Gangster Films

Fran Mason

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Gangster Films

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The study of gangster films extends back to the 1970s when the development of film studies as an academic discipline generated new perspectives to provide a scholarly framework for the analysis of film. Alongside the study of film theory, national cinemas, and film histories, genre theory and the parallel creation of a taxonomy of genres and the study of specific genres were among these new approaches to film. During the 1970s the iconography, narrative structures, and ideological or cultural parameters of the gangster film were established as part of this critical methodology, very often alongside or in contrast to the western, because of shared concerns with individuality, masculinity, and social concerns. From the earliest articles and books on the gangster film, the genre has predominantly been considered in relation to its historical, ideological, and sociocultural contexts, and such perspectives have continued to inform the study of the genre in recent accounts of masculinity and the gangster and in new studies of the Mafia film. The gangster film has, in particular, been considered in terms of realism, often in contrast to the “mythic” style of the western, but most critics who adopt such a view are more concerned with its symbolic or imaginary representation or refraction of social and political relations than with examining verisimilitude in the mapping of criminal activities. The gangster film has, as a consequence, been considered to be a subversive form of filmmaking, not only in America, but also in European and Asian versions of the genre, even if notable critics such as Richard Maltby and Paul Kerr question such a viewpoint by arguing that institutional and production concerns often contain or deflate the political and ideological messages of specific films. The presumption of the genre’s subversive politics is often based on its critique of American society, and much criticism of the gangster film has focused on Hollywood films at the expense of other traditions. However, in recent years this balance has been redressed with the development of critical strands examining Asian and European cinema, not only because of the awareness of the global reach of criminal organizations and the development of representations of crime in cinematic traditions outside of the United States, but also because of recent critical works that have been produced on Asian, British, and French crime film traditions as well as on the developing crime forms in Latin American and post-Soviet Russian cinemas.

Article.  8925 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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