Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Godfather--Part N+1

The real Outfit is on trial now, down at the Federal building on Dearborn. Four men, including Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, are charged with 18 murders; the fifth defendant, former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, is included in the indictment because he (allegedly) protected the four from police scrutiny. In their opening remarks, the prosecution told the jury to put The Godfather and The Sopranos out of their minds--these men weren't entertainers, they weren't glamorous, they were murderers.

Most of the victims were involved in the Outfit--a hitman and hitwoman were murdered, another high-ranking Outfit member killed when he was going to turn state's evidence, and so on. It's hard not to think of it as made-for-TV melodrama.

These are frightening people to cross--so much so that a journalist I know refused to go to Eagle River, Wisconsin, where part of the extended Chicago Family vacations, to investigate an alleged murder of a bartender there who allegedly mocked a senior Family member. Glenn had interviewed and written extensively about many scary people; this was the only assignment he ever turned down, but he has a son in frail health and couldn't afford to risk turning him into an orphan without medical insurance.

So why do we glamorize the Mob so much? Why do we love all those movies like Pulp Fiction and the Godfather that celebrate slaughter? Any hunches?

by Sara Paretsky


Barbara D'Amato said...

Well, we all write about killers, too, don't we? Maybe humans need to look at the dark side to remind us of what we're choosing not to be.

Steve Malley said...

The Noble Outlaw has a rich history in our culture.

The idea of anti-heroes who live outside the law (but within the iron rule of their code) can be powerful. Especially when there's a sense of tragedy and doom inherent in the tale.

The conceit is the 'noble' part of the noble outlaw. Gangsters are portrayed as 'men of honour' who preserve their virtue in a murky world of falsity and betrayal.

In real life, of course, mobsters are greedy predators. They have all the moral insticts of a school of piranha.

I think the Noble Outlaw's swing in popularity says something about the culture and the times.

In the 50's, Dragnet and the G-Men were popular. In Reagan's America, pro-government cowboys like Rambo. It was the dysphoric 70's that brought us the Godfather, and Millenial angst that shot Tony Soprano to the top.

Imagine a movie in the 40's trying to make a hero out of a war profiteer!

The Home Office said...

I think part of it is a desire to identify with someone who is willing to according to his own standards, even though those standards are warped. In The Sopranos, think back to the episode where Tony and Silvio learn the girls’ soccer coach is molesting one of the players, who tries to commit suicide. How many fathers’ minds would remain free of the impulse to take dramatic, possibly violent action?

We control our impulses, which makes us better than the gangsters who don’t. (Though Tony and Silvio did fairly well in that case.) The problem is that the satisfaction that comes from restraint is intellectual, and lacks the visceral release of the violent solution.

Extend the principle to Michael Corleone’s decision to kill Virgil Sollozzo. It’s a short step to deciding when and how Tony needs to take out Richie Aprile (even though Janice beats him to it), or how much of Ralphie Cifaretto he’s going to put up with. If Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone can help to relive some of the daily frustrations, good on them. Doing it with some art and style? Even better. Everyone comes out ahead.

One last point: there is always a worry about glamorizing gangsters. Could anyone watch the last two episodes of the Sopranos (any episodes, for that matter) and consider that a glamorous gig?

spyscribbler said...

In the Godfather, I think the appeal is the principled (maybe not always the best principles, but they're still principles, LOL) way the heroes act, and the universal theme of loyalty.

I don't know, but my stepbrother always watches the Godfather when rolling meatballs. :-)