Thursday, December 9, 2010

Crime Pays

I received The Sicilian Girl to review and actually got to sit down and do so the other night.  I can't go too heavily into the film here, as I am revieiwng it for Film Threat, but I can at least comment on its genre: the crime film. 

(Actually, this is more like a bio pic set in the happy-go-lucky world of the Mafia, but chances are viewers are watching it because of the crime element.)

Crime films tend to be insanely popular.  Especially when it comes to films that focus on the Mafia.  Maybe it's the Mafia's values or audiences living vicariously through the characters on the screen.  Either way, the idea of organized crime captures the movie audiences' attention just as well as a loud explosion or a "really cool car chase."  Unlike those two things, however, the crime film doesn't just capture the attention of the easily distracted.  It captures minds across the vast demographic ocean. 

It's not just our fictions, either.  Americans, and I suspect it is true in other countries as well, love their crime in real life.  Mr. Simpson.  Dahmer.  Gotti.  Manson.  Cooper.  We follow news coverage.  In fact, for some that is the only news they follow.  It would appear that we are kind of sick to be fascinated by such things.  I am fascinated by it (in particular, serial killers).  I enjoy the fictional stories and the real coverage, and I think I may have pinpointed one of the reasons why these stories are so popular.

As a culture, we relate to one another on some level.  Very few of us feel so vastly isolated that we can't find some common ground (and those who do often become the type of person we watch a movie about).  So when we see a film about a "criminal," we, actively or inactively, try to relate.  We look at the choices they make and, if the filmmaker did his or her job correctly, we can understand them.  And then we look at ourselves and think about the choices we'd make in such a situation.  High road or low road?  Risk getting caught?  Going out with a bang, or turning snitch?  One last drug deal because the cops are closing in and it will give us enough to get to Mexico?  Stop choking the person at the last minute and try to start over with life?  We like to put ourselves in their shoes.  We like the idea of justice, but we also like the idea of sticking it to The Man.  It's our last bit of rugged individualism ... even if it's in a crowded theatre with like-minded people.

We are fascinated with criminals because they are fascinating.

One of my favorite crime movies is The Krays, a wonderfully shot and acted story of twin brother gangsters that is as brutal as it is touching.  It involves a world (British organized crime) that I have little connection with despite the fact that it is based on a true story.  It involves people who were rarely mentioned here in America.  It has values I don't normally subscribe to.  In other words, on a surface level I have nothing to relate to in this film.  I can't help, however, but loving the Krays' descent into humble psychosis, and though their world is as foreign to me as that of a goat herder, I can't turn away.  I can't help but understand them and actually have some empathy for them.  The crime film once again works because it appeals to the human in us all. 

Romantic comedies, and their sappy way of looking at the world, only connect with a certain segment of the crowd.  Science fiction films, by their very nature, alienate another segment, as do horror movies, even if they are about the human condition.  Westerns have the same shortfall.  In fact, most genre films alienate ... except the crime film.  Instead of getting a certain amount of strength from alienation (something that can actually reinforce a genre film as they have their own rules to live by that don't have to be gone over with every new film), they get their power by inclusion.

These are powerful films in ways we probably don't even understand.  Like all worthy art they make us examine things in our own lives, and in that way influence how we learn about the world around us. 

Darth Vader may be film's most famous villain, but it is far easier to relate to Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde.

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