Sunday, April 24, 2011

Semiotics in Goodfellas

Gangster films as a genre has a connection with semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols as elements of communication. A sub-genre of the gangster genre is films about organized crime. Films such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Untouchables, The Departed, Casino, and American Gangster all include groups of individuals involved in organized crime. The most popular group of organized crime would have to be the Italian syndicate. In this type of organized crime, the amount of power and respect an individual has, correlates with the status of that particular person. In the film Goodfellas, there are several examples of how an individual’s status determines the amount of power and respect that they have.
            Goodfellas is a true story based upon the life of ex-mobster Henry Hill. The film relives the rise and downfall of his career as a mobster. Early in the film, Henry comes across a man named Paul Sorvino. Paul, or Paulie, is the mob boss of the local Italian syndicate in Henry’s neighborhood. Henry gets a job as a young boy at the restaurant that Paul owns. He states in the film that Paulie may have moved slow, but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody. Paulie had the highest status, which is being the boss. Every person that associated with the mob in film always answered to Paulie. If someone was making money, Paulie always received a percentage of what was made. In one scene, Henry and Jimmy Conway rob the airport and make thousands of dollars because of it. The first thing they did after the robbery was give Paulie a percentage of the money. This was because of Paulie’s status. His status entitled him to the amount of power he had over anyone else.
            Through the course of the movie, Henry also begins to move up in terms of status. One scene in particular demonstrates how Henry’s status affected the way he was treated. The Copacabana scene demonstrates how much power Henry has because of his status in the mob. Henry goes to the Copacabana with his date and they see that there is a long line to get into the club. Henry goes through a side door with his date and they go through a maze of rooms and finally get into the club. Everyone that the pair encounters is very friendly and polite towards them. This is because of whom Henry is and the status that he holds.
            The amount of respect and power an individual has in many gangster films is determined by what status that person has. Or having a high status means that a person holds a lot of power over everyone else.

Kowalski, D. (2007). Goodfellas, gyges, and the good life. In M. Conrad, The philosophy of martin scorsese (pp. 31-52). Lexington: The university press of kentucky.

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