Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Gangster Genre

             Greed, deception, money, power, and murder; these are the basic themes of a gangster film.  Gangster films present a story of criminal life through struggles with the law or rival gangs. Film gangsters are street smart, dishonest, powerful, respected, and sometimes comical. Gangsters in films use brute muscle and fear in the pursuit of power and wealth. There are various types of gangster films. Some are very dramatic such as The Godfather or Casino. Others take a different direction. They are dramatic, but also have certain scenes that can be very comedic. One film that fits this criterion is Goodfellas. This genre has gone through changes through its history. Many sub-genres have been created within the genre of the gangster film. For instance, a sub-genre to come out of the gangster genre is the cop as a gangster. This is where the police officer is the violent and ruthless character to combat the gangster. In many gangster films, real life situations from crime history are often portrayed in the plot. Casino and Goodfellas are two examples of movies that tell a story of true events. There are also different types of gangsters in films. There are Italians, African Americans, Japanese, bank robbers, etc. The most popular crime organization in films would have to be the Italian syndicate. Though aimed at a mature audience, gangster films are and will continue to be very popular genre throughout filmmaking. 
             Gangster films arrived at cinemas in the early 1900s. According to Tim Dirks, the first popular gangster film was The Moonshiners in 1904. Two other early gangster films were A Desperate Encounter between Burglars and Police and The Black Hand. These films were produced in 1905 and 1906. However, their availability is very problematic, or almost impossible to find. “The first to mark the start of the gangster genre was D.W. Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley” (Dirks). Griffith’s film was released in 1912. These films we made without sound and used subtitle screens to allow the audience to know either what a particular character said, or how a particular character feels. The early gangster films were all shot from the non-criminal point of view. In other words, it was shot in the law-abiding view, or the character that was trying to stop the violence caused by the gang or robbers. According to Dirks, the first gangster film that was filmed in the gangster’s point of view was Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927). Many film critics agree that this film was the first modern gangster film. It is considered the first modern gangster film because it was shot in the criminal’s point of view. This is how almost all of today’s gangster movies are shot today. Underworld won various awards including the Best Original Story. Organized crime led to great popularity for the gangster genre. One aspect that was never really explored was the business side of organized crime. The gangster as a businessman is a sub-genre that is seen in many films made over the past twenty years. 
             The gangster genre is aimed at a mature audience, but this genre is and will continue to be popular in movies. The genre has a history of over a hundred years. What started out as one genre, turned into multiple different types of sub-genres. What really makes this genre unique compared to others, is how actual gangsters contributed to the success and popularity of this type of film. These films truly are exciting and original. They show a different side of society. They show the ruthless, crazy, relentless, and power hungry side of people. The symbols that represent gangsters are a lot of different things that are bad in this world such as guns, money, death, and drugs. This genre makes the viewer take the side of the bad guy, which separates it from many different genres. Greed, deception, money, power, and murder; this is what makes up the gangster genre.

Dirks, T. (2008). Crime-gangster films: Tracing the route of a genre. Film history: An international journal , 20 (3), 308-324.
MacLeod, D. (2007). A tall order. Film & history: An interdisciplinary journal of film and television studies , 37.2, 114.

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