A Sociocritical Reading of a news item

American Films of the Thirties - The case of Howard Hawks’s - I-Scarface e

I- Toward a Semiological Reading of Film

Study of Sequences

SCARFACE (dialogue and shooting script)* Street scene at night Medium close-up of the globe of a lighted lamp-post, in a low-angle shot; beneath the globe, a sign indicating “22nd Street.” The camera moves back, and a horse-drawn deliv-ery van comes into view, stopped in a dark, deserted street; then the camera goes around the vehicle. Next we see that the delivery van is stopped in front of a nightclub with its windows still lit up; the driver is loading crates of bottles. The camera comes closer so that it just frames the façade of the nightclub. On the doorstep, a man wearing an apron is wav-ing, and we hear offscreen the sound of the wagon going away. Then the man removes from in front of the door a large poster announcing the pleasures of the evening and goes inside to put it away.

Nightclub–interior at night In a wide-angle shot, we see the man put away the poster in a corner of the room cluttered with green plants from which streamers are hanging, and which are also strewn all over the floor. The man takes a broom and starts to clear away a tangle of streamers and party hats, in which he finds a brassiere, while he mover toward the center of the room from which light and muffled sounds of a conversation are coming. The camera follows him a moment, then passes him and reveals the empty room where only three revelers are left seated around a table laden with bottles, it comes close to them and frames them in a knee shot, while their voices become audible. A fat bald man, seated between his two guests, is telling than a story in a heavy italian accent.

BIG LOUIS: I told him: what would we do with it? Let the others have their share… I have everything I want…

His neighbor on the right, a thin, serious-looking man, interrupts him.

THE NEIGHBOR: Johnny Lovo is talking about tackling a job.

BIG LOUIS: Yeah! He’s looking for trouble? Johnny’s a damn fool. Look at me: I have eve-rything a man could want. I’m rich, I have a house, I have a car, I have the prettiest girls… (he hiccups) … I also have a rotten stomach… (he laughs).

THE NEIGHBOR: Well, I’m going to bed. (He gets up and walks around the table.)

BIG LOUIS: OK. (He gets up too, imitated by the third man who has remained silent, and joins his companion. He seems very satisfied with himself.) Well, it was quite an evening, wasn’t it? (he laughs). Next week, I’ll give one like you’ve never seen yet. We’ll have lots more music, lots more girls, lots more of everything… (bombastically). Everybody’s gonna say: That Big Louis. he got the world at his feet! … (he laughs).

THE NEIGHBOR: Buona sera!

He leaves, followed by the other man. Big Louis, left alone, watches them go.

BIG LOUIS: Buona sera, fellas, take good care of yourselves!

He remains motionless for a minute, then, followed he the camera, he crosses the room to go to the telephone at the rear of the room, near a glass door. Behind the glass, we make out the silhouette of a man wearing a hat. The camera comes closer to Big Louis, who has picked up the telephone.

BIG LOUIS: Hello, give me Lakeside 4173.

While he continues to ask for this number, the camera leaves him and sweeps the room, framing in the foreground the green plants near the entrance. The shadows wearing the hat passes in front of them while whistling softly, the camera follows his progress, then lets him disappear in the darkness, and frames a glass door through which the light from the room is passing. The shadow is then seen in profile behind the lit-up glass, a revolver sticks out from the end of his arm, and the soft whistling stops.* THE SHADOW: Buon giorno, Louis!

Two shots are fired, then the man takes out a handkerchief from his pocket, wraps the weapon up in it, and throws it on the floor. He runs away whistling. The camera leaves the glass door and reveals the corner of the room where Big Louis’s body is lying. Offscreen, the whistling can still he heard when the nightclub employee arrives calmly and suddenly stops in front of the body stretched out on the floor in front of a closet door. The employee quickly takes off his cap and apron and tosses them into the closet, from which he takes his jacket and hat, hastily slipping them on as lie crosses the room. He runs away.

Editorial room of the Daily Herald–interior daylight General view of the room, full of activity. A man enters, holding a printed sheet with a headline in big letters, shouting in the midst of the hubbub: “Here are the proofs, here are the proofs!” He gives the paper to a reporter sitting in the foreground, who takes it and gets up immediately. The camera accompanies him: he crosses the room and goes into the office of the editor-in-chief who is seated at a large desk and is busy writing. • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Medium, frontal shot of the editor taking the paper, glancing rapidly at it, crumpling it furiously, and throwing it on the floor.

EDITOR: That’s no good! (accentuating each syllable). “Costello Murder To Start Gang War”: that’s what I want!

Medium shot on the reporter, from behind.

REPORTER: I’m giving it priority. I have four men on the story.

Medium shot on the editor.

EDITOR: Four? You’ll need forty men on this story for five years to come. You know what’s happening? They’re going to struggle for control of this town, you understand? Look: Costello was the last old-style gang leader. A new team is taking over. Any little guy with enough money to buy a revolver is going to try to take the place of the others. They’ll shoot each other down like rabbits. To improve their business! . . . It’ll be war. That’s it, war. Put that on the front page: War . . . Gang War.

Barbershop–interior daylight Lap dissolve. The front page of the Daily Herald. The headline reads: “Costello Murder To Start Gang War.” The camera moves back and shows the whole newspaper, lying folded on a chair in a barbershop. All the barber chairs are covered with white sheets; a man’s legs are protruding from one of them. The barber, dressed in a white smock, crosses the room holding a glass in his hand. in the background, seated on a bench in front of the shop window, a man wearing a fedora is reading a newspaper. The sound of an approaching car is heard. The man gets up with a start.

THE MAN: The cops!

But he sits back down immediately, while through the windows we see a car stopping in front of the shop and men getting out. A hand holding a revolver emerges from the sheet with the legs protruding from it. The barber grabs it and throws it into a chest full of tow-els. Close-up of the revolver lying on the towels. Master shot of the room. The man sitting in front of the window is absorbed in reading the newspaper. A policeman is seen ap-proaching the door and entering. Medium shot of the policeman on the doorstep.

