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.

Lire la suite

Repression and Censorship photo

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 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 form of expression both in reality and in fiction.

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

Censorship in the States

Censorship is not supposed to take place in the U.S. because of the 1st and 4th Amendment about the freedom of speech. Yet, the cinema was not considered as a mean to convey ideas but as a commercial enterprise.

There was no federal censorship, it is an external thing which appears after the film. Self-regulation concerns major and minor companies: they had to respect the code before the movies were released.

The code was supposed to function within Hollywood in the best conditions. It did not work at the beginning but in 1934, the code started having teeth.

During the Great Depression, Hollywood tried to produce films attracting people, with more violence and sex innuendos (“fallen women” cycle: they use their charms to achieve their goals).

Those films were condemned by the Protestants, the Catholic conservatives, and the Church, who all had a spark desire for censorship. The code was enforced due to the pressure of the Catholics, concerned with the morality of the society.

Check more information about the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) of 1930.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

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

Evolution of Organized Crime

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 that once you have been into illegal activities you can take the money and go into legal activities (some Jewish businessmen are grand-children 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: gangster could change by investing illegal money into illegal business.

The Organized Crime went more and more into legal activities. The State creates its own 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 totally 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 into 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, local official for trade union (I.A.T.S.E.: International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees).

The association had a campaign of extortion from theater director in order to avoid strikes and loss of money.

This campaign extended nationwide and touched Hollywood (RKO and Fox gave money in exchange for peace in the labor 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 the Organized Crime did not change except that it sometimes worked with the American government.

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

The Cold War

1951: the Kefauver commission was set up to investigate crime and Mc Carthy 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.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

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

Organized Crime : Expression and Repression

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 the Organized Crime or in cinema.

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

Another connection: several actors became movie stars because of their ethic 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 with classic films. It is thanks to the gangsters movies and to the parallel made with Organized Crime.

Chicago beer wars

In Chicago, W. Dever was mayor from 1923 to 1927. He was not good at jailing gangsters, because of the reciprocity of exchanges between the gangsters and the politicians.

As a result, the gangsters widened their territory: Southside Beer Wars (1923-1928), Westside Beer Wars (1924-1929).

The Irish were set against the Italians: was it for economic or ethnic matters? It was more economic. The gangs were created along ethnic lines but there were connections.

Famous gangsters in New York

Arnold Rothstein, Lepke Buchalter, Meyer Lansky and Ben Siegel, “Lucky” Luciano…

Gangster movies and censorship

Moral reason: by showing violence on screen you might induce violence to children and immigrants (stereotypes of being children). Since movies were not rated (not before 1962), once approved they could be seen by anyone.

Technical reason: their impact were very new. The sound technology and the editing dictated the pace of the film: juxtaposition of murders and car crashes, fast synthetic collection of acts of violence. Without the sound, this is not half as efficient: the soundtrack is part of the movie.

A film is a democratic form of art, seen by everyone (thus different from literature).

Gangster movies portrayed realistically what happened in American cities.

In Scarface, the archetypal symbol of the cross (symbol of death) can be found at strategic moments: when the pictures of the murder are in the newspaper: the place of the body is symbolized by a cross. It is a mise-en-scene of the feeling of realism.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

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

Organized Crime and the Prohibition


You cannot really rely on newspaper articles. Recently, it featured the confessions of repenting organized crime members, i.e. the distorted truth for their own 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 ethnics (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 labor.

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 endeavor”.

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

Organized crime before prohibition

The first gangs appeared in the mid 19th century in big cities, in ethnic districts. These gangs were born out of one major contradiction in the United States: the opportunity for all and equality for all – and real practice of this combination (the discrimination against foreigners: Jews, Catholics, Russians, Polish…)

The West was usually not an option in 1890 for it was closed. Eastern cities like Chicago were cities where ghettos had formed.

There was a regulated competition in poor ghettos and knowing a gang member was a good way to get a job.

There were different levels: the federal level, the city level, and the county level. Each level has a strong degree of independence. One county could decide to stay dry (without alcohol) where another would be wet.

Police forces in the 1920’s

Almost no state police at the time. The Federal agencies were weak until the 1930s. The police jobs were distributed this way: if you were given a job by a Democrat party, you would vote Democrat and influence other people to vote as such.

