Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Gangs of New York and Dick Tracy

Over the weekend, and from time to time, my attention has switched to the movie bad guys. I saw Martin Scorsese's film "The Gangs of New York" in Theatre and disliked the film because of the continuous violence. Nevertheless I added the DVD to my internet mail subscription because having taken an instant dislike I wanted to give the film a second chance.

Yesterday, Monday, I wrote " The film's defenders argue that it is an accurate portrait of life in part of New York in the mid 19th century coinciding with the Great Exhibition of Victoria's Empire and after years of famine and change in agriculture which had driven vast numbers of rural families throughout the British Isles to seek a new start elsewhere. It is said that the film is accurately set, portraying how immigrants lived, dividing into tribal communities with the main conflict between those who could claim a couple of generations of citizenship, and those who were still arriving, and as the film shows, often immediately drafted into the army to fight against the South. Critics point out that the racism of the era was underplayed.

The film does spell out the relationships which developed between the gang masters and that notorious American political institution Tammany Hall in the era of boss Tweed who is alleged to have controlled business and therefore jobs, as well as law enforcement and where personal advancement and personal enrichment was the first consideration. The film ends with another gang war after the anti Draft riots and shots of the Twin Towers, although the film appeared after 9/11/2001."

This a morning as I lay in bed wrestling between being awake, getting up and getting on with doing things I did not want to do, and staying in the warmth and comfort but thinking of myself, disappointed, that after the summery day outside, yesterday which I did not embrace, the level of light suggested autumnal gloom, I spoke words to myself, I am usually reluctant to print, because of their truth and explicitness. I don't like one dimensional films, books, news reports about individuals who appear to have no redeeming qualities, or where there appears to be no mitigating parental/childhood/environmental/circumstantial explanations for their behaviour because I am afraid others will judge me in like fashion because I feel myself to be more of a bad than a good person, and always have, whereas most people actually enjoy such films because they are reminded that they are more of a good person than the usually unrelenting badness and violence portrayed.

On Sunday evening " my mother was dozing in front of a television which had just commenced to show the 1990 Dick Tracy film which I had not previously seen so I stayed for the remainder. This time the bad guys, who also had no redeeming features, had to face an incorruptible champion of the law abiding and of justice. I liked the style of the film which won an Oscar for Art Direction, plus best make up and original song and was also nominated for four others with a host of stars, Warren Beatty as the hero , Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Colin Meaney, James Caan and Dick Van Dyke, and of course last but foremost, Madonna who was almost successful on stealing the show being Madonna. The story line follows the well trodden line of criminals in the years between World Wars to end all War, bribing and blackmailing and when this does not work, framing, with the help of city (Chicago) politicians and officials including those responsible for law and justice, with on this occasion a nice girl who helps care for a street wise orphan who becomes attached to Tracy with the inevitable happy family ending after all the baddies are deaded. What made the film for me, and for many, is that it is shot in vibrant red, yellow, green, orange and purple plus black and white which with a number of photographic effects creating its distinctive and attractive atmosphere, so that although the crimes are heinous, the older child among us today, will thoroughly enjoy a film shown at tea time peak viewing as the Sunday family film of the week," and grow up to become a good cop or be prepared to die for his President, his flag, his country, and for you and me. Thus I had seen two films covering similar issues, or I had projected similar issues onto two films within the time space of 24 hours.

Only another 24 hours before I had also experienced and then written about " Monsignor which although is mainly about the life and career of one priest, is also about the relationship between the church and the Mafia in exploiting the post World War Black market and then trying to legitimise into conventional business and financial dealing through a common Swiss Bank." Here we have a fundamentally good man born on the wrong side of the tracks, corrupting a likeable young nun, using a childhood friend to enable him to have direct contact with a Sicilian Mafia boss, with the justification that he is doing so for the good of the church, and of course nothing to do with advancing himself among the careerist priests of the Vatican, and ending up the successful buddy of the latest Pope, leaving us with the moral that it is Ok to enjoy the wages of sin if you are a man of God.

I have the same love hate relationship with the main characters of the three film series the Godfather, or perhaps it was another film of the same ilk, where at least when one of the major baddies decides it is time to make a confession, as in the case of the Mafia boss in Monsignor, but where the priest concerned is forced to admit to the confessed, "indeed my son your crimes should burden you with unrelenting guilt and fear of the damnation which in fact you deserve, whereas in Monsignor, the priest elicits a promise which both know is not going to be kept, and shortly afterwards the Mafia boss is shown personally killing the man he had promised to only banish, and with the most modern of the genre, The Sopranos. What seems, and probably is, a decade ago I regularly attended a leisure fitness club and in the locker room, a man I hardly knew was telling another about this great best of all new series, and when his companion left, he turned to convert me. I had seen one or two, of this then new series, and apart from the catchy opening tune over the credits, had dismissed as yet another North American glorification of its past and ongoing violent tribalistic culture (I had to retype the word realistic four times because my North American) word programme immediately converted into realistic). I was then transfixed by the West Wing, and still am, having watched every episode of the series, and continue to do so whoever they appear which is frequently on different Sat channels, and which has become my television equivalent of Casablanca, and which for a time was followed by the Sopranos, so remembering the enthusiasm of the locker room man I stayed onto watch a further episode and became a convert, fascinated by the growing attraction and mutual self revulsion as a consequence of the relationship between the Mafia boss and his psychoanalyst. The relationship deepens into a mutual dependency to the extent that Soprano uno sets out to find and kill the minor hoodlum who happens to set upon and rape the psychoanalyst and she has to admit to her professional overseer that her feelings of anger and need for revenge hopes that he will.

So while it easy to make quips about the American dream having turned into the American nightmare, the nightmare is in fact essential for majority to achieve a balanced day to day reality, although for a minority it is also the catalyst to turn the nightmare into their, and our, daytime reality. It is an irresolvable dilemma.

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