THE POLICEMAN: Hello, Rinaldo!

Medium close-up from behind of the seated man, who raises his eyes placidly.

THE POLICEMAN (offscreen): You coming?

Rinaldo lowers his eyes to his newspaper again, then gets up as if resigned. Medium shot of Rinaldo and the policeman face to face.

THE POLICEMAN: Where’s Camonte?

Rinaldo gestures with his thumb toward the occupied barber chair, then takes out of his pocket a piece of change that he negligently tosses in his hand.* The camera moves back to frame the barber chair and the policeman walking toward it. Camonte takes off the sheet and reveals himself. Medium close-up frontal shot of Camonte. He has a scar on his left cheek.

CAMONTE: Hello, Guarino.

THE POLICEMAN (offscreen): Come along.

CAMONTE: You’re sure in a hurry. I’m also having a massage.

Medium shot of Guarino.

GUARINO (impatient): You’ll finish that at the police station. Put on your coat.

Medium shot of Camonte from the rear. He sits up slowly, staring at Guarino.

CAMONTE: I’ve got plenty of time.

He takes off the smock that was covering him, gets up and goes to take a cigarette from a dresser, turning his back to Guarino, who has come closer to him and is standing behind him at knee shot distance.

CAMONTE: Who wants to see me?

GUARINO: The boss.

CAMONTE: That idiot!

He turns toward Guarino.

GUARINO: Have your laugh … Come on, let’s go.

CAMONTE (to the barber): I’d like to see how it looks in the back.

He takes a mirror from the dresser and shifts it, turning his head to try to see his haircut better.

BARBER (offscreen): You look real good.

Camonte grunts with satisfaction. He puts the mirror down, puts a cigarette to his lips, takes a match from the dresser and brings it up close to the star shining on Guarino’s chest. Close-up of the hand striking the match on the star; the flame leaps out. Medium shot of Camonte and Guarino face to face. Camonte peacefully lights his cigarette and blows the smoke in Guarino’s face. Medium three-quarter frontal close-up of Guarino punching Camonte, turning into a three-quarter back shot. Medium shot of Camonte, from the front, falling backward near the linen chest. Flash on Rinaldo, in the middle distance near the door, who starts to move forward. Medium shot of Camonte getting up. Guarino approaches him and grabs his collar.

GUARINO: Come on, you bastard!

Camonte frees himself and straightens his shirt. The barber appears, looking stupefied, holding out Camonte’s jacket and hat. Camonte puts on his hat and takes his jacket. Guarino grabs his arm.

GUARINO: Come on, let’s go.

They cross tile shop, tile barber takes several steps after them. Rinaldo, still in front of the door, is the first to leave. We see through the window that a crowd has been forming. Scarcely have the three men left when they disappear behind the crowd of curiosity seek-ers. We hear the car’s motor starting up. Dissolve out.

Methodological Principles

(1) We shall consider that every element of the various levels of the filmic message (visual, linguistic, auditory) is part of one semiotic system and plays an equal role in the production of meaning.1 (2) This system is itself composed of a set of texts, each of which is defined by a coreferential relation existing among the various signs involved. (3) Every element selected by analysis as being pertinent2 will be separated from the visual or linguistic context that had given it a contingent primary meaning, and will be placed in a different network in which it occupies an autonomous position with respect to this primary context. (4) Within this new network, reductions of meaning are effected by the concor-dance established among themselves by the various signs, regardless of their nature or level. Every confrontation of a sign with another sign effectively reactivates certain mean-ings of both, but neutralizes most of them. The multiplication of these confrontations gives the whole system a coherence of meaning that must not be confused with that of the con-tingent or opposite meaning of each of the different levels. These successive confrontations have the result of producing increasingly narrow semiological reductions, leading, in the-ory, to the discovery of a coreferential relation, which will be translated, as far as possible, in terms of bipolar concepts. (5) When each point of coreference, around which the semiotic text is ordered, has thus been formulated, it will be considered in turn, in a second phase of grouping, as a per-tinent sign capable of entering a second process of semiological reduction, marking off a new field of coincidence. (6) It has been posed as a hypothesis: (a) that the results of these various operations should permit us to discern the principal components of the filmic genotext; (b) that this composite is deconstructed by each of the different levels, according to its specificity, in the form of diverse actualizations –phenotexts– that a subsequent analysis should permit us to verify.

Semiological Reading

1. Interior/Exterior Camera outside in the street  camera moves: cabaret interior; doors, successive entrances and exits of characters (first sequence); camera:  interior newspaper office, transparent cubicles, entrances and exits of characters, voices and sounds offscreen (third sequence). We pass successively from exterior  interior (first sequence); to: ——— interior  interior (second sequence); then to: ——— interior  exterior (third sequence). The systematic aspect of this back and forth movement makes it a pertinent element around which two specific spaces are arranged, governed by distinct laws and, ultimately, by different codes of communication. If we study the modalities of functioning that permit us to pass between these two spaces, we observe several phenomena of reversal: in the first sequence the camera, which is outside in the street, ostensibly passes through a wall (Ph. 5)3 to enter the interior of a cabaret, thus placing in relief a visual obstacle shown as unsurmountable at the very mo-ment it is nevertheless surmounted. On the contrary, the series of glassed-in cubicles (Ph. 13 and 14), which are easily perceptible as so many indexes of a sort of visual continuum, become masks of a closed space, a space presented as such by the lettering on the door, seen in reverse that is, from a space that has already been crossed and that can be inter-preted as describing spaces forbidden to the public. A system of obstacles standing out against transparency consequently establishes a perfect correspondence, though now with a negative sign, to the camera movement noted above. Opacity and transparency thus appear, within a coreferential relation, as signs signifying the opposite of what they are supposed to signify. This ambiguity of the sign designates it as a locus of problematization capable of opening up two areas of possible subsequent semiotic correspondence: no doubt what is involved is passage, but it is a questioning of the visual realm and suggests a reversal of the concepts of the visible and the invisible.

