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Musketeers Of Pig Alley As A Historical Source On Gangsters

1049 words - 5 pages

Films have proven to have significant impact on the ways in which we perceive or make sense of the society in which we live in. In an increasingly post-literate society, where aliteracy is becoming commonplace, there is no doubt that film is considered to be a major medium in the ways in which people inform and educate themselves. The use of film as a tool to understand history is becoming a popular approach and is a much-debated topic among historians who question the legitimacy of using films as a historical source. This essay will argue that film can be used effectively as a historical source in relation to studying ideas about gangsters. This will be demonstrated through examining the representations of gangsters in films and will also attempt to address to what extent these portrayals of gangsters can be considered accurate or realistic. Finally, this paper will conclude with a discussion on the inherent challenges and opportunities, which prevail when using film as a historical tool.

Gangsters are integral parts of history and have emerged as iconic figures of the industrial twentieth century and represent a culture of mobility, urban space, access and individual life. The gangster is also regarded as an anti-social figure as he is the focus for liberation from hierarchy and the past that society and ideology wish to repress. Therefore we can see that the film gangster represents a seminal figure in the history of twentieth-century culture and forms the focus for a range of tensions that have dominated the discourses of industrialized society. Gangsters are prominent characters in popular culture such as the genre of film with movies that often feature the glorification of their criminal actions and lawlessness often in the pursuit of power and wealth.

One such prime example of a gangster film that portrays this is D.W.Griffith’s Musketeers of Pig Alley. This movie is alleged to be the first gangster film of any importance and establishes many of the characteristics of the gangster film genre as it would evolve begin to come together. In its brief, barely seventeen-minute running time, The Musketeers of Pig Alley established most of the basic elements of the gangster film. At the time of The Musketeers of Pig Alley, many of New York’s warring gangs were starting to encroach on each other’s turf and most neigbourhoods brooded gangland activity seemed unsafe. These gangster activities were reported in many newspapers and it was a growing concern at the time. Griffith used these headlines to build his story and this shows that there was. Griffith hired actual gangsters to play background parts and serve as “technical advisers”. This is important as it enhances the film’s realism and as an audience we are able to see what true gangsters of the time looked like as opposed to mere actors fulfilling their role. Gangsters in the Musketeers of Pig Alley are portrayed to be people that are ordinary men who have the same struggles as humans...

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