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Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and The Godfather

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In this essay, I plan to explore this statement for its validity, making particular reference to ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels'(1997), as I feel this was a breakthrough in modern gangster films, far removed from older epics, such as ‘The Godfather’. Of course, Liotta made quite the controversial statement at the time, as before this time, the crime world had been portrayed as scum. Primarily explored in Film Noir before now, it showed the world of crime in a very negative light.

With the increasing publicity of the mafia, however, especially during the production of ‘The Godfather’, in which the New York families assisted production in the film, the underbelly of society became a higher point of interest for the public, many noticing the rewards over the loss. The media seemed to point out the violent side of the mafia more than the entrepreneurial side of it, as this excited the audience. These big films, however, were accused of being a negative influence on people, perhaps leading to copycat killings and the desensitization of crime amongst society. Films like ‘Swordfish’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Lock Stock’.

Although many of the gangster films show the bad guys (Proppian villains) losing in the end, there are becoming more exceptions. In Swordfish, the villain fakes his own death and escapes with the $9billion scot-free. The British gangster films still show the perks, but in less glamorous ways. Whilst high class offices and apartments decorate American cinema, British gangster films use sets like warehouses, council estates and pubs. Films that represent British gangsters in this way include ‘Lock Stock’ and ‘Snatch’, both directed by Guy Ritchie, who appears to set the bar for British gangster films.

The British gangster film is also seen as very non-conformist. In ‘Lock Stock’, the opening credits include no music, no initial images of the stars etc. There is a voiceover of Bacon, the lead role, with typewriter-style font clicking onto the screen, except the text is white with a black background, which connotes a complete contrast from rules and traditions. The opening shots are medium shot, eye level shots of Bacon in a marketplace, selling jewellery to the public. Natural lighting and film stock with a slight grain are used to give this a feeling of realism.

Nothing in the scene looks overplayed or unrealistic. You just think ‘dodgy salesman’. Other shots used to heighten this realism are shaky over the shoulder shots, which give connotations of realism, in that the camera work looks like it is being shot by an amateur, using a handheld camera, much like in American Beauty. The focus is on Bacon, who as yet is unidentified. The audience are seen to look up to him and the way he has complete control over the crowd, using jokes and fast talking to arouse interest.

The music only starts up approx 10 seconds before Bacon’s friend says “Bacon, Cozzers! . This not only introduces you to the lead, but tells you that what theyre doing is illegal, as cozzers means police. The cockney accent that Bacon talks is an anchor as to where the film is set, along with the stereotypical London Bobby uniform that the police wear. Bacon is depicted in this opening scene as an educated man, who’s had bad luck in life. He speaks to the crowd confidently, is witty and cleary knows what he has to do. He is a stereotypical cockney dealer who the audience can’t help but like for his charm.

This takes the first step to promoting the gangster life as a good one, though this only scrapes the surface of the criminal underworld. The music is a vital factor in this part of the film too. It is a track called ‘Hundred Mile High City’ by ‘Ocean Colour Scene’. This is a good choice of music, as it is a British band and song. Also, the lyrics link into the action on screen (e. g. ” So I said, I’m on the run, so I need a car” when they are running from the police. ). The lines in the song not only echo what is going on, but connote excitement and signify that the movie will be filled with action.

The music then fades out, however, and slow motion is incorporated as the characters are introduced. This symbolizes the active lifestyle that these men live so much so that they don’t even have time to stop and introduce themselves. It also looks like a flashback, as the voiceover is of a cockney man that appears to be observing the situation. This symbolizes how important these characters are and that they should be focused on. The next scene does a good job in introducing you to the main characters and telling you more about what they get up to.

A rolling camera shot follows the action of Tom and Nick the Greek in the shop. This shot doesn’t change for approx 30 seconds, but the camera follows the action, again connoting realism. The action is taken into the back room. The lighting here is low key, but not moody, showing a kind of subtle dinginess which also adds to this level of realism. As well as this, almost all of the characters in the film are referred to by their nicknames and not real names. This is a reference to the area the film is set in, as is the use of cockney rhyming slang.

A major thing in the film that advertises this way of life, of course, is the money. Right from the first scene, the focus is money, with large amounts changing hands. This is a big thing, which seems to make all the hassle worthwhile. You even wonder if any of the people would even know each other if it weren’t for the inclusion of money. The last scene I’m going to look at is the introduction of Hatchet Harry, as he is the centre point of the whole film, with all of the problems leading back to him. This is also the last scene we see of the characters being introduced before the story really commences.

