This essay will firstly discuss the concept of genre and demonstrate how and why gangster is regarded as a genre. Following this, the classic conventions and iconography of the gangster mere will be detailed. Next, the genre will be examined in terms of how technological changes, specifically the Motion Pictures Production Code shaped the genre in the mid sass. Proceeding this, the genre will be examined in terms of cultural impacts and changes that were caused to the genre due to various factors.
Lastly, the essay will look at the revisionist stage of the gangster genre and how these challenge and manipulate the classic conventions of the genre. The concept of genre originated from the French word meaning type. Therefore, the notion of genre refers to films and/or television shows that hare common characteristics, consent neatly classifying them as a particular ‘type’ (Bigness 2012, p. 1 16). Over time through repetition and slight variation, common stories are told through the use Of recognizable characters who are put in similar situations.
This prompts the audience with certain expectations and experiences that are comparable to similar films that an audience has already seen (Grant 201 2, p. Xviii). A text is deemed to belong to a particular genre once both the industry and audience recognize its conventions, a term coined by Steve Neal as ‘inter- textual relay’ (Lucky & Rice 1984). Marketers (a component of industry) produce materials such as billboards and trailers, which focus on the typical conventions of a genre in order to provide audiences with a context by which to approach the film and to set up their expectations and anticipations.
Genre also provides audiences with the ability to identify and differentiate films based on similar previous experiences. Once an audience determines their appreciation for a genre, they will seek to find films within that genre. However, a genre is coined when a cultural consensus is reached, only after a concept such as gangster is utilized, relayed and understood by groups involved with the production and distribution of a film or television series. Therefore, it is only once the industry and audience acknowledge the same conventions of a genre that inter-textual relay functions and a genre exists.
The gangster genre emerged in the sass due to America’s fascination with violence and lawlessness. The genre has many qualities, conventions and iconographic features that made it unique and easily identifiable by both the industry and audience. Most gangster films follow the rise and fall narrative of a particular character, most often the protagonist. This character usually tarts out small, enters the criminal underworld as a committed individual, moves up within the gang, eventually replacing the boss before finally being destroyed by the law or rivals (Dirks 2015).
During the years 1 931 and 1932 three classic gangster films were produced that embodied the rise and fall narrative. Little Caesar 1 931, The Public Enemy 1931 and Surface 1932. All three films follow the fast rise and fall of three young, violent criminals. During this time, the genre was represented in its purest form prior to its change and development that occurred due to the introduction of the Production Code in 1934. Gangster films are often set in large crowded cities as this is where more crime is committed and therefore more crime is ready to be committed.
The city location is also used in order to provide a view of the underworld and secret world of the criminals. Big cities such as New York and Chicago are typically used as settings. Films that demonstrate this choice of setting include G Men 1935 and Penthouse 1 933 which are set in New York City and The doorway to hell 1930, The Public Enemy and Surface, which are set in Chicago. More specifically, dark and rundown urban city alley. Says and night clubs are common places for gangster films to be set. The low level lighting, combined with the use of grey, blue and black filters highlights the dark world of the gangster life.
Two films that are able to reaffirm this convention are Born Reckless 1 930 and Little Caesar as both films are set in night clubs and embody the low level lighting. Formal attire such as suits and ties for men are another well recognized and vital convention of the pre code gangster genre. The suit is a significant symbol as it implies the rise of the gangster transitioning from everyday life to the life of a criminal. This dress code is evident in The Public Enemy, Little Caesar and Penthouse 1 933 and in all three films this convention is employed to mark the gangsters progression from a low social class to the top.
During the pre code era, there were a number of stars associated with the gangster genre at the time. The mere physical appearance of the actors helps audiences identify the genre. These men include James Chaney, AY Pacing, Humphrey Bogart and Robert De Noir. The men are strong and physically tough in appearance and are therefore able to pull off the gangster lifestyle that they must embody in films. Additionally, the actors performed in many a nester films in a short space Of time and consequently their faces became the representative of the genre.
The gangster genre emerged in the sass due to various factors such as the Prohibition era, Depression, existence of real life gangsters and organized crime which all contributed to the rise of the genre in the early 1 9305. However, story lines began to reflect society as film ideas were taken out of newspaper headlines and as crime was on the rise, the genre began to gain negative attention from the US Government (Numbly 2009). Consequently, the Motion Pictures Production Code, a set of industry guide lines were applied to cost US produced films released during 1934-1968.
This had a profound impact on the gangster genre as films needed to be approved for release according to strict guidelines. The Production Code objected to topics such as the glorification of crime, murder, brutality and adultery (Vaughn 1990). This affected the gangster genre as films that were already on the market (The Pubic Enemy, Little Caesar and Penthouse) were often reworked to fit within the guidelines. An example of the impact that the Production Code had on gangster films was The Public Enemy. The film was re-released in 1941 after the Production Code came into effect.
