The Craft of Writing: “You know you’re dealing with the Yakuza, right?” – The Histories and Shockwaves of the Gangster across World Cinema
R1A - 004 | CCN: 31620
Justin Vaccaro and Fareed Ben-Youssef
The cinematic gangster is "what we want to be and what we are afraid we might become." So argues critic Robert Warshow in his 1954 essay on “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” and so starts our investigation into these appealing monsters that capitalism has given us. Our course is invested in exploring the historical roots of these violent and doomed heroes whose rise and falls so entrance us. Stretching from the silent cinema of D.W. Griffith to the early sound films of Howard Hawkes, we’ll track the birth of a figure driven by destructive wants, the id of depression era America. Then, akin to the rapidity of a Tommy gun’s blast, our study will quickly expand our course’s lens across time and national cinemas, from the gangs of London and the French banlieue to the Chinese Triads and Japanese Yakuza to the new waves of mobsters of the 21st Century. Our cinematic immersion will be driven by a set of questions: what thematic and formal elements remain constant in portrayals of the gangster? In what ways do filmmakers employ the archetypical figure to craft nuanced socio-political critiques of institutional corruption in their respective cultures? What does the gangster, inexorably tied to the city, expose about the viewer’s own corrosive appetites and, to paraphrase Warshow, what are we afraid of becoming if we were to give in to them? For no matter what else the gangster film may entail it is always about the alluring but destructive energy of a capitalism that constantly overturns the world even as it promises it to us.
This course is designed to introduce students to college level analytical writing, reading, and viewing. We will learn how to write cogently and persuasively by critically engaging various texts – films, articles, essays, fiction – and by constructing strong interpretative arguments about them. Focusing upon the formal minutiae of the films, course participants will learn the art of close reading and argumentation that is crucial for successful academic writing.