2. Night/Day  Lamp going out (Ph. 2 and 3), hour of the milkman and the streetcleaner (Ph. 6), end of a night of revelry, poster announcing the evening brought inside (Ph. 5, 6, and 17), “Well, I’m going to bed,” “It was a great evening,” shadows of artificial light, empty room, ves-tiges of the party (first sequence) (Ph. 6).  Production of the early edition of the paper (previewing the proofs) (second sequence) (Ph. 14 and 15). Close-up shot of the headline of that edition of the paper in the barbershop (third sequence) (Ph. 20). We are thus at the dividing line between day and night (Ph. 2 and 3). Contrary to what one might think at first, this boundary does not separate the first sequence from the subsequent ones but is inscribed deep within each sign from the very first frames. It is a part not of the temporal organization of the episodes, but rather of a thematic whole. A comparison of the leave-taking formula Big Louis uses with his friends (Buona sera) with the one the killer uses a few seconds later (Buon giorno) demonstrates this. Significantly, then, the first character is part of a semiotic set connoting night and the past, whereas the second looms up from a pale dawn connoting an ambiguous future (Ph. 7, 8, 10, and 11). In this way, the opposition night/day is, at a second level, a symbolic representation of the old and the new explicitly expressed by the words of the editor in chief (old ways vs. new team). Thus, hinging upon this text, a new space of reading opens up marked by a brief lexical field (next week, start, [five years] to come, changing of the guard, takeover).

3. Work/Festivity  Milkman, streetcleaner, wagon, “I’m working,” team, smock, barber, barbershop, po-liceman, towel, sheets (Ph. 5, 6, 16, 17, …).  Revellers, dancing, party hat ( exotic plant), brassiere, champagne, whiskey, glasses (Ph. 6, 7, 8, 9, …) It is a question here not of a mere confrontation of two worlds, but rather of the overlapping of the first inside the second, as if the reverse of the images were systemati-cally being seen through their transparent obverse.

4. Hiding/Displaying  Hiding by the janitor of a brassiere and an unidentified object (Ph. 6), killer in hiding (Ph. 10), hiding of fingerprints, hidden revolver (Ph. 18, 19), towel as mask, newspaper as mask (Ph. 20).  Gestures of pointing (Ph. 19), revealing of the headline (Ph. 20), the newspaper per-ceived as the instrument of unveiling (Ph. 20). This list does not take into account a number of phenomena that are difficult to formulate in terms of signs. Such is the case of the two scenes in which Camonte hides behind pretexts to avoid police action: having a massage and examining his haircut in the mirror (Ph. 25 and 26). The mirror renders this scene metaphorical: at the same time it is being used to make the back of the neck visible, it is also presented as one of the expedi-ents used by the gangster in a game of hide-and-seek and provocation. This is tantamount to saying that the mirror functions as an instrument both of hiding and of revealing. We shall find an identical problematization of this sign in the dual role assigned to the newspa-per. Added to its function of denouncing scandal and crime, emphasized tn American film tradition, particularly in so-called gangster films. are the orders of the editor-in-chief (Put this across) (Ph. 15). On the other hand, however, in the barbershop, Rinaldo twice hides behind his newspaper (Ph. 20). This is certainly a stereotype, hut it must be linked with what I have said about the mirror, in that the meanings of both are being reversed in paral-lel fashion and, consequently, as I have said about transparency, are being problematized. This is all the more true since these reversals occur several times in the text. Thus the cam-era, which must be seen in the context of the analogical series (camera-newspaper-mirror), by describing the gesture of the barber throwing the revolver into a chest full of towels (Ph. 18 and 19) in order to hide it, conspicuously unveils this will to hide.

5. Power/Submission  Let the others take their share. I have all I want. I have all that a man can want. I am rich. I have… I have… I have… I have… He has the world at his feet, gang leaders, boss, series of coercive orders of the policeman (You coming? Come on! Come on, you bas-tard!) Big Louis’s gestures of power (Ph. 7 and 8), those of the editor (Ph. 15), and the po-liceman (Ph. 22). Displays of power (punch) (Ph. 23), typology of the leader (gang boss, editor-in-chief, police chief).  Fellas (as index of subordination), I’ve got plenty of time, stage business of Camonte’s resisting police power, his final capitulation (Ph. 22 and 23). When these signs are put back in their respective textual contexts, we observe that several instances of power are playing against one another. In other words, power and domination are definitively perceived less with respect to submission than with respect to various struggles that allow them to be won or preserved. This is as valid for Big Louis’s liberal strategy (We must let the others take their share) as for the leaders of the new team aiming at taking the place (thus the share) of the others, or for Camonte’s attempting to dominate the policeman (Ph. 27). We are thus witnessing multiple power confrontations. This manifold repetition of confrontations prevents us from setting the place of confronta-tion at one level or another (among the gangs, between the police and the gangs) and leads us to generalize this problematic. Camonte’s gesture of striking the match on Guarino’s badge –a sign of social order– is an obvious challenge to power, and the most spectacular actualization of this problematic.

6. Distance/Assimilation Several convergent phenomena are grouped under this rubric.

(a) At the level of dialogue, the opposition I/others (in Big Louis’s discourse), we/others (in the editor-in-chief’s discourse). We observe in this connection that discourse about oneself can be distanced: thus Big Louis refers to himself in the third person (Everyone will say: Big Louis, he has the world at his feet!), whereas the reporters and newspaper editors are presented, initially, as readers of their own text beside the editor-in-chief, who is being informed of it.

