Crime Films Essay, Research Paper
When looking at the crime film it is important to understand the nature of
the films genre. The genre is a way for the audience to distinguish types of
films. These are categorised together because of standard protocols developed
for a particular types or styles of film. These films usually follow similar
guidelines in order to produce a predictable style for the audience. The
development of genre films is not entirely the prerogative of Hollywood. It is
more the desire of the public viewing audience to have an idea of the type of
film they are about to see. The western, musical or the gangster film are
examples of genre films. These categories of films all have similarities in the
ways in which they are made: musicals end happily; the westerns will all have
the final shoot out; and the gangsters will all be overcome by justice or meet
their own demise. The reason for the consistency in the films is the publics
desire to make an informed choice not and not to go in blind.
By using the genre qualification, the industry is able to target
societal groups and try to produce and market what they want to see. The public
attends a film because they think they might enjoy some aspect of it. The film
genre follows a set of abstract rules that allows the public to informally
categorize films. These rules must be viewed from an flexible point of view in
order to legitimize their future existence. By using this method of
categorizing films the public is able to decide which films they wish to see and
those they do not. Some people love musicals and if they were to go to one and
find there was no music or dance they might not be too pleased. The concept of
genre is one that may provide benefit to the viewers but at the same time may
also present problems for the directors who must compromise their artistic
aspirations. Examples of this can be seen in the production of sequels, and
the use of repetitive set qualities. These may include the mise en scene of the
picture or the inclusion of similar sound. Because of these unwritten rules the
directors must include some of the familiar aspects of the genre. The greatest
problem may be that the film must fall into a genre category. Defining it
within the genre may be compromising to the nature of the film.
Scarface (1932 U.S.A. – Howard Hawks ) is a film where ones view of the
lead role is ever changing with the apparent mental stability of the character.
Tony, the principal character, exhibits personality characteristics found in
every persons life which normally must be kept hidden. People appreciate the
fact that Tony has the guts to do what he wants and at the same time gets the
respect that he feel he deserves. Every mans dream, and on top of that he gets
paid. There is always a fascination when money and power is involved.
The character is portrayed through the majority of the film to be worry
free, on top of the world, healthy, respected, and loved. The major problems
presented to Tony through the earlier portions of the film are those just like
any common man: arguments with his mother and sister; family disputes; and
overzealous protection of his sister. In presenting the life and times of
Camonte, the viewer sees problems that might also be present in his/her own life
and can therefor relate well to them. Being able to emulate the life of the
film character enables the viewer to feel sympathy or compassion. If the viewer
can relate, he can then justify or understand the actions of the condemned.
The audience is lead into the hands of Tony and the sympathy lies with his
expression of emotion. A man whose ruthless desire to be on top enabled him to
kill one of his better friends and sisters lover remains capable of showing
remorse or fear of being alone. This is how we are able to suddenly feel for
him. He’s tough: a mans man. You have to like him. The character of Tony
Camonte might be that of a mean and ruthless killer but at least he’s a
capitalist, an important quality at the time. Tony throws money around, gets
the girl and a whole lot of respect. These are the opportunities that many men
would love to have.
Down to the wire we feel for the man who had it all. We recognise that
any man who is that tough has to have some feelings that when exposed engender
our admiration. By introducing the audience to the emotional side of Tony
Camonte, a closer relationship between the viewer and the character is
established. This, of course, is appealing to the viewer and we return the
favour by cheering for Tony Camonte.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967 U.S.A. – Arthur Penn ) is a film where audience
sympathy tends to run wild. There are many variables that make it impossible
from any generations point of view not to sympathise with them. The two
characters appeal to everything that contemporary youth embrace. Unfortunately,
the way in which the qualities of characters are presented exploits the use of
violence as is common in most of today’s cinematic productions. The relevant or
appealing aspects are fundamentally the same. Bonnie and Clyde live
lives that incorporate all of the adventure and wild free spirit that many wish
to emulate. Viewers are able to empathise because of the exploitation of their
humanity rather than in a criminal context. Among the compelling problems are
those involving Clyde’s brother and the ever disturbing spectre of Clyde’s
virginity. In addition, in order to gain more of the viewers favour, the
characters were given simple underprivileged backgrounds. This eased the
audiences guilt in readily accepting the criminal aspects of the main characters
lives. That which should be seen as horrifying is made acceptable through the
use of humour. By making parts of the life and times of Bonnie and Clyde funny,
the audience is able to accept that the criminals may not be as depraved as
they thought. After all, all share the same appreciation. The film depicts the
life of crime with a flare for the romantic. Day and night share unencumbered
skies. The visit with family and friends is depicted as light fun full of
laughter. What could possibly be wrong with an idyllic life full of fame,
fortune and family at a time when people were losing their houses and sleeping
in the car?