Due to this, various scenes that violated the guidelines were deleted from the original film. For example, the scene depicting Tom Powers killing Putty Nose was erased from the film as well as the scene of the warehouse robbery (AMID 2015). The Public Enemy is an example of only one film that was affected by the introduction of the Production Code. However, the entire gangster genre was challenged as the classic conventions and iconography that defined the genre were prohibited. In response to the Production Code, the post code era of gangster films began to emerge.
Instead of a focus on crime and brutality, there was a shift awards the perspective of law officers fighting criminals or criminals seeking redemption. This can be demonstrated by James Cageyness role in G Men 1935 as a law officer, as well as his role in Angels with Dirty Faces 1938. These films are examples of gangster films, however rather than the glorification of criminals, those who enforced the law were now portrayed in a positive light. Therefore, the Motion Pictures Production Code was an industrial factor that can explain the reasons for the some of the variations in the genre during the sass to mid 1960 period.
However, the Production Code did not put an end o the genre as it still exists today. An additional industrial factor that can be attributed to for the variations in the gangster genre is the introduction of sound in film. Within the gangster genre sound was used to project violence, often as violent acts took place off screen. Consequently, sound was used to evoke the audiences imagination and imply that violence was taking place. An example of a film able to demonstrate this phenomenon is The Public Enemy. The horse that belonged to Nathan (Nails) is shot dead off the screen and out of sight from the audience.
Although the audience is exposed to the sound of the horse being hot, which enables the audience to make sense of what is happening. Without the sound, the violent act the audience would not have been able to be represented and viewers would have no knowledge of what took place. The Public Enemy was produced four years after the introduction of sound to cinema and the film made use of the new technology available at the time. Without the availability of sound in 1 931 , The Public Enemy and the film industry in general would be vastly different than it was at the time (Diabetes 1996).
The evolution of the gangster genre was not only due to technological innovations. Cultural factors also had a major impact on the genre in the pre code era. Politics as well as social and economic forces influenced the content and character depiction within gangster films in the pre code era. During this time period, gangster films depicted a lot of crime, reflecting the public interest at the time. In addition to this, the events of the Prohibition era and a rebellious pubic in response, also shaped the gangster genre in the sass and sass.
Typical conventions of the genre that were established during the pre code era progressed in the post code era. For example, in the pre code era audiences could expect the film to be dominated by violent, aggressive, short tempered materialistic Italian American with a thick accent. However, as the genre has progressed figures such as Denned Washington of African- American descent as well as Chunk Ho-Jinn of Korean descent became prominent gangster actors. Another example Of a cultural progression is the plot synopsis of films in the post code era.
For example, American Gangster 2007 is a film centered around drug smuggling whereas I Walk Alone 1948 is based on crime and liquor. Therefore it is evident that the cultural influences room when a film is produced determine the plot and narrative content. Clothing is another convention of the gangster genre that has developed over time. In the pre code era it was expected that the gangster would be wearing a suit as it was a symbol of their criminal identity which evident in The public Enemy, Little Caesar and Penthouse. However in more modern texts this is not as important.
Throughout The Sopranos 1999-2007 protagonist and gangster member Tony Soprano often wears a t-shirt or collared top with pants or jeans. This demonstrates that dress code is not as important for gangster harassers to be wearing suits as a status symbol. Hence, from the pre code era, at the time the gangster genre was established there have been a variety of cultural impacts that have shaped the gangster genre to what it is today. As a result, many classic conventions that were once seen as paramount to the genre have now developed and transformed, shaping the genre to what it is today.
Only once a genres conventions and audience expectations are well established can subverting tradition and manipulation of classic conventions take place. This is also known as the revisionist stage of a genre. Only after a mere reaches maturity and subsequently its conventions become formulaic, can a film bend the typical conventions and iconography associated with the genre (Berliner 2001, p. 26-29). Television and cinema borrow and share many genres and therefore conventions. The gangster genre is both relevant in film and television.
A well-recognized gangster television series is The Sopranos, which also plays with the classic conventions of the gangster genre. One of the most typical features of a gangster narrative is the rise and fall of the protagonist. However, in The Sopranos the audience does not witness the sis and fall of Tony Soprano and thus the series does not conform to the genre in that aspect. Another dimension by which the show breaks tradition is through its exploration of previously defined taboo subjects such as drug use, sex and violence.
The Sopranos aired on a cable television network and as a result was not restricted to the regulations of free to air TV (Cease 2000, p. 1 ,6). Additionally, once a genre is well established and its conventions are entrenched can a text refer to another film or television series. For example the film The Godfather 1972 is made reference to in The Sopranos. This quench is only able to succeed when an audience is well acquainted with the conventions of the genre. Therefore, the revisionist aspect to a gangster genre is able to demonstrate the gangster genres progression from the sass up until 1 sass.
It is due to cultural factors and the relaxed censorship regulations that enabled the gangster genre to became more prevalent in the sass right through to the 1 sass. The gangster genre has evolved over time due to many cultural and technological factors. Consequently, the conventions and iconography that were once iconic of the genre are not as strong or do not exist today. The gangster genres transformation is evident when comparing texts from the early sass with ones from the 1 sass and onwards.