inside the car, where it is silent. This leaves the audience in a state of confusion and interest in what has happened and what will happen. They are all wearing suits which implies formality, however the man on the left has his shirt unbuttoned and appears slobby. The man in the boot is revealed and a zoom movement into him is used to draw the audience in further. Fake blood has been used on contrasting white sheets and on the man‟s skin to make it obvious that he has been severely wounded. It then cross cuts to a mid shot of the rear of a car and then slowly tracks alongside the car to appear as it we are overtaking it to the left. The dark lighting suggests that this is during the night-time, adding to the mystery of the scene. We then hear diegetic rumbling in the back of the car which the characters show confusion about . They exchange heated, confused dialogue for the first time in the scene. As the men surround the boot, fear and tension is created for the audience as they are left unsure of what is in the boot. There is a subtle zoom movement into the boot which creates anticipation as we are drawn into the scene. The rear lights of the car create a red lighting over the three men‟s mid shot. Red had connotations of danger which mixed with the dark lighting creates a mysterious feel. The man of the left is wielding a spade as a feeble attempt at self defence to whatever is in the boot. This foreshadows danger ahead.
  8. 8. Analysing film openings Pulp Fiction There is nothing out of the ordinary about the couple, as both seem to be dressed as you would expect to see. This goes against the conventions of a gangster film and it is only when you listen to the content of their discussion that you realise they are in fact, criminals. The first (opening) frame is a still shot of a dictionary definition in the dictionary style format of the word „pulp‟. It is clear that the secondary meaning is the key definition as it immediately sets the tone for the film whereas the first holds no significance. It fades in and out softly which I feel indicates that Tarantino (director) intended it to be kept in mind while watching the film. The silence during this frame supports that idea. The next shot is a close up of a waitress who has come over to offer more coffee to the couple. She seems reasonably happy to serve them, is well lighted by the window and has minimal makeup on. This then cross cuts to a mid two shot of the two main characters in the opening scene having a conversation over food. This establishes the relationship between the pair. The man is smoking and lying back, implying non-conformity as well as his liberal use of swear words. The woman sits up straight and seems polite, which is a vast contrast to the man. The shot uses high level lighting from the large window behind them. There is only diegetic sound in the form of background conversation and activity and quiet music being played which we would expect to hear in a diner. The soft sound of traffic tells the audience that they are in a busy environment. The woman gratefully accepts the coffee, leading to a match on action shot of the waitresses arm pouring the coffee. The woman begins to act a lot more friendly towards the waitress. There is diegetic, synchronous sound of the coffee pouring as she tips the coffee jug. (Over the shoulder shot) As the man mentions the possibility of having the kill someone, the woman smiles sweetly and places her head on her arm and responds happily with “I‟m not gonna kill anybody”. This is strongly against the typical conventions of a gangster film as we would expect a much darker discussion surrounding killing. The stereotypical view of a gangster/criminal would be that of wearing dark suits, discussing criminal plans in a dark area, perhaps at night. This goes against the brightly lit and busy daytime scene in Pulp Fiction. Next comes an over the shoulder shot which leads to a reverse shot of the woman‟s reaction to what the man is saying. The woman becomes increasingly interested in what the man has to say. There is hard lighting on the window side of their faces due to the positioning of the window. This scene is not following conventions, as at this point the couple are acting like a couple towards each other, whilst talking about the strong and violent subject of robbery or perhaps armed robbery.
  9. 9. Analysing film openings The Godfather The opening begins with a very slow jazz soundtrack. A plain black background, which connotes wealth, death, mystery, and evil, is contrasted with white writing, which has connotations of coldness, fear and again, death. The writing simply says 'The Godfather' with puppet strings attached to the word 'father'. This symbolises the control that the godfather in the film has, and, as the audience will discover, how he controls people below him like a puppeteer controls his puppets. The title disapears and the audience is left with a black screen, emphasising the connotations of the colour black, and also adding mystery and suspense - we don't know what will follow. A male voice-over begins in an italian accent with the line "I believe in America", suggesting where the film is set, and we fade in to see the man (Pacino) who is speaking. The camera begins with a close up as he talks to the camera and the camera zooms out very slowly whilst he tells us about his daughter's rape. The mise en scene at this point is all dark, with only the man's collar being the only colour of white, reflecting the title screen with white contrasting with black. Throughout the sequence, a range of shot types are used. These vary from slow zooms outwards, which draw the viewer in, to over the shoulder shots which are an innovative way of depicting a conversation. They add variety for the audience, as well as being very effective. As we zoom out, however, we discover with the technique of an over the shoulder shot, that the man is infact talking to someone else. The shot now reveals brown mise en scene - a wooden table, with a couple of papers on, making it seem to the audience like some kind of office. The camera stops zooming out, and Pacino begins to cry, and is given a drink by another man (presumably alcoholic) which shows the audience the flaws of the protagonist - his emotion for his daughter, and his drinking habit. This sequence also reveals that our first thought that there was only one person present was incorrect there are at least three men present, but it is still unknown where this is set and who the men are. The camera then tracks to focus on a close up of the two men whispering to each other, but we are unable to hear what they say. After this sequence, the camera's position changes to show, using a close-up, the second man that was introduced (Brando). We see that he too is dressed in a black suit, and also can see typical thriller mise en scene, consisting of slatted blinds. The camera moves location again to show the entire scene revealing four male characters, all dressed in suits, all brown mise en scene, and the only light coming from the slats in the blinds. Another over -the shoulder shot is used to focus upon Brando, this time as a mid shot, and a red flower can be noticed clipped to his suit, giving connotations of disguised danger. We also see him playing with a grey cat, making him appear powerful as he doesn't give his full attention. The cat connotes cunningness, independance and suspicion, whilst the grey colour has connotations of respect, strength and wisdom. The previous shot finishes with the dialogue “that I cannot do” and fades to a black screen alongside non diegetic high intensity music. White credits fade onto the black screen. The mise en scene is made up primarily of a brown palette, which represents wealth, fascism, and boldness. The brown palette is very typical of American Gangster thrillers, which hints to the audience the genre of the film. The lighting use is simplistic - only coming from the slatted blinds, and a small light to the right of the frame. The clothes the characters wear are suits, indication wealth, superiority and a kind of professionalism within them. It can be noted that the character played by Brando is the only one to wear a red flower, and also can be noted wearing a wedding ring, suggesting that he is a trustworthy man, even though he seems to be the leader of this group of men, who appear to believe they are above the law, as Brando asks Pacino why he went to the police first to sort out his daughter's rape, rather than him. This, teamed with their accents, make it seem to the audience like some kind of mafia.