Section C American Film Comparative Study

FM2 Section C: American Comparative Section.

Goodfellas (d. Martin Scorsese, 1990)

Once Upon A Time in America (d. Sergio Leone, 1984)

Goodfellas

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me being a gangster was better than being President of the United States.”

The mythology of the American Dream.

1. Cast and Crew

Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)
Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro)
Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci)
Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino)
Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Editor: Thelma Schoonmaker
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Screenplay: Martin Scorsese, Nicholas Pileggi (Author of the book upon which the film was based – Wiseguys)

2. Genre

Crime Genre – Sub Genre – Epic Gangster saga played out over three decades
Audience identification – the trappings of the gangster lifestyle:

“Scoring a dollar here, a dollar there”
Guns
Protection Rackets
Hits
Drugs
Opulent lifestyle

3. Narrative

Linear narrative with a non-linear opening. Starts in 1970 Queens with the brutal slaying of Billy Batts (Frank Vincent). Goes back to Brooklyn, 1955 and then proceeds through 1963 resumes with the Billy Batts incident in the middle then concludes with the Sunday May 11th, 1980 Last Day as a Wiseguy sequence.

Queens and Brooklyn – fairly run down. “It meant being a somebody in a neighbourhood full of nobodies.”

Narrated by Henry Hill and Karen Hill.

Has the effect of locating Henry as being with the gang but not fully a part of it. Henry for example commits no act of on screen-violence which is gangster related.

4. Themes

Organised Crime
Murder
The American Dream
New York as an Ethnic Melting pot – Tommy – 100% Sicilian. Jimmy ‘Irish Hoodlum’ Henry – Half Sicilian and Half Irish. References to Henry not being Jewish.
Gender Relationships  – women are very much secondary and are essentially used.
Corruption references The Young Henry in Court and the Police being bought off.
Heists – Air France Lufthansa
Betrayal – Henry – betrays Karen and the whole crew
Violence – Portrayed as random, brutal, rough justice, redemptive quality
Redemption.

5. Sound

Soundtrack feels part of the set – Scorsese uses the tracks on set and works with the cinematography to find the right fluidity of camera movement Layla (Derek and The Dominoes)

Scorsese only uses tracks you could have heard at the time

Rags to Riches – Tony Bennett

Last Day as A Wiseguy – mix of tracks that match the jump cuts

Guns were loaded with real cartridges

6. Editing and Cinematography

Fast paced editing
Fluid camera movement
Long Tracking shot using steadicam Copacabana Sequence Karen’s descent into the underworld
Freeze frames – emphasis on Henry’s narration
Jump Cuts

7. Key Sequences

a) The Beginning – puts the audience right in the film – tagline
b) Young Henry
c)  Air France
d)  Introduction to the Bamboo Lounge – direct to the camera. Henry in Court. Joe Pesci – homage to Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery
e) Bruce ‘s pistol Whipping
f)  Copacabana Sequence
g) Billy Batts
h) Now take me to Jail
i) Lufthansa Heist
j) Tommy Gets ‘made’ and then whacked.
k) Last Day as A Wiseguy

8. http://vimeo.com/2312095

Documentary – Getting Made  – The Making of Goodfellas

Once Upon A Time in America (d. Sergio Leone, 1984)

Noodles: I’m not interested in your friends from high places, and I don’t trust politicians!

Max: You know, if we’d listened to you, we’d still be rolling out drunks for a living! You’ll be carrying the stink of the streets with you for the rest of your life!

Noodles: I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it. It opens up my lungs.

“An epic, operatic gangster film, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece deserves mention in the same breath as the Godfather.”

Total Film

“To see this film is to be swept away by the assurance and vitality of a great director making his final statement in a medium he adored.”

Los Angeles Times

The mythology of the American Dream is also present.

Max: “I swear to God to you Noodles. You and me – we can make it”
1. Cast and Crew


David “Noodles” Aaronson – Robert De Niro/Scott Tiler
Maximilian “Max” Bercovicz / Christopher Bailey – James Woods/Rusty Jacobs
Deborah Gelly – Elizabeth McGovern / Jennifer Connolly
Patsy Goldberg – James Hayden
Philip Stein – William Forsythe
Carol – Tuesday Weld

2.  Genre – Crime Genre – Sub Genre – Epic Gangster saga played out over five decades 1910 – 1968
Audience identification – the trappings of the gangster lifestyle:

Murder
Betrayal
Protection Rackets
Prohibition
Syndicalism (merging of the unions with the criminal underworld)
Hits
Drugs

3. Narrative

Non-linear narrative
Comprised of flashbacks
Complex narrative structure
Seen through the eyes of Noodles (David Aaronson)
Enigma Narrative – mystery, puzzle to resolved
Absence of what is called narrative closure – ends in a mystery – could it all have been an opium induced dream?
Enigma over Max/Mr. Bailey – does he actually meet his fate in the garbage truck? Left deliberately ambiguous.