(b) Group frames systematically organized around one individual: Big Louis  vs.  his two guests (Ph. 7) Editor-in-chief  vs.  reporters (Ph. 14) Camonte  vs.  the other characters in the barbershop. (Ph. 18)

© Problematization of social integration. From the very first frame, we know what to think: the camera puts us on “22nd Street,” that is, at the edge of the Italian neighbor-hood (Ph. 2 and 3). The majority of the characters belong to minority even if they are de-fined by distinctive textual markers: some (Big Louis) have an Italian accent, whereas the origin of the others is revealed by either the occupations (the barber) or their names (Guarino, Camonte, Rinaldo). The diversity of these markers seems to reveal another bar-rier, that of generations: the young gangsters, unlike the old, speak English with a perfect American accent an obvious index of their integration into American society. But this new generation, at the same time that it is inscribed within the new national collectivity, in turn, undergoing a process of diffraction. The individuals who make up this new generation are divided on both sides of the ideological inclusion, a division that cannot be more clearly marked than by the typology of the characters (policeman/gangster). Once again, we are led to deduce from the repetition of this phenomenon that it must he generalized. Consequently, we shall see in this generalization the transcription of a recurrent opposition of inclusion and exclusion, an opposition that the French version of the film placed in extraordinary relief (Ph. 1) by presenting the facts narrated in Scarface as the expression of an “implacable struggle among these men, scum [exclusion] of society [inclusion].” By limiting myself to a microtext, I cannot judge a priori the pertinence of certain signs that are isolated and apart from my groupings. Thus, when the killer is silhouetted in profile behind the glass door, a revolver in his hand, the shadows form a cross (Ph. 11). This cross is found again in the gash on Camonte’s left cheek when he unmasks himself in the barbershop scene (Ph. 24). From that point, it is a veritable “plastic leitmotif.” But there is no need to anticipate the ensuing frames. The title (Scarface) is there to program, at least on an elementary level, the explicit production of meaning and to synthesize the mes-sage by focusing not only on an actant, but also on physical (mark on the face) and sym-bolic (marked with a cross) characteristics. In fact, when this phenomenon is perceived as a preconstructed element belonging to a long series of antecedents, it is marked with a des-tiny that transcends the individual level. Even though it may be isolated in this microtext, this sign, which refers to a point external to the narrative but internal to the film and explic-itly given as center of focalization of meaning, is thus linked to a zone of coreference. This zone of coreference will be clearer if we approach the second process of semi-ologic reduction, which is capable of marking out a new field of coincidence and which takes into account the first coreferential relations. The latter, it seems to me, need to be grouped around certain points for which I propose the following formulations:

(A) Problematization of the crossing (edge; frontier; transition; old vs. new) (Texts 1, 2, 6c) (B) Hiding vs. unmasking (Texts 1 and 4) © Inclusion vs. exclusion (Text 6) (D) Reverse vs. obverse (Text 3)

We shall link the center of polarization to the specific status of the signs identified as being the most pertinent and that constantly reverse their respective primary meanings (transpar-ency/opacity; instruments of revelation! instruments of masking, etc.). In such a semiotic context, an isolated sign that we have deliberately neglected until now orders these apparently unconnected elements and gives them all their meaning. I re-fer to the party hat Big Louis is wearing (Ph. 8 and 9), a paper crown or ridiculous mon-arch’s hat designating him as the comic king of carnivalesque celebrations, dooming him to being dethroned. That this dethroning is in turn presented as the result of a generational conflict is another index of the social practice invested in the textual circumstances of the film. Whether it be the role traditionally played by age groups in the organization of these festivities, or the rites of the passage of power shaping certain carnivalesque festivals (fes-tival of the king of roosters, or of the king of crossbowmen), it is certainly a social practice that is involved. In light of this fact, the various structural elements we have uncovered clearly appear for what they are –namely, specific actualizations, each of which decon-structs, at the various levels of the filmic message, that composite, the genotext: time flow-ing backward, systematics of reversal, problematics of crossing (of life and death, winter and spring), overturning of phenomena of inclusion and exclusion– all are components of carnivalesque rites. In that case, we shall give to the symbol of the cross the full symbolic meaning conferred upon it by its insertion in the carnivalesque world, which entails a dis-placement of the signified, since, situated as well in such a point of convergence. it is no longer the premonitory sign of atonement and redemption but functions as an index signal-ing the latent presence of a dynamics of exorcism. It is here that hypotheses of a sociocritical reading open up perspectives to us that broader studies (extended to the entire film) and more complex studies (examination of the articulations linking textual structuring to social structures) should allow us to confirm, to nuance, and to describe in detail. At this point, however, how can I not compare, on the one hand, what I have presented as the possible outline of a genotext in which is invested a state of serious economic and social crisis running through the society implicit in Scarface with, on the other hand, what I have said about the thematics of exclusion, which desig-nates as scapegoat not merely a group defined as morally and socially marginal, but an entire unintegrated ethnic minority? Has not history taught that every society confronted with real or imaginary threats attempts to exorcise them by seeking in its own heart or, more precisely, at the periphery of its unitary structures, victims chosen to appease des-tiny?4

Far from being limited to the message alone, my analysis is concerned with the his-tory of film as consumer product. Indeed, this initial discourse on power structures, which, however, seems to cast a critical gaze on the marginal universe and, thus, to reproduce the revelatory function of the press in a successive nesting of discursive structures, has had, in turn, to submit itself to the laws of another repressive space, the Hays Code. The Code surrounds the first message, a possible vector of evil threatening the collectivity, with a second message whose function is essentially redressive,5 by imposing a subtitle (“A Na-tion’s Shame”) as well as an ideological interpellation addressed to the spectator and de-signed to reconstitute an ideological inclusiveness.6

[Notes at the end of Scarface III]

