I love a great gangster story. But they’re hard to come by in today’s Hollywood.
I don’t know about you, but I love the gangster genre. Crime films have helped build the Hollywood we know and love today. While they’re still being made, they have changed so much since their inception that they don’t resemble the classic formula.
For the sake of clarity, today we’re talking about the original Warner Bros. gangster film that follows a neighborhood boy who rides into crime, becomes part of higher society, but everything falls apart and he pays the price. usually with his life.
We’ve seen this type of movie dominate for decades, and we still get riffs on it today.
But is it dead? Has it been played out? Are there still chances to do something new?
Always. I’m not going to let you get too far into reading without telling you that I think this video essay is great, but I don’t think any movie killed a genre. I think we are starving for new artists to tackle this.
So let’s get started. Robert J. Thompson said, “The western has been replaced by the mob story as the central epic of America.”
But what if the gangster movie is dead now too? Check out this video from Eyebrow cinema and let’s talk after the break.
How did the gangster film die?
I want to reiterate how much I loved the in-depth analysis in this video. The story of the American gangster film and an analysis of how Sergio Leone is doing Once Upon a Time in America killed the genre is top notch. This video essay examines the main features of the gangster film, the evolution of the genre, and Leone’s use of genre archetypes to expose the innate brutality of the gangster myth.
As a very brief refresher, Warner Bros. perfected the rise and fall narrative and made sure these gangsters were punished in the end. As the movies moved on in the 1930s and 40s, people changed things. We’ve seen movies like Bonnie and Clyde turn them into folk heroes and we’ve even seen something like this Scar facewho, while whitewashed, was telling this story from the perspective of the immigrant.
As the essay pointed out, all of this changed afterwards Once Upon a Time in America. Modern gangster films deal just as much with the police as they do with criminals, or they have lost the backdrop of a romanticized world.
Leone was the master of reinvention. He assumed he was doing real westerns, but took a close look at the violence and brutality, then went with the mob Once Upon a Time in America. He turned the narration from the neighborhood boy with the story of noodles on.
Noodles are pathetic and mean. It’s pointless, but violent. We don’t see an arc, just a man leading a sociopathic lifestyle that is violent, alienating, and devoid of love or affection. We never want to be noodles because nothing about its existence is romanticized.
The end of the film shows a man who has lost the life he wanted and limits himself to aiming high in an opium den, possibly a reflection of the last time he was happy. Which is bleak.
But is the genre dead?
I think the answer is a resounding no. Check out how television reinvented these tropes. Tony Soprano is the guy who could get up. He lives in a house that looks like he thinks rich people should have. He even sees a therapist, which is both a sign of the elite for him and a sign of weakness.
How about Walter White? The average teacher who cooks meth and becomes a legend who ultimately loses it all?
Both have dealt with the traditional gangster genre and the WB bow. And we haven’t even gotten around to it yet The Irishman, in which Scorsese masterfully shows the tropics he helped shape, but has a deeper and more introspective reflection than Once Upon a Time in America. Its main character has emotions, feelings, and regrets. We can empathize with him and he has a family and love that he has lost.
Don’t listen when someone says a genre is dead. They may be hard to sell or hard to make, but if you can tell the story in a new way that engages people and excites an audience, then you are You obliged to tell them.
I am curious what you will come up with.
Let’s explain this in more detail in the comments.