The Mafia is a very complicated historical, cultural, economic, political, and sociological phenomenon. It has its own geography, which is national and international, or, like they say these days, global; as well as its own language and linguistic codes. And it’s been like this ever since day one of its existence, which was when, anyway? Nobody knows as, guess what? nobody knows where the word Mafia really comes from. Actually, nobody knows what the word originally means to begin with. One thing that we know, however, is that the Mafia has always attracted the interest of filmmakers and their box-office-inclined producers. In case you’ve never noticed, crime pays (and pays well).
The Mafia movies that we will watch, analyze, and discuss, deal, either directly or indirectly, with love, death, a complicated notion of the family, sacrifice, violence, sex, religion, symbols, and much, much more than this. Indeed, one of the questions that we will pose during the next three weeks is this: Why a “criminal universe” of this nature has proven itself such a fertile territory for filmmakers? Put it differently, we will also explore the relationship between history and fiction, experience and the reproducibility of the
work of art.
We will look at the Mafia through the prism of Italian and American films, the two historically Mafia’s homelands, and try to discern the differences between two types of cinema that deal with the same genre and, to a very large extent, with the same issues, albeit in different fashion. We will focus especially on the difference between cultural constructs and realities. We will pair our movies with some critical readings in order to read these movies in a comparative fashion and in their historical context. We will try to understand the rise of the “boss” and the cultural formation of the gangster trope from Rico (should I write Edward Robinson) to Michael Corleone (yes, that kid from the West Side of the City, what’s his name?). When we will watch Alberto Lattuada’s Mafioso and Ferdinando di Leo’s Milano Calibro 9 we will attempt to discern how the metaphor North vs. South, a geographical acronym for the Good Boy Crusader vs. the Bad Boys “dagos/terroni/darkies” (women need not to apply, thank you) influences and reflects larger discourses of ethnic and racial hierarchies, geopolitical imperialism, economic subjugation, and that good old myth of our culture—salvation (here’s a hint to explain why women need not to apply). Therefore, we will pay particular attention to the way filmmakers – all of them men – represented women, especially mothers (or women as mothers, if you like) and used them as a constituent part of the discursive and visual constructs about the mob.
Last, but not least, we will ask these apparently easy and yet absurdly complicated questions: How is it that an overwhelming majority of us would rather watch an episode from The Sopranos rather than a National Geographic documentary about global warming? And how did Robert DeNiro manage to switch from murderer and (post)modern Don to a hilarious Italian-American mobster in need of a shrink by the name of Billy Crystal married to one of the girls from Friends– and do it well? What’s happened to you, paesano!!