September 20, 2013

Is the gangster saga a myth?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:30 pm

Good clean Sixties style fun in Berkeley in the digital age.

“The Family,” the newest edition to the gangster film genre, plays fast and loose with reality and that may explain the many tepid reviews, but in the future members of Joseph Campbell’s academic posse may point to this new flick as a noteworthy step in the mob saga’s journey from “based on a true story” to the realm of myth.

Joseph Campbell contended that the heroes in a culture’s folk stories took on supernatural qualities that manifested the group’s virtues and some skeptics may complain that gangsters and deities seem like an incompatible mix.  At first look having a kill-happy family as the heroes might seem inappropriate but cynical critics in other countries may see a connection as far as gangsters playing a role usually reserved for a diety as being a metaphor for American Exceptionalism.

Since a genre’s transformation from “based on a true story” to mythology is accomplished in slow stages, then a look at this gangster saga may, in the future, show the first stages of the change.

In the film the family of Giovanni Manzoni (Robert De Niro) is in the witness protection program and becomes the Fred Blake family living in the Normandy section of France.  The realistic details of the witness protection program are irrelevant to the myth of a mob boss who is trying to live anonymously in a foreign country.  The Blake family lives, as Campbell’s disciples would see it, on The Road of Trails and their handler, played by Tommy Lee Jones, would be described by the advocates of the myth interpretation of “the Family” by the words of Campbell:  “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.”

“The Family” makes a point of stressing the fact that saying a naughty word is much more vile than using a gun as a sacrament to deliver eternal punishment to a transgressor.  The same point was mentioned in “Apocalypse Now.”

The fact that Manzoni is given carte blanch for committing new crimes in return for his “ratting out” his associates is the first clue that reality has been abandoned.  Yes, a Boston mobster was given a similar pass in real life, but as myths tend to do the reality dial for “The Family” is twisted way into the unbelievable exaggeration red zone.

If guns and gangsters are in the process of being mythologized, some gun control nuts might soon start making dire predictions that the gun cult will raise the spectacle of mass shootings to the level of a sacred rite, which will mean that the topic of gun control will be subject to cancellation on grounds of religious freedom.

Are the debates between gun owners and gun control nuts more or less heated than the conflict in the Muslim religion between Sunni and Shiites?  Don’t all of them share the same level of commitment to their beliefs?

We had a chance to ask a fellow Berkeley columnist about the premise of this column and she voiced great skepticism about the idea that gun control advocates had become so inured to rounding up the usual suspect talking points for the mass shootings debate.  She refused to accept the idea that the advocates of gun control might only react to an extreme idea such as the possibility that shooting massacres will eventually become a religious ceremony, in the USA.  We tend to think that liberal talk radio schedules the third week of every month for the latest installment in the series of body counts outrage and gun control suggestions.

Perhaps some academic will take the premise of this column to the level of a doctoral dissertation and firmly proclaim that the gangster genre is entering the realm of myth in American culture.  The World’s Laziest Journalist would find such a tribute flattering and would hold the Legal Department in check as far as any law suite alleging plagiarism is concerned.  We don’t have the time or energy to expand this column into a book length treatise.

When film fans read a review they don’t want to get mired in a deep philosophical topic that uses terms such as “aesthetic arrest.”  They want to know if the flick is worth the price of admission or not.

Conflicted?  Giovanni Manzoni is the type of person that Travis Bickel tried to exterminate.

John Wayne won his Oscar™ by portraying a marshal who was a parody of the roles Wayne had played earlier in his acting career.  Nostalgia motivated Wayne’s award and so it is interesting to note that numerous reviews of this new film point out similar roles that Pfeiffer owned when she was younger.  Are the critics dropping subtle hints that a similar better late than never award for three time Oscar™ nominee Pfeiffer might be a good idea?

Apparently the World’s Laziest Journalist is the only columnist to note a similarity between Fred Blake’s speaking appearance in France and the one that Holly Martins makes in Vienna (in “The Third Man”).

Gangsters had refined the philosophy of a pre-emptive strike years before the births of the American politicians who would preach the redemptive benefits of the “bomb the bastards while they are still planning their first attack” philosophy that revolutionized America’s war policies.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; but do it first!”

It is more appealing for Americans to believe that Jimmy Hoffa is buried in the end zone of a sports stadium than to fact check the idea that he was taken to a union butcher shop and that an industrial strength garbage disposal unit destroyed all vestiges of a corpus delecti.  The 1964 film, “Goldfinger,” contained a delightful sequence illustrating a popular way of rendering a dead body unavailable for the medical examiner.  A copse inside a crushed automobile will be destroyed if the metal is melted to gain access to the evidence.  Gangsters knew this in the Sixties but Joe on Barstool mountain never stopped to think about that and preferred to believe the urban legend about where Hoffa is (allegedly) buried.  (The new San Francisco 49ers stadium will have an opening reception any day now.)

For a columnist desperately seeking column topics, this film was well worth the price of a bargain matinee.

[Note from the photo editor.  Ideally a publicity still of a scene from the new movie would be the ideal photo to accompany this column, but, since our legal staff always encourages us to err on the side of caution, we used a photo of a Sixties activity which attracted a great deal of interest from folks with digital cameras.  A photo of a Sixties era activity was deemed a way to use the image of something that is the antithesis of the gangster’s family values.  It was selected as a pragmatic and safer course to follow.]

Some poet advocated the theory that the saddest words are:  “It might have been.”  Somc comedian suggested that was wrong and that the saddest words you will ever hear are:  “Mr. Gotti says:  ‘Get in the ******’ (gosh darn) car!’”

Now the disk jockey will play “Gangster of Love,” “Stagger Lee,” and the soundtrack album from “The Godfather.”  We have to go find a news report on the Bouchercon being held this weekend in Albany, N. Y.    Have a “deus otiosus” type week.

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