4. Themes

The film explores themes of childhood friendships, love, lust, greed, betrayal, loss, broken relationships, and the rise of gangsters in American society, prohibition, politics, corruption etc

Organised Crime
Murder
Gang Rivalry forshadowed in the rivalry with Bugsy
The American Dream
New York as an Ethnic Melting pot  – mainly to Jewish organised crime
Gender Relationships  – women are very much secondary and are essentially used and brutalised
Corruption references  – investigation into Governer Bailey’s business activities, Corrupt the police officer
Betrayal – Max and Deborah both betray Noodles. Max fakes his own death
Violence – Portrayed as random, brutal, rough justice
Revenge – Noodles kills Bugsy for killing Dominic

5. Sound

Soundtrack feels part of the set –Leone uses Ennio Morricone’s score on set and works with the cinematography to find the right fluidity of camera movement. Flute used as a leitmotif signifying impending violence. Flute stops just before the violent act to heighten the sound of the violence.

Hyper realistic sound during Bugsy, Max and Noodles alleyway fight sequence.

Deborah’s theme.

6. Editing and Cinematography

Sepia Filters for the 1910 sequences– nostalgic rendering of 1910 New York
Freeze frame at the end – Noodles smiling
Phone Ringing –connecting different temporal locations
Cross dissolves – usually with light sources
Slow motion
Jump Cuts
Match cuts – from the older Noodles to the younger Noodles. Inscription above the Prison and Mausoleum -“Your Youngest and Strongest Will Die by the Sword”
Noodles opens the case in exactly the same spot Dominic opens it.
High Wide Angles from a crane to give an epic sense of proportion and scale to New York

7. Key Sequences

The Telephone – signifies the betrayal (probably the central theme)
Both Rape Sequences
The Pact  – “the proceeds of the gang belong to all and none of us alone”
The Baby switching scene
The Peep hole sequence  – Barrier between Noodles and Deborah and interestingly the barrier between the younger Noodles and the older one.
The Prostitution on the roof top – corruption of the police office
The cream cake sequence
Bugsy’s Gang attack Noodles and Max
Governer Bailey and Noodles
Noodles, Deborah and David
Dominic’s death “Noodles…I slipped”
The diamond double cross  – killing a rival gang
End of Prohibition
The torture of the union delegate
Carol tells Noodles to betray Max
Max on women and ‘business’
Noodles comes out of Prison – Max greets him
The salt invention – their first taste of money
Noodles Sees the bodies of Philip, Max and Patsy –all burned out so they can’t be recognised. “You were too busy crying to realise it wasn’t me.”
The Gold watch connects the first meeting with the last
Freeze frame on Noodles at the end – smiling. The Final Con.

Section C: American Film – Comparative Study

 

You should compare a minimum of two American films in your answer.

1.  How important is place in contributing to key themes in the American films you have studied for this topic? [40]

2.  Discuss similarities and differences in the representation of masculinity in your chosen American films.

3.  How far do the American films you have studied for this topic depend on well established narrative and/or genre conventions? [40]

4.  How far do the American films you have studied for this topic express similar messages and values to one another?

5.  Compare the ways in which narrative is used to create dramatic conflict in the American films you have studied for this topic. [40]

6.  How far do your chosen American films portray themes and ideas in similar ways? [40]

7.  With particular reference to the endings of your chosen American films, compare their messages and values. [40]

8.  How useful have your wider contextual studies been in understanding similarities and differences in the American films you have studied for this topic?

An alternative to studying Gangster films is to explore the rich genre of film noir

Introduction to film noir

Film Noir Study Resource

Suggested noir films.

The BIg Combo (1955)


Seven (1995)

Sin City (2005)

Gun Crazy (1949)

The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941)

Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943)

Chinatown (Polanski, 1973)

Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)

The Big Sleep (Hawks, 1945)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (Garnett, 1946)

Out of the Past (Tourneur, 1947)

Night and the City (Dassin, 1950)

The Big Heat (Lang, 1953)

Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955)

The Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 1955)

Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)

Blade Runner (Scott, 1982)

Jagged Edge (Marquand, 1985)

The Usual Suspects (Singer, 1995)

LA Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

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