American Films of the Thirties - The Case of Howard Hawks’s Scarface III

These economic determinants are, however, not the only ones worth mentioning, Higham notes two other factors that are part of the superstructure. (1) The shock of foreign cultural models. In contrast to the first wave of immigra-tion, which was predominantly Protestant and British, the second wave, extending from 1820 to the National Act of 1924, was much more heterogeneous: it consisted largely of southern European Catholics. This second wave played an important role in the shaping of an urban industrial mentality; increasingly, these new arrivals settled in the cities. (In 1890, 62 percent of foreign-born citizens were city-dwellers, whereas only 26 percent of whites whose parents were born in the U.S. lived in cities.) In contrast to the individualism of an older America that was not amenable to city life, the immigrant cultures, by nature, impelled the new arrivals toward collective action. Thus the labor unions were dominated by first –or second– generation immigrants; their most effective leaders were Irish, German or Jewish; they did a better job of attracting im-migrants than the political parties. The immigrants succeeded in forging, as well, an urbanized mass culture to replace the traditions they could not transplant intact. It is not surprising that they found the sub-stance of their collective life in the stimuli of mass media. They were the pioneers of the production of a mass culture: in 1835 James Gordon Bennett, a Scotsman, launched the New York Herald; a Hungarian, Joseph Pulitzer, presented himself as the immigrants’ spokesman in the New York World; in the 1850s an Irishman developed advertising tech-niques in the first high circulation weekly, the New York Ledger.

The prominence of immigrant editors in the creation of mass circulation newspapers and magazines suggests that the need to adjust to a cosmopolitan society and an unfamiliar cul-ture nurtured a burning passion to communicate and an instinctive feeling for what is im-mediately transmissible to an amorphous public. Americans became a nation of newspaper readers because what they shared was not a common past but rather the immediate events of the present: the news.18

(2) The influence of certain currents of thought. (a) Social Darwinism, which is responsible for the confusion between natural history and national history, and which justified the theo-ries held by certain Anglo-Saxon thinkers, according to which nations are analogous to species struggling for their survival. (b) “Eugenic” theories resulting from the development of the science of genetics, and which encouraged other thinkers to call for the improvement of society through the preventive elimination of negative traits. © A new anthropological vision that, in William Z. Riplay’s book The Races of Europe (1899), distinguished three European races: the first, Nordic (northern Europe); the second, Alpine (central Europe); and the third, Mediterranean (southern Europe).19 The importance of Riplay’s theories in America in the 1920s and 1930s can be seen in the American novels more or less contemporary with Scarface. It figures importantly, for example, in the following passage from The Great Gatsby:

“Civilization’s going to pieces.” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessi-mist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard’?” “Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone. “Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be –will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.” “Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at [Daisy] impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.” “The idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and—” After an infini-tesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod….” — And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?” (p. 17)

In a more or less close connection with this intellectual climate, the partisans of restrictive measures tried to explain that southern and eastern Europeans, who comprised the majority of the new waves of immigration, were not only dangerous but also unassimilable at the racial level; the dangers threatening the nation thus came from a change in the migrants’ countries of origin. I have dwelt for some time on this situation of historical conflict because it gener-ated ideological systems that were, in turn, invested in the textual structures of the film in forms that are interesting to analyze. There is no doubt that observable reality underwent a process of transfirination in passing though the two inicrosemiotic systems we have de-scribed, and which encoded them in textual structures. But why these microsemiotics and not others? How can we explain that it is precisely these two codes of transformation that are at work here? Everything I have just said answers such questions. The narrative in-stance reconstructs the totality of a new urban way of life and a new culture based on col-lective action. Whatever the reality behind that vision, we cannot help seeing in the organization of the beer racket the transparent caricature of a syndicate whose objectives are being diverted and perverted for the sake of individual self-interest. But perhaps we can even better understand this vision (ecological well before its time) of urban life presented right at the start of the film in its least seductive aspects –a bleak dawn sullied by the city’s trash– and that throughout the film gives us only negative images of the city (the sordid atmosphere of bars, streets taken over by gangs). The journalistic writing I have termed a microsemiotic is integrated into a larger system which appropriates everything that is said, everything that is thought about this marginal world of the 1930s. This example, like my study of a text from the Spanish Golden Age, leads me to think that codes of transforma-tion are selected by the cultural object according to their contiguity with respect to observ-able reality and to the collective vision of it. In Scarface, this vision is organized around the value system of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant ideology. The authentic values (in the Goldmannian sense) that are oper-ating most obviously in the film include puritanism, glorification of work and thrift, and family. Let us pause for a moment on this last point and remember that Prohibition was a focus for the fears of the dominant group. The leaders of the Anti-Saloon League delighted in pointing out the correlation they established between the rise of the number of saloons and the rise in the immigrant population in the 1 890s. Often it was the newly arrived im-migrants who ran them and who frequented them. The ASL saw the saloon as a place of perdition for the worker who wasted his money and his health there, and as a threat to the “Victorian” home. Thus the struggle against alcoholism –which involved a loss of physical and moral control and gave rise to vulgar, blasphemous drunkenness unleashed on the streets– was linked to the struggle against prostitution. It was a matter of protecting the “American family.” In this connection, Camonte’s mother’s home serves as a fiil, for it is the setting for a number of countervalues: the inarticulate mother humiliated by her own children (“She told me: ‘Shut up and mind your own business’ just like you told me!” [AS, p. 30]), the marked absence of a father (she is presented as Camonte’s mother and not as Mrs. Camonte), wine on the table, Cesca described by her mother as an “easy woman” (“I’m always telling her, Come home. … She met a man and they both came home to-gether” [AS, p. 31]). Her home’s lack of conformity to the American model makes it a breeding ground for vice. Thus the image confirms the fears of the Prohibition party, which, in l87O, asked the government to do something about the saloons, white slavery, gambling, and, in gen-eral, all the “worthless, dangerous, disorderly, unproductive elements within the United States threatening the purity, the tranquility and happiness of the American home.”20 “The purity of the American home” –that is the leitmotif of the pietists who asked the State to take charge of public morals and protect the essentially pietistic characteristics of the American way of life.21 Thus we are touching upon a final aspect of this situation of conflict: the religious component. In the course of the nineteenth century, and probably as a response to the sec-ond wave of immigration, generations of Americans were incited to a more or less virulent anti-Catholicism by Protestant preachers such as Lyman Beecher, who, at the same time as he fought alcoholism, predicted a war between Christianity and “popery” for the posses-sion of “the American soul and soil.” Even if they did not share this apocalyptic vision, many Protestants nevertheless considered Catholic immigrants to be members of an infe-rior class, illiterate and vulnerable to the temptations of evil. “They seemed,” writes Nor-man H. Clark, “in need of directions to honor the Sabbath, to resist the liquor traffic, and to assimilate the bourgeois lifestyle. They seemed too much given to an open and public qual-ity of life –they congregated in saloons– than to a private dignity, and too much given to a priestly rather than a bourgeois family discipline.”22 This last point of conflict as well as all the other elements of the sociopolitical and sociocultural situation we have described were timely again in the presidential campaign of 1928 opposing Alfred E. Smith, the defender of the cultural traditions of the recent immi-grants, representing the cities and the abolitionist tendencies, to Herbert Hoover, whose victory represents, in the view of some American historians, “the last major victory of the country over the city, of the old American over the new”: to this Clark replies that Smith lost essentially because he was not born in the United States. In the course of this violent campaign, James Cannon, a Methodist bishop, called Smith “bigoted” and typical of “the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy of New York City,” declaring that Smith’s goal was to bring to power “the kind of dirty people that you find today on the sidewalks of New York.”23 Clark summarizes the political atmosphere of the time:

