White Heat - Sample Essay

The crime film puts to the foreground the charisma of the criminal character and his peculiar behavioural patter and iconographically vivid mode of life. Apart from the character’s typology, the criminal film is also interesting in its treatment of the criminal psyche as the reverse side of the viewer’s normal psyche. Rafter (2000) differentiated the two types of a criminal: a cameo psycho and an explanatory psycho. The former is “a loony included merely for local color”, whereas the latter is “a crazy included to account for crime” (Rafter 2000, p. 55).

It seems that the films under analysis utilise the second type of the criminal within the traditions derived from German expressionism. The criminal characters may be classified into the individuals who are either in “the melancholy of the revenge tragedy hero at the corruption of innocence” (Murphy 1999, p. 132), or live out “an embodied dream of vital behavior” (Shadoian 2003, p. 50), or attempt to escape their past or human persecutors, or obey to “a particularly Japanese brand of virility, bravery, and fatalism, of noble values” (Kaplan and Dubro 2003, p. 3) like Kitano’s characters.

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However, it is implicitly stated that the criminal’s mind is a distorted place where the concepts of right and wrong, justice and law have mutilated. The criminal’s self-assertion on behalf of other people is especially evident in the types of the psychotic criminals (e. g. , Cody Jarrett from White Heat, Don Logan from Sexy Beast, etc. ). Rafter (2000, p. 55) defined their state as “psychopathy, a particularly photogenic condition in which the protagonist, though charming and seductive, so totally lacks conscience as to qualify as insane”.

Hardly is it sane to kill the best friend who tells you about your girlfriend’s infidelity, as Eddie Bartlett from The Roaring Twenties did. Hardly is it normal to live on killing people as the main character of Gangster No. 1 and Pulp Fiction. Nevertheless, despite the abnormality of the criminal’s psyche, one feels pity for Tom Powers from The Public Enemy, who appeared to be less tough that he wanted to, or a kind of careful admiration at Jack Carter’s (Get Carter) revenging crusade.

Leitch (2002, p. 13) described the ambivalence towards crimes and criminals in cinematography as the distinction of the genre: “crime films both believe and do not believe in the stock characters at their center; they seem determined to undermine and blur the boundaries of the typological figures that might otherwise stake their surest claim to the status of a single genre”.

And Rafter (2000, p. 150) concluded that the viewer often associates the criminal with what ever type of psyche he possesses with the figure of the outlaw, the “brutal, individualistic, ambitious, and doomed” creature, who steps out as “the ‘no’ to that great American ‘yes’ which is stamped so big over our official culture” (Warshow 1974 cited Rafter 2000, p. 150). This independency lures audience to the fictional gangster of the classic genre (Tom Powers, Cody Jarrett, and Eddie Bartlett). Both the viewer and the critic find excuses for their breaches of law and insanity like in the case of Cody Jarrett from White Heat:

On the contrary, he is the only human in the film. In White Heat to be human is to be crazy. The film is philosophically romantic. It argues world and man as a unity. The world has been made crazy by man; in turn, it makes man crazy. The classic opposition between man (the gangster) and society now shifts to man (the gangster) and himself. […] White Heat shows that the reality art must mirror is man’s mind. It turns the mirror around to locate reality within man. […] In White Heat the world of the film, the external reality, becomes subtly, a mental landscape in the interest of the film’s conception.

(Shadoian, 2003, p. 148) The relation between the concept of crime and the social context is exposed to an evolutionary process. In the 1930s United States, the Chicago School of criminology stressed “the criminogenic nature of big-city neighborhoods” (Rafter 2000, p. 49). The researcher cited Robert Warshow who used to underline in his essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero” that, “[T]he real city […] produces only criminals; the imaginary city produces the gangster: he is what we want to be and are afraid we might become” (Warshow 1974 cited Rafter 2000, p. 49).

Leitch (2002, pp. 19-20) concentrated on the peculiarities of viewers’ perception and generic features of the crime genre: […] crime films have from their very beginning attempted to link criminal behavior to specific social settings both in fulfillment of Hollywood’s general tendency toward sensationalizing abstract conflicts and as part of its generic project of casting a metaphoric light on the workings of the social order crime challenges. The present paper acknowledges Leitch’s perspective of the crime genre yet the concept of space also deserves attention.

It is remarkable that the characters of the thirteen films under analysis are portrayed in the urban context. The direct link between the environment and crime was emphasised in the early American movies. Shadoian (2003, p. 30) observed that, “[I]f the world [of the early crime films] is a real world, it is nonetheless not our world but the gangster’s”. In regard to the characters performed by James Cagney and other actors of the classic gangster film epoch, Shadoian (2003, p. 31) remarked: Their respective contexts serve as platforms they use to assert their personalities.

Their characters are larger than life, and their environments – typically fashioned for verisimilitude – heighten, amplify, and extend their presence. […] The early gangster films remain fresh and vivid because we feel them not as pale and awkward instances of what the genre keeps on doing better and better but as a genuine achievement, something unique that the genre did not attempt again. They are direct, unreflective, naively representational – and as such, their excellence has not been surpassed.



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