Thomas Schatz on gangster film


According to Thomas Schatz, the catalyst for the evolution of the gangster film was to be found in, “the confluence of technical innovation and the peculiar social context in which it took place.” Schatz’s view is that Warner Brothers’ conversion to sound movies in the late 1920’s, coinciding with the desperate social and economic climate at the time, made way for the gangster genre. The conversion to sound created a new dimension to the gangster genre, where explicit violence could be expressed clearly through powerful gunshots and explosions in films like Bryan Foy’s “Lights of New York”, in 1928. Although it has not been shown the same critical appreciation of later gangster films, “Lights of New York” showed that sound could be effectively used in the genre, allowing vivid sound affects like screaming as well as gun-shots to help develop the intensive narratives. A reason why the film has not met such critical acclaim could be its social context in America during the late 20’s, as it was during the depression era (1930-32) when contemporary organized crime was on the rise and thus its topical impact meant audience figures dropped. But fifty years later without that negative social context the genre could enjoy critical approval. In the 70’s the mob took on a romantic ideal, stressing the importance of family life alongside a glamourised violence. When the genre came into its own with Mafia films, ‘The Godfather’ and, ‘The Godfather, Part 2’. Both were epic sagas of a violent, tightly knit crime family from Sicily who had settled in New York, and had become as powerful as the Government and Big Business. David Chase says it was the Godfather trilogy, and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” that inspired the development of the genre, with The Sopranos.


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