The implication for the older Bryanites was that these men –wet, Catholic, urban, and fabu-lously wealthy– were about to take over the party and the White House and deliver both to Jews and Catholics who were determined to overwhelm the traditions of the Protestant Re-public. During the campaign of 1928, the Reverend Bob Jones was speaking throughout the South to crowds wherever he found them: “I’ll tell you, brother, that the big issue we’ve got to face ain’t the liquor question. I’d rather see a saloon on every corner of the South than see the foreigners elect Al Smith President”.24

Let us look once more at the inscription in Scarface of this view of the facts: Angelo stum-bling over the word secretary and Camonte over the expression Habeas corpus reproduce the stereotype of the ignorant immigrant; the theater scene, which is characterized by the stupidity of the gangster’s comments and which is only incidental to the story, must be approached from the same point of view. However, it is the incestuous affair betwen Tony and Cesca that may be problematic from this point of view. Let us note, first of all, that it did not shock the censors for any of the reasons that are generally put forward; in fact, ac-cording to Hawks himself (as quoted in Jerome Lawrence, Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni), the censors felt that the relationship between Camonte and his sister was too beautiful to be attributed to a gangster. Thus, continues Hawks, they did not recognize “the incest of the Borgias.” It is true that nothing in the film explicitly refers to the Borgias, but given the anti-Catholic climate I have just described, one cannot help being struck by the fact that this historical connotation was part of the director’s intentions; in fact, it is to Ben Hecht that we owe the comparison: “The Borgia family is living today in Chicago. And Caesar Borgia is Al Capone.”25 Since, after all, one can treat an incestuous relationship without having in mind a specific historical example, and even if a connotation of this sort were necessary, why make such a specific connection with the Borgias? If, on the other hand, Hawks notes that the “discerning spectator” may perceive this connotation, it is be-cause the character must be treated in a certain way. How and why is it appropriate to see in Camonte the image of a sovereign (“The World Is Yours!”) who bases his domination on a perverted doctrine? What is clear in any case –if we leave the film momentarily– is that once again, filmic writing has been ideologically marked, and that the projection of these “precise and specific facts” is being filtered through a mental structure, itself codified by a microsemiotic. The strong points of this microsemiotic fuse with what I call a discourse of the sa-cred and the demonic. At its heart is the illuminated sign working at several levels as the symbol of temptation, in the sense, first of all, that it is an invitation to a voyage and solic-its desire by its very nature as advertising and by its function; second, by what it says at the mythic level, echoing the diabolic tempter’s words in the biblical text: “The world is yours, all its wealth is at your feet,” as if this social function revealed itself for what it is, as if it were saying that, as advertising, it is but illusory temptation, illusion, source of sin and evil, in a perfect match of signifier (the medium) and signified; “I am what I say and I say what I am; I give expression to illusions and I am illusion myself.” It is an ambivalent sign both of that stretch of the filmic text in which things are hidden, deformed, or perverted, and of that other one in which they denounce themselves as perverse or deformed; marked in this way by the same stigmata that condemn all the media invested in Scarface (journal-ism, film, advertising), a text written in letters of fire, like his own name, which Tony Camonte wishes to write above the city in machine-gun bursts (“I’ll write my name over the whole city, and in big letters! [AS, p. 22]). The correlation the filmic text itself estab-lishes between these two phenomena denounces the demonic nature of the protagonist, who, at first fascinated by diabolical messages, later symbolically inscribes them himself in the sky over the city. Let us refer to the levels involved: in the first two cases (AS, pp. 19 and 30), the shot shows Tony and Poppy reunited, with the sign in the background, and significantly marks the evolution of their love affair in the context of the gangster’s strat-egy of seduction; the first occurrence precedes the notorious shirt scene); it defines a desire and a dual effect of temptation –direct in Tony’s case, indirect in Poppy’s case– through the intermediary of a Tony who is both tempter and tempted, and who, because he is a temptor, takes on the diabolical function. But Poppy is the true stake of the contract: she is included in the totality of the world that is coveted: “Some day, I’ll look at that sign and I’ll say, it’s true, it is [you are] mine” (AS, p. 19). The contract is accepted and honored by the two parties (Satan and his instrument). After Lovo’s death, Tony reminds Poppy of that implicit commitment: he goes to her place, shows her the illuminated sign, and asks her if she remembers what he told her (AS, p. 30). Poppy smiles, and they leave together for Florida. Here one cannot object either that the psychological evolution of the young woman was already broadly outlined (the preced-ing dancehall scene in which she indicates that she has made a choice), or, a fortiori, that no explicit mention of any contract is made. A contract is, in fact, inscribed in the filmic text through the whole mythical text that is invested in it, a mythical text already presented as such in Big Louis’s first (and last) words: “Everybody will say: Ah! Big Louis, he has the world at his feet!” (AS, p. 7), and which as such denounces the gangster boss, whoever he is, as the chief usurper of the world. This biblical text coincides significantly with the ending of the filmic text; the last shot thereby authenticates its message. In fact, the camera ascends vertically on the policemen and then on the buildings rising up behind them, and frames the illuminated sign. The low-angle shot, obviously signifying here Camonte’s Lu-cifer-like fall, is the penultimate sign of this demonic discourse; it repeats, but at the level of filmic syntax, what was said more explicitly by Camonte’s lamentable descent of the stairs, arms open, in a kind of inverted Calvary. But this low-angle shot is itself the support for a final sign: the diabolical phrase, after having flashed, goes out, and only the lighted globe remains visible in the darkness. One cannot better express the idea that Camonte’s death liberates the Earth from Satan’s power! Having thrown light on this semantic focalization, we may bring out certain of its semiotic ramifications. We note that in this context the various textual traces which define a character –in particular, the fact that when the killer is about to strike he whistles a well-known tune of the period whose first words evoke a storm (“Stormy weather…”), a doubly significant phenomenon, first of all, because storms and tempests, in social imagery, estab-lish the habitual contexts in which ghosts or devils make their appearance (in the theater of Shakespeare or Ca1derón, among others), but also by the very fact that this supernatural object is accompanied or preceded by a sign associated with it which then functions autonomously as a delegated power of the sacred, its threatening force commensurate with its impalpability (in sound or odor). Related to the code of death, which functions here in the narrative only because the successive deaths of Big Louis, Lovo, and Rinaldo have sacralized it, this sign transforms these settlements of account into something more, not valorizing them but, rather, giving them a semantic surplus value. Death here surpasses the anecdotal level, not that this sign, at the level of the character’s experience of reality, can transform the irruption of the unexpected into an anguished expectancy of its fulfillment, but more simply, because in this way it is the materialization of a force that is beyond us: the concrete and brutal act of crime is transformed into an act programmed by a will supe-rior to the criminal. This semantic modification will be clearer if we relate it to two other phenomena. (1) Rinaldo’s habit of tossing a coin in his hand, which might be alluding to the Chicago killers’ practice of placing a nickel in their victim’s hand and, more generally, to the ransom the dead have to pay in order to cross the river to the beyond. Thus the same sign can function in a maleficent way, as a foreboding of death, or in a beneficent way, as a propitiatory element; in both cases, it is an index of the beyond. (2) The series of predictions uttered either by the police commissioner (“Some day you’ll make one false move and go downhill … and fall to the bottom, you understand, to the very bottom” [AS, p. 