Bon, vivement les vacances parce que là j’en ai un peu marre du collège. Ne pas avoir des élèves motivés, c’est une chose avec laquelle je compose tous les jours. Par contre avoir des gens qui arrivent en classe à l’heure qu’ils veulent, sans frapper à la porte et sans s’excuser pour ensuite gêner ceux qui suivent avec leurs bavardages et/ou réflexions à deux francs six sous (parce qu’ils n’ont ni livres ni cahiers non plus les pauvres chéri(e)s), ça commence un peu à me chauffer.

Résultat :

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 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