Bonnie and Clyde fall in love at first sight, together to the end,
fighting for each others honour and gazing into each others eyes just before the
onslaught of lead from the symbolic bad guys. Of course we all know that their
lifestyle is abhorrent but it is difficult not to seek out and accentuate the
positive of their psyche. They don’t have to be sympathetic to the little man,
but they are. The characters are developed to enable them to justify what they
are doing by their simple wish to be able to afford to exist. `Some people are
carpenters and others are robbers’ is the unexpressed emotion. By this we
perceive a lack of intent to harm and an inability to differentiate. Clyde
ratifies this inability by his response to the question: ” If you could do it
all again, how would you change things?”. His reply “Live in one state and
commit crimes in the other.”.
With relation to the gangster film the genre exhibits constant evolution.
The basis of the gangster film lies in the progression thought the ranks of the
hood to eventually try to gain power and usurp the organisation. The film
usually ends in a great shoot out where the law has finally caught up with the
villain, ending in the death or ultimate demise of the gangster. The
development of the genre is of utmost importance to the production of films.
Audiences do not want to see the same movie over and over. They only want to
see the same type of movie. To accommodate this Hollywood tends to exploit the
history and events of the era.
The development and evolution of the genre can follow many different
routes. Events in history have been of great influence in changing the
classical genre film styles. The evolution of the women’s movement, the roles
of the family and the portrayal of war after WWII are some major examples. As
we saw in White Heat the use of the A-bomb was integrated into the final shot of
Cody Jarret. The great depression in the mid-west was the setting for the
rural gangsters of Bonnie and Clyde: a film that changed the way the classical
gangster was viewed. Earlier gangsters were all powerful and strived to be
omnipotent. They had the money and the power to corrupt. With Bonnie and Clyde
we see two gangsters who are really only trying to survive. The Gangster is
portrayed with a good side by the protection and favours afforded the little man.
The earlier gangster was one who terrorised all whom he encountered and
terrorised all classes. By their actions Bonnie ans Clyde are given a status
befitting Robin Hood; taking from the banks but not the poor.
Although the actions of the Gangster cannot be condoned, there is an
uncontrollable urge to sympathise with him. In many ways one has to feel sorry
for the man who knows nothing more than a life of crime, always running from the
law and ultimately dying full of fear. One of the main reasons that we
sympathise with the gangster, for a short time, may be the inherent knowledge of
what is likely to happen. We are not sure of how the events will unfold but we
have an idea that they will develop against a definable set of guidelines. This
knowledge gives the viewer the upper hand and therefor might be responsible for
the sympathies afforded the villain. From an even broader point of view one
could argue that if the viewer has an idea of the events that will unfold before
entering the film, then undoubtedly if those events are not the ones s/he is
looking for in an abstract way, dissatisfaction may prevail. In the same
instance, the viewer may be ready for an adventure of expectations and has
prepared him/herself to be ready to sympathise with the villain or gangster.
The motivations could be one of many and may not even occur during the film but
may have been learned as a genre throughout years of viewing.
Acceptance of criticism of abhorrent criminal behaviour is impossible to
defend but the ability to imagine is a characteristic of which every human is
capable. The problem lies in how far the imaginary is allowed to rule the
realistic. Most of us wish that we could have the experience, the feelings of
adventure and unrestricted freedom portrayed in Bonnie and Clyde but that gives
us no reason to rob banks.
The sympathies that are felt for the characters can for the most part be
generalised by saying that the “principle” of the film is most often the
character that receive the greatest attention. This is fundamental in the
understanding of a film and in the deliverance of a story. The apparent
identification with characters of certain types of films is totally dependent
upon the desires and expectations of the viewer. It is the ability of the
audience to identify with the central characters of a film that keeps them
watching. The use of the imagination or a simple wish to be exposed to other
possibilities are the fundamental reasons for entertainment. The criticisms
being aroused by those who are opposed to the way in which crime is occasional
depicted, believe that real life and the stories told by films are becoming
increasingly similar. The criticism can be justified in some respects but by
justifying these criticisms there is an implied ignorance for the individual
intelligence of the general population .
David Bordwell, Kristin Thomson, Film Art an introduction: McGraw-
-Hill,Inc.:University of Wisconsin,1993.
Graeme Turner, Film as Social Practice: Routledge, 1993.