9]) or by Guarino (“Take away your gun, and you’ll fall to pieces just like all the other punks” [ibid.]), or by Camonte’s mother (“Some day, when he needs you, he’ll use you … just like he’d use anybody” [AS, p. 12]). All these textual phenomena consequently define a predetermined text and refer us to the notion of destiny. An obvious index of destiny, the tune Tony the killer habitually whistles makes him subject to forces beyond him. Thus it is that Tony, “inhabited by Sa-tan,” bursts out in diabolical laughter at the end of the film, in a blind unleashing of de-structive will, at the very instant the floodlights of the authorities bathing the scene in glaring light symbolically represent the struggle of light against darkness. Thus we can see in the background of the narrative the outlines of a Manichean perspective, emphasized even more by the scene the censors had the director add, and which gives an apocalyptic vision of the situation (“The city is full of machine guns … Children can’t go to school in safety anymore” [AS, p. 24]). The values being threatened by this state of affairs (family, school, social order), precisely because they are caught in the orbit of Evil become the foundations of Good. Thus, by plunging into the heart of a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil, a specific social group sanctifies the moral categories it honors. The sacred and the demonic define themselves with respect to each other in this manner, as shown by the two following obvious indexes of the functional modalities governing them. (1) The dancehall where Tony and his gang go in tuxedos and where scenes of vio-lence successively take place (the expulsion of a killer, the threatening rivalry of Tony and Lovo, the expulsion of Cesca by her brother, who teaches a lesson to the dancer with whom he has caught her in the act) bears the name Paradise, a paradise where –at least if one accepts my interpretation in which Camonte represents a demonic character– the gang-ster is flattered and recognized as king of the festival. All the elements that tightly weave one scene to another (the name of the place, the definition of the gang leader, Big Louis, as monarch of the underworld –“he has the world at his feet”; the shape of the streetlamp that reproduces from the very first frames, on the doorstep of the cabaret, the vertical and hori-zontal lines [22nd Street sign] of the Latin cross) establish a relationship of identity be-tween the two places. Both are presented in this way as latitudes of perdition, despite (or by the intermediary of) signs that apparently present them as contradictory to what they are. The gangster himself is escorted by two bodyguards; one of them is named Angelo and the other will end up by repenting on the threshold of a new life (Rinaldo). I cannot help seeing in this threesome, taking account of the semiotic context in which it is function-ing, the distorted projection of Christ surrounded by the two robbers. (2) This allusion is all the more persuasive since Camonte has a scar on his face in the form of the Latin cross. There is no doubt that this sign echoes the mark of the super-natural that is already inscribed in the killer’s tune (Stormy Weather), but it is worth noting that it makes it more specific, and that, in conjunction with those I have just mentioned, it illuminates remarkably well the function played by the whole text that has thus been con-stituted in the course of the film. Thus we see a discourse of the sacred (Paradise, Angel, Christ, Cross, calvary), but of a sacred that is subverted –as we have steadily seen– by the demonic. The Latin cross, which seems, curiously, to be related by contiguity or superimposition to the character of Camonte, thereby functions as an index of perversion. Do these modalities of the functioning of the sacred indicate an investment of dog-matic and theological problems? One might cite in this connection the series of textual marks in which the narrative instance condemns a number of infractions of the fundamen-tal virtues of the Protestant ethic (luxury, lavish spending, idleness, deceit, violence), but it would seem, nevertheless, more correct to see in them only the rejection of a cultural model related to Catholicism, without any deeper matter. Faithful to the nature of the me-dia, Scarface avoids the conceptual level and is content to move the viewer by means of a number of effects systematically employed. I turn now to the immediate historical context of Scarface. Hoover, the winner of the election, was forced by those who had brought him to power to take restrictive meas-ures against alcoholism; these measures reinforced the provisions of the Volstead Act and became law in March 1929. A wave of arrests took place in 1929 (more than four thousand people were imprisoned for violations of the law), and this repression provoked a violent protest movement. The economic crisis intensified this anti-Prohibitionist feeling: the pub-lic became less and less willing to pay federal agents to fight alcohol drinkers; economists noted that the taxes on alcoholic beverages could allow the repayment of the foreign debt in less than fifteen years; the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, led by sev-eral dozen millionaires and a large number of former brewers and distillers, was fundamen-tally motivated by the realization that a tax on alcohol would greatly reduce the taxes they paid. Thus, after 1926, the Association spent a million dollars a year in its campaign for the repeal of Prohibition. This campaign had the support of the business world and intellectu-als. In 1929, a feminist organization was created, the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. In 1931, the commission on Law Enforcement and Observance, chaired by George Wickersham, submitted its report to the President; it did not propose amendment but did recognize that the situation was difficult and that nothing could be done to improve it. In the next presidential election, the AAPA financed Roosevelt and the Democrats, favoring the creation of a liberal, anti-Prohibitionist coalition representing urban industrial interests. In 1933 a number of states repealed their dry laws before the Twenty-first Amendment –repealing the Eighteenth– was voted on. A new society was being affirmed. In this battle against Prohibition, the young generation of the middle classes played an im-portant role. Clark writes “that middle-class young people in the United States and in Western Europe were rejecting the social conventions, ideals, and values of their elders.”26 I shall be returning to this question. Thus we can see that the problems posed by Scarface were of burning interest at the time the film was being made; this is why it is presented to us in the form of a space of projected conflicts. For its message cannot be reduced to a single meaning, and we can understand why, despite the difficulties Hawks had with the Hays Office, he published at the time a declaration, reproduced in many newspapers, in which he claimed that the first showings of his film had been delayed by the opponents of Prohibition. We have discerned certain semantic traces in the text of these conflictive zones; but we should particularly note the reflection on the mass media and their social functions, which I link to the polarity revealed by this semiotic analysis (hiding/unmasking), as well as to the intersections of the two microsemiotic systems. We should also note that it is in a chaotic form and as an effect of displacement (in the Freudian sense) that ideological traces are invested in structures. Each of these traces seems to be disconnected from the ideological system to which it belongs, and to enter into a new configuration to which it transfers its own capacity to produce meaning. It is these ideological traces, in the pure state, which, in abstract form, enter into the combinatory complex of the genotext, and which I believe I have seen in the course of this semiotic analysis. I shall illustrate this hypothesis by considering the fear the new generation exer-cised over the old in the l930s in America. No doubt this social dynamic was transcribed in Scarface (as we saw in semiotic text no. 2), but the ideological structure, which undergoes this dynamic, projects it outside of itself by identifying it with all the evils it intends to exorcise. In order to emerge from the collective unconscious, avowal must undergo a dis-placement. But the problem of the renewal of generations is not the only locus of anguish. The determinants we have passed in review (economic determinants, shock of foreign cul-tural models, intellectual currents) develop in a certain context; they only illuminate, de-fine, and furnish an intellectual foundation for fears and anxieties that are already widespread. At a deeper level, what made the restrictionist movement develop in the early dec-ades of the twentieth century was the discovery that immigration was undermining the unity of American culture and threatening WASP dominance.