In this scene, Harry and Barry the Baptist (seen acquiring his nickname by drowning people) are talking about business in Harry’s sex shop, showing another side of London’s underbelly. Harry is like the mafia don equivalent for London, with Barry as his lackey. The office shows the rewards of the life they live, which could also be seen as a glamorous side of the business to aspire to reaching. This concludes the introductions and gives the audience the impression that the underworld of London society has many different characters that all seem to earn their money in different dodgy ways.

They are depicted as living in an action packed world of wit and excitement that, though dangerous, has many perks, namely the acquisition of quick and easy money. With all this violence and reference to the criminal world, though, censorship is definitely an issue. Though not apparent, there is a lot that cannot be shown. In 1922, an organization called ‘Motion Picture Producers Association of America’ was founded (“British Board of Film Censors” in Britain), which censored motion picture content. For example, the image of an erect penis is still banned on non-encoded television channels.

This seems to have become more lenient over the years. For example, kissing with tongues and images of arson were once banned. At one time, fines of $25,000 were in place to any motion pictures that were released prior to receiving a seal of approval. Tony Balio said that “The Code was a moralistic document, yet defeated its own purpose by making it impossible for pictures to treat sex naturally and honestly. ” This also had a large influence of gangland and gangster films, though, as the criminals could never succeed, as this would show that ‘crime can pay’.

Basically, this is the whole principal that modern gangster films portray and, coincidentally, is representing the lifestyle of a gangster as a positive one, as they can achieve their goals through crime because crime ‘does’ pay. The most notable example of the gangster lifestyle being glamorized is in ‘Swordfish’ (2001). In this American blockbuster, a group of terrorists take a bank and everybody inside it hostage, whilst a hacker is forced to transfer $9billion into the account of Gabriel Shear (John Travolta).

This is clearly the glamorous American version of a gangster film, unlike the perk driven, massively violent ‘Lock Stock’. The hacker is banned from computers by federal law, though the promise of money and a second chance with his daughter prove too hard to ignore. Once again, the rewards of crime drive the lead to commit acts beyond belief. The glamour in this film is much greater than the British film and based more on intellect than violence, but still driven by the same goal. “How did Harry Houdini make an elephant disappear in front of a live theatre audience?

Misdirection. ” This was said by Travolta at the start of the film and comes back a a recurring motif throughout the film if you pay close enough attention. For example, the dental records of the villain’s body show that his dental records match those on file. However, close observation reveals that he is actually wearing false teeth the whole time, having changed his teeth with a dummy’s. This is because he planned faking his own death from the beginning. This shows a much more intellectual side of crime which wasn’t evident in the British film.

Glamour is definitely a key concept in this film right from the off. Travolta clearly lives a life of luxury and is accustomed to the high roller lifestyle, with fast cars, fast women and expensive suits. He also has the look of a criminal mastermind, but well respected member of society. His archetypal long hair and goatee are not consistent with a stereotype; however they do help to paint this sophisticated picture of him with this and a cigar. This contrasts against the other criminal (the hacker) who got caught and was living in a caravan in Texas.

This shows that crime can pay, so long as you do not get caught. The following quotes from the film show just how different these characters are: * “This is a nice place you’ve got here” – This shows Stanley (hacker) as in awe of the lifestyle that Travolta lives in. * “He lives in a world beyond your world. What we only fantasize, he does. He lives a life where nothing is beyond him” – This portrays Travolta as some sort of God, a man to be looked up to. He is clearly the dominant character of the two.

This is an intense representation of just exactly what crime has to offer and is accompanied by images of Gabriel arriving at a top nightclub, with beautiful women on each arm as he gets out of his TVR sports car. This scene not only shows his power but sums up the success he has enjoyed by following a life of crime. These types of things are also seen at his large house, with women in the swimming pool, the latest technology in the house and even a private bar. This is consistent throughout many Hollywood gangster films, showing the positive side of terrorism, lie in Goodfellas.

