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Great Train Robbery Essay

Henry Hill, the character of Martin Scorsese’s film Goodfellas (1990), used to say: “As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster” . The reason of the crime films and gagnster icons being of success with a public partly lies in this sublimated desire of an ordinary man to be as powerful, energetic, and famous as the criminals commemorated in mass-media. Rafter (2000, p. 3) explained the popularity of the genre by its fictional possibilities:

[…] crime films offer us contradictory sorts of satisfaction: the reality of what we fear to be true and the fantasy of overcoming that reality; the pleasure of entering the realm of the forbidden and illicit and the security of rejecting or escaping that realm in the end. The crime film is traditionally associated with the American tradition of the early twentieth century, when romantic tales about heroes conquering promising spaces of the New World prairies were superseded by the not a less romantic sagas about daring individuals conquering updated urban localities.

Shadoian (2003, p. 3) referred to the crime film as a prominent context for “both forming and reflecting the American imagination”. Audience has been enjoying crime movies since 1903, when Edwin S. Porter shot his Great Train Robbery. More than a hundred years of our experience with the crime film taught the public, critics, directors and producers many lessons. Shadoian (2003, p.

3) identified three reasons for the genre’s longevity: (1) “the issues it addresses have always been central to the American experience”; (2) “its formal properties have given them a clarity of outline and lucidity of exposition”; and (3) “it has been infinitely flexible in adapting itself to shifting social and cultural conditions”. But hardly is it absolutely right to emphasise the importance of the crime film for the American culture exclusively. The present dissertation analyses thirteen films made within the ‘crime movie’ context.

Only six of them were produced by the USA-born directors: (1) William A. Wellman (1896 [Brookline, Massachusetts, USA] – 1975 [Los Angeles, California, USA]) – The Public Enemy (1931); (2) Raoul Walsh (1887 [New York, New York, USA] – 1980 [Simi Valley, California, USA]) – The Roaring Twenties (1939); White Heat (1949); (3) Martin Scorsese (b. 1942 [Queens, New York, USA]) – Goodfellas (1990); Gangs of New York (2002); (4) Quentin Tarantino (b. 1963 [Knoxville, Tennessee, USA]) – Pulp Fiction (1994).

Though the film Brother (2000) is partially made in the United States settings, its creator is a famous Japanese director Takeshi Kitano (b. 1947 [Tokyo, Japan]). He is also responsible for another example of the crime movie, Hana-bi (aka Fireworks 1997). The other five films under analysis belong to the British directors: (1) John Boulting (1913 [Bray, Berkshire, England, UK] – 1985 [Sunningdale, Berkshire, England, UK]) – Brighton Rock (1947); (2) Mike Hodges (b. 1932 [Bristol, England, UK]) – Get Carter (1971); (3) John Mackenzie (b. 1932 [UK]) – The Long Good Friday (1980);

(4) Jonathan Glazer (b. 1965 [London, England, UK]) – Sexy Beast (2000); (5) Paul McGuigan (b. 1963 [Bellshill, Scotland, UK]) – Gangster No. 1 (2000). It would be more correct to identify the reasons for the crime film being a success outside the boundaries of national mentalities. Leitch (2002) based his definition of the crime film within the conceptual context of culture rather than the national background. He (Leitch 2002, p. 14) argued that, […] a crime culture [… ] depends on normalizing the unspeakable, a place where crime is both shockingly disruptive and completely normal.

Crime may have different metaphorical valences in different criminal subgenres – it can demonstrate the fragility of the social contract in thrillers about innocent men on the run, attack the economic principles of the establishment in gangster films, express philosophical despair in films noirs, test masculine professionalism in private-eye films – but it is always metaphorical. Every crime in every crime film represents a larger critique of the social or institutional order – either the film’s critique or some character’s.

Finally, crime films dramatize not only the distinctive roles of criminal, victim, and avenger but also their interdependence and their interpenetration. Evidently, critics and spectators are lured to the genre by its flexibility and visualization of the concepts otherwise unseen or too repulsive to deal with in ordinary life. It is hypothesised that national mentalities affect the themes of crime movies but generic methods of the crime film depend rather on directors’ individual backgraounds rather than on their nationality.

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