Pre-Prohibition Organized Crime

Since the end of the Civil War, American capitalism gave rise to monopoly capitalism, through horizontal integration (the bigger ones buy smaller ones and merge) and vertical integration (one company controlling several parts of a business: manufacturing or raw materials, distribution, selling…).

It is characterized by fierce competition: end of productive power, spreading of false rumors on the stock market, and the taking advantage of it.

Newspaper magnate R. Hearst hired gangsters to buy his newspaper and convince others to buy them. C. Vanderbilt started a civil war to get control of the canal of Panama to protect his own interests.

Hollywood used the practice called “blind booking” (or “block booking”) to be sure to control the distribution of their films. If a distributor wanted one film, it had to buy the whole stock. This gave rise to the Anti-Trust Act to prevent complete monopoly.

In the Chicago beer war, the means were slightly more violent but the aims were the same: to get the monopoly. As Al Capone put it: “I’m just a businessman, I provide what people need”.

The Prohibition: struggle for a definition of America

Prohibition was initiated by nativistic desires. We could define nativism as:

  • a reaction to the changing patterns of immigration.
  • industrialization and urbanization.
  • changing moves.

A – Reaction to the changing patterns of immigration

Around the 1880s-1890s, people from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe arrived in America. This did not please the “older” Americans.

The USA was a protestant country and the Ku Klux Klan accused the immigrants of all the wrongs.

B – Industrialization and urbanization

The first American dream saw America as a land of morality. The urban way of life was a shift from an economy of scarcity to the beginning of the consumer society in the 1920s, with credits for cars, telephones, entertainment…

Cinema was a symbol between a new technology and a new way of life, based on consumption. Money is here to be spent. Pleasure is worthwhile (cinema, cabaret, jazz).

The “Roaring Twenties” were a huge part of the young Americans. New types of sexual values: the “flapper” is the new 1920’s woman. (Note: the woman was the cornerstone of morality).

Censorship first applied to gangster movies and to the movies describing this new sexuality.

C – Changing moves

Prohibition is an attempt to give back America its morality.

The immigrants were associated with people who drank Italian wine, Irish beer.. After World War I, the enemy was Germany: drinking beer was unpatriotic.

The saloon was not only a place to drink but also a place of social life and a center of vice (prostitutes).

Alcohol became the segregation line between the Americans and the undesirable (the immigrants).

It was also based on scientific data: eugenics (the idea of improving the race), and the idea of preventing alcohol from ruining future generations.

Henry Ford said it would improve the efficiency of his workers (even before the Prohibition, he used to check his workers, even at home !).

Creation of women’s movements to prevent abuse and violence at home. 1874 saw the creation of the Woman Christian Temperance Union (WCTV). The Anti-Saloon League was created.

Prohibitionists were not a majority and yet they manages to impose their will on the nation.

The real Prohibition came about on the 16th of January 1919 with the ratification of the 18th Amendment by 36 states.

In 1920, the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of all intoxicating beverages (more than 0.5% of alcohol), with the exception of the beverage needed for medical purposes.

The consumption of alcohol at home was not prohibited but its manufacturing, distribution were.

This was not a popular law and people tried to drink all the more. Since the supply of alcohol was banned, they had to find other ways: making alcohol illegal made it more desirable.

The speakeasies were clandestine bars where you could buy alcohol. The Roaring Twenties were the age of jazz, alcohol, and sexual liberation.

Repression was made difficult by the widespread corruption at every level. Politicians were corrupted, especially at the Prohibition bureau.

Basically, Prohibition made things go from bad to worse. Gangsters were able to intimidate witnesses and avoid going to prison. In 1920, there were 6.8 murders for 1000 people. In 1933, there were 9.7 murders for 1000 people.

The gangsters had a popular image: they were businessmen providing the people with what they needed. They were considered men who made it and embodied the American Dream, especially in the period of depression of the 1930s.

Prohibition increased enormously the power of gangsters. There was an economic mutation: the alcohol being banned, the prices went up and there were high risks in running an alcohol shop.

Legal businessmen stopped their production, except for medicine or for non-alcoholic beers (inferior to 0.5% alcohol). The thing is that before the removal of alcohol, you had alcoholic beers…

It became a highly lucrative system for gangsters, much more important than prostitution or gambling. It was an expensive investment but it produced high revenues.

