Boardwalk Empire saison 1

Voici la première saison de Boardwalk Empire, diffusée sur HBO et basée sur le livre de Nelson Johnson qui s’intitule Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City. Cette série raconte l’histoire d’Atlantic City, cité du jeu et du vice.

boardwalk empire

Nous sommes à Atlantic City, au début de la Prohibition. Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) fait une vente d’alcool illégal en visitant Arnold Rothstein, gangster de New York, et s’intéresse à une mère au foyer qui a un mari qui abuse d’elle.

Pendant ce temps, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), vétéran de la première guerre mondiale et protégé de Thomson, rencontre un jeune et violent criminel du nom d’Al Capone.

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Repression and Censorship photo

Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

  1. Organized Crime in America
  2. Evolution of Organized Crime
  3. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  4. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

Organization of the Repression

With John Edgar Hoover, the FBI had certain successes in its fight against Organized Crime. The FBI was/is a federal agency that could/can work across the territory. Police forces were sometimes ill-trained because they faced very well organized murderers.

1933 saw the creation of the Bureau of Investigation (Justice), the Prohibition Bureau (Department of the Treasury and eventually to the Department of Justice), and the Bureau of Identification.

The FBI emphasized figures to receive more subventions and for the training of policemen, the FBI became a kind of police academy.

The codes of appearances tell the fall or rise of the gangster. It is sometimes wrong: they can die very well-dressed. Banquets are social rituals, as well as funerals.

In Little Caesar, once they killed someone they would attend his funerals very well dressed. Repression is a spectacle in a way: FBI and politics of prestige.

President Hoover used the media a lot: he collaborated with the media and the movie industry to create a positive image of the war on crime. The Kefauver hearings were televised for the first time. In a way, it was a show.

The cinema was the major medium to picture Organized Crime. Ten years later, TV would be a great threat to movies. Hearings were televised live: immediacy and power.

Organized Crime was in the streets and on the screens: dialectic between expression and repression. New forms of expression both in reality and in fiction.

When Hollywood involved censorship, it became an indirect form of expression but it was still depicting Organized Crime.

The image of America on screen is that of a country in which morality should impose images. Always new forms for gangsters on film even if censorship was present.

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Evolution of Organized Crime photo

Evolution of Organized Crime

  1. Organized Crime in America
  2. Evolution of Organized Crime
  3. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  4. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

Evolution of Gangsterism

1929: Wall Street crash. Prohibition is an attempt to decrease the revenue of alcohol.

1933: election of Franklin Roosevelt, who sets up the New Deal.

1934: Repeal of the Prohibition. Roosevelt had realized the importance of the ethnic vote, and especially the Catholic vote.

Creation of the Work Progress Administration (W.P.A.): the state provides the jobs. The Organized Crime became less of a necessity.

The vision of the gangster also evolved in the movies: he is now presented as a thing of the past.

When R. Sullivan gets out of prison after the repeal of the Prohibition, he does not fit in anymore: he is out of touch. The idea is that once you have been into illegal activities you can take the money and go into legal activities (some Jewish businessmen are grandchildren of earlier Organized Crime gangsters).

Gangsterism is doomed to vanish but the gangsters have not disappeared, they are still killed by other gangsters.

To go legit: to go legitimate. Gangland reconversion: gangsters could change by investing illegal money into illegal businesses.

The Organized Crime went more and more into legal activities. The State creates its counterpower: the lottery, which is legal in certain states.

Las Vegas was created by the Mafia (Bugsy Siegel). He opened the first casino, the Stardust; which was controlled by the Mafia and connected between legal and illegal activities.

Siegel was also interested in Hollywood but there was no very known widespread involvement of Organized Crime in the movie industry, except for the Browne-Bioff episode.

The Browne-Bioff plan

The Browne-Bioff episode started in Chicago: Willy Bioff was a Chicago racketeer in partnership with George Browne, a local official for a trade union (I.A.T.S.E.: International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees).

The association had a campaign of extortion from the theatre director to avoid strikes and loss of money.

This campaign extended nationwide and touched Hollywood (RKO and Fox gave money in exchange for peace on the labour front). In 1941, all came to the surface.

Joseph M. Schenk, president of Fox, got arrested by the police and in exchange for a lighter sentence, he denounced the Browne-Bioff plan.

World War II

The structure of Organized Crime did not change except that it sometimes worked with the American government.

The Americans feared German submarines to attack the coast so Organized Crime ensured the waterfront workers’ liability to the government.

The Cold War

1951: the Kefauver Commission was set up to investigate crime and McCarthy was against the communists. Both are often associated. The Kefauver Commission was headed by Senator Kefauver (for Tennessee).

In 1950, he became chairman of the Senate Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. The committee studied:

  • inter-state gambling and racketeering
  • use of inter-state facilities for Organized Crime (railway…)

1967-1968: Omnibus Crime Bill, allowing for wire topping. Organized Crime is a reflection of American society. It places the Kefauver Commission in the Cold War atmosphere.