At the end of the film, the original roots of the main characters is returned to, much in the same way as Todorov’s narrative structure, returning to equilibrium. The lifestyles of the two men are still greatly juxtaposed, only with both of them better off than before. Stanley returns to a large caravan, with expensive car and his daughter. Gabriel goes to Monte Carlo to carry on his life of crime. The only problem with Swordfish is this constant glamour, though. Because of this, the narrative is not driven forward as much and takes a back seat to excessive glamour, unlike Lock Stock.

Lock Stock shows the realistic side of crime, with all its imperfections, but sacrifices the glamorous rewards displayed in Swordfish. I believe that a happy medium of the two would be the aforementioned ‘Goodfellas’. This film tracks the progress of a man ascending through the mafia crime families, starting as an errand boy for the families and moving on to become a fully fledged gangster. This combines the glamorous side, showing vast quantities of money and other benefits, but also incorporates the extreme violence seen in ‘Lock Stock’, in the form of Joe Pesci (My Cousin Vinnie, Home Alone).

The quote I used at the beginning alone signifies the influence of the mafia in that they could be argued as having more power than the President of the USA. Although the mob lose in this film in the end, they are portrayed in a positive light up until that point, shown as having supreme power and control. Looking back at ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, you can now see the huge difference between the characters represented. Guy Ritchie has Hatchet Harry, a porn king, as the villain of his film. Although the cinematography portrays him as a dominant character, he shares none of the apparent glamour of Swordfish or Goodfellas.

Instead, there is a grimy realism in place of the glamour which is also intimidating, much like the disfigured villains in James Bond films, accompanied by their henchmen, in this case Barry the Baptist. The violence is also much more apparent here, mostly involving ‘Big Chris’ (Vinnie Jones), especially when he slams a man’s head in a car door several times. Of course, cinema in America and Britain varies greatly, with the crime lords in America typically being more glamorous, as they are influenced greatly by the lifestyle seen to b had by the mafia and other such organisations in the country.

In Britain, however, crime is not seen as a glamorous thing. It is seen as a last resort and a simple way to get money when times are tight. Also in America, the mafia do not seem to mind that they are seen as losing in these films, due to the positive picture that it paints for them. It is ironic, therefore, that whilst most films show the villains as losing against the heroes, the main character to benefit in ‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels’ is Chris, who is the most violent character by a long shot, though he is also the holder of the highest morals, due to the presence of his young son.

In conclusion to this essay, I believe it is evident that all gangster films portray the life of crime as a positive thing with great rewards, though this is maybe more glamorous in American cinema than its British counterpart. This, as said before, is largely influenced by the mafia in America as an institution in its own right. The mafia is a recognized force in the major cities of America and, whilst there are a few groups in London, such as Yardies, Triads and East End hard men, they are less prevalent and influential than the mafia.

In general, the world of organized crime is much smaller in Britain. It is true that the terrorism-style gangster in Swordfish may be influenced by other cultures, including Northern Ireland, but in general the differences are vast. Although a code was enforced, as mentioned earlier, this has had to constantly change and be adapted to fit in with public demand and the changing times, or else there would be absolutely no films of this type around. However, I must admit, as much as these films may be glamorised, find it difficult to believe that they would have much effect on their target audiences.

Passive audiences may believe that these kind of things happen, due to hegemonic beliefs being pushed down on them (hypodermic needle effect, cultivation theory etc), though I don’t think that this is enough for action. The idea of the copycat theory coming in here, in my mind, is absurd. As glamorous an image is painted, people would not be convinced to go into a life of crime, due to morals, common sense and my own general feeling that there is no such thing as a truly passive audience and that everything gets a negotiated reading, rather than a completely preferred or oppositional reading.

The Jamie Bulger case, in my opinion, was simply the result of two very disturbed minds and that the two murderers would have commited the murder anyway, just maybe not in the way that was shown in the film ‘Child’s Play 3’. Although there have been other media influenced copycat killings, it is still my firm belief that if it had not been the piece of media in question that influenced the killings, something else would have done it.

In the end, I believe that gangster films, whilst offering an insight into a world we could never have imagined, are solely there for entertainment value, an in the case of the more realistic ones, such as ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, they even have a slightly voyeuristic look at the very possible underworld of London’s East end. It could even be argued that this is ‘Uses & Gratifications Theory’ (Blumler & Katz, 1974), in that it could be classed as the surveillance to British people in particular. This is possible for the American films, though far more implausible than the British film.

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