You had to import your alcohol and hire people to protect it. Al Capone for instance hired 700 gunmen. Organized crime became very influential.

A way of getting alcohol was to hi-jack federal reserves or stealing ale before the alcohol was removed, or alcohol destined to medicine use.

Some people tried to produce their own whiskey, mixed with turpentine but it was so toxic that people could die from it (!).

Vertical integration controlled the importation and production of alcohol. Organized crime was first local and then became a wider organization thanks to syndication.

Prohibition increased criminality. Organized crime in the United States was not imported.

Capone’s gang ruled part of Chicago and when it became too hot, it moved to Cicero. This control was so important that Capone was able to impose mayors.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

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

Organized Crime in America

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).

The Asphalt Jungle

[8 minutes after the beginning]

Career of a famous gangster, Rocky Sullivan. Idea of compressing several years in 7 minutes. The text and the images are superposed. Importance of the music. Repetition of sequences:

  • first evocation of a juvenile gangster.
  • then evocation of a famous gangster (wives, champagne, club). Glamorous life of the gangster

Relentlessness of the law: he stole fountain pens and was sentenced for 30 years. Then, when he became a big gangster, he was always acquitted.

Criticism of the American judicial law, which was tough on petty criminals and lenient on gangsters (due to corruption). Such a movie was commenting the history of the time but was also critical on the America of the 1930’s.



Two identical shots of the scene (medium shots). Gangsters are not colorful people. This movie cannot try to counteract the image of the media.

A certain amount of violence was accepted only if there were more “normal” scenes (like the dialogues at the police station, at the newspaper’s office…). 2 endings: 2 audiences.

Different modes of communication

The film breaks down the image that each institution had constructed by revealing it. Films might hold contradictory messages.

They are ambivalent and we might not know what to think: there is no single message. We do not have the same vision of violence as the people of the time: violence is different and also depends on social levels, countries…

Writing belongs to a digital mode of communication. It is digital because it has no objective connection between the meaning and the word.

There is an arbitrary relation between the signifier and the signified (e.g. “cat” and the real cat). But the connection between the image of a cat and the word cat is analogical. You de-code a novel. With a film, you see first and think later. Movies are a mechanical reproduction of image, sound, and movement.

The digital mode of communication is more complex and requires more capacity for abstraction. One word can mean a whole conception.

The analogical mode of communication is on the side of establishing relationship between foreground and background, between what comes before and after.

The act of reading is different to that of seeing a film. The reader controls the reading (can stop, skip..) whereas in he 1930’s you could not do the same with the films.

You could not control the time of viewing. When you see a movie you imagine more or less but you see more. The whole world of the movie is unreal. The perceptions are real but what is showed is unreal (fiction). A movie puts the viewer in a semi-hypnotic state.

With the manipulation of time, scale (close-ups, long shots..), it creates a distortion of perception. The spectator is supposed to be passive: yet, people would never go to the movie if they did not think it was made for them. Dialogues have to be very understandable. Completely artificial and yet it looks natural.

Definition of the Organized Crime

It is non ideological. According to Abadinsky, it is a hierarchy with a limited or exclusive membership. It perpetuates itself and is characterized by the willingness to use illegal violence and bribery.

It is specialized in the division of labor, is monopolistic and governed by explicit rules and regulations :

– non-ideological : based on power and money.

– hierarchy : head of a Mafia family.

– membership : does not concern all types of crimes.

– perpetuates : c.f. the Asphalt Jungle: people getting together for a big hold up and trying to part together afterward.

– illegal violence and bribery: important for organized crime, an essential part of gangster movies. It showed that America was corrupted.

– division of labor : organized crime is an economic unit. Each gang wants to have a complete monopoly in its area, hence gang fights in Chicago: you cannot share the place. Also characteristic of American capitalism.

– rules and regulations : connected with hierarchy. Loyalty is very important.

NOTE: all movies dealing with crime do not deal with organized crime.

It is easy to say that foreigners were responsible for crime and that America would be better if cleared out. America is (was) a big myth: the land of freedom and opportunity for all.

The first immigrants lived in ghettos, unemployed, and were submitted to other harsh treatment by the American population. They organized along ethnic lines because America failed to integrate the first generation of immigrants.

Sommaire de la série Organized Crime in America during the Prohibition (1929-1951)

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

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.