Organized Crime : Expression and Repression photo

Organized Crime : Expression and Repression

  1. Organized Crime in America
  2. Evolution of Organized Crime
  3. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  4. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

There is a parallel between Organized Crime and the movie industry. Organized Crime was one of the ways for social climbing, of getting out of poverty and ethnic matters.

In the main Hollywood studios, many directors were ethnics: Samuel Goldwyn and Louis Mayer (M.G.M. studios: Metro Goldwyn Mayer), David O. Selznick, Charles Chaplin…

The cinema was a new technology founded by the elite, the ethnic entrepreneurs and the W.A.S.P. businessmen. Some innovative sections of business were opened for the same reason (legitimate, profitable). These people found a renovation of the American Dream either in Organized Crime or in cinema.

Producers did not push gangster films for the simple reason that it was not that popular at the time. They gave the public what they wanted (and the WASPs were rather conservative). It is only when it generalized that gangster movies “took off”.

Another connection: several actors became movie stars because of their ethnic origins: James Cagney was Irish. (Public Enemy), Paul Muni was (Scarface)…

They brought the ethnic accent to the screen. They would have never been movie stars in classic films. It is thanks to the gangster movies and to the parallel made with Organized Crime.

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Organized Crime and the Prohibition photo

Organized Crime and the Prohibition

  1. Organized Crime in America
  2. Evolution of Organized Crime
  3. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  4. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship


You cannot rely on newspaper articles. Recently, it featured the confessions of repenting organized crime members, i.e. the distorted truth for their interests. The police distorted the figures to get credit and money from the Federal Government.

Organized crime was considered a kind of un-American activity. Since more gangsters were ethnic (Jews, Russians, etc), calling them “un-American” was a way of dismissing American roots.

In Scarface, the motto “the world is yours” highlights the ironic vision between the American Dream and the gangsters.

The structure of organized crime is that of a bureaucratic and corporate model. It looks like a company organic line, with a complex hierarchy and a division of labour.

Responsibilities are carried out in an impersonal manner and the function is more important than the person.

Organized crime is a mirror of monopoly capitalism and from earlier gangster movies, it is considered as a business.

In Asphalt Jungle, “crime is just a left-handed form of human endeavour”.

The difference between organized crime and any corporation is that you cannot use written support: it relies on secrecy and personal networks.

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Organized Crime in America photo

Organized Crime in America

  1. Organized Crime in America
  2. Evolution of Organized Crime
  3. Organized Crime : Expression and Repression
  4. Organized Crime and the Prohibition
  5. Organized Crime: Repression and Censorship

Organized Crime in America (1929 – 1951)

1929: Wall Street crash, which forced gangsters to find a new way of making money in a time of recession. 1951: middle of the Cold War.

Kefauver hearings started the huge mystification of the Mafia, discovering that organized crime was still on in the U.S. First TV debates on organized crime.

In history, gangsters and Organized Crime did exist. Between history and culture, there are matters of ideology: in what way does that interact with what was seen on screen?

Presence of censorship and self-regulation for films. Sometimes people wanted to ban or censor gangster films: interactions between politics, culture and crime. Movies influenced the war against crime.

The history of Hollywood is that of people for and against those movies. Creation of compromises: “production code” (not censorship) to see what people disliked and to escape post-censorship.

But how censorship is possible in the US? (c.f. the first Americans and the liberty of expression). It was considered as a commercial venture. A way of skirting the censorship was to show 2 shots to see a person killed instead of one (the latter was prohibited).

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Glossary of film terms

The position of the camera in order to show a certain scene. A camera may be placed
straight on to a scene, at a side angle, high angle or low angle.

Camera movement
– a dolly shot: the camera and the base to which it is affixed move toward or away from a stationary object.
– a tracking shot: the camera moves behind or ahead of a moving person or object.
– a crane shot: the camera moves up or down on an automatic crane.
– a pan: the camera moves left or right on a fixed base.
– a tilt: the camera moves up or down.

A shot which shows a limited and magnified view of a character or an object. It usually has a psychological, dramatic or symbolic value.

The immediate foreground and the deepest parts of the background are in clear focus.

Gradual transition from one scene to another.

High-angle shot
A shot which looks down upon a scene or a character.

Long shot
A shot which provides a wide-angle view of a scene.

Low-angle shot
A shot which looks up at a character (object or scene).

Medium shot
Shows the object from waist up.

Voice over
Film narration/commentary in which the speaker remains unseen.

French equivalences

Dolly shotplan ou prises de vues en travelling.
Tracking shottravelling (objet ou personne filmé en mouvement).
Crane shotprise de vues sur grue.
Panpanoramique horizontal.
Tiltpanoramique vertical.
Deep focusprofondeur de champ.
Dissolvefondu enchaîné.
High-angle shotplongée.
Low-angle shotcontre-plongée.
Close-upgros plan.
Close shotplan rapproché
Medium close shotplan Américain.
Medium shotplan moyen.
Medium long shotplan de demi ensemble.
Long shotplan d’ensemble.