The mounting sense of danger –even dispossession– among millions of native-born white Protestants in the period 1910-1930, is not hard to understand. A people whose roots were in the towns and farms of the early republic saw great cities coming more and more under the control of strangers whose speech and values were not their own. A people who uncon-sciously identi lied Protestantism with Americanism saw Catholic voters and urban bosses gaining control of the industrialized states. A people whose religion was already badly damaged by modern ideas saw the compensating rigors of their life-style flouted in the sa-loons and cabarets of a more expressive, hedonistic society.27

Clark brings out in his study on Prohibition the profound fear of dispossession experienced by older American Protestants. I see this anguish operating in what I call (to use a concept of René Girard’s) the mimetic rivalry enacted in Scarface, through a sequence of over-throwal (Big Louis dethroned by Lovo, who will be deposed in turn by Camonte, whose supremacy is threatened upon his return from Florida), systematic repetition at the erotic level (Camonte–Poppy–Lovo; Camonte–Cesca–Rinaldo) as well as at the metaphorical level (advertising billboard The World Is Yours; plot of the play the gangsters go to see). On this very points however, we should refrain from thinking that the ideological instance is content to project these phenomena on the Other, by attributing to the Other those behav-iors in which it is not involved itself. On the contrary, it is the ideological instance that seems to generate this sequence, since in every case the provisional victor of these strug-gles for power seems only to have as objective the imitation of the ideological instance, to be its grotesque parody, and to climb to the social rank it occupies. The conquest of power in the Chicago underworld appears, for that very reason, only as the means of attaining power of a very different nature. Parodic devices, in such a context, are essential to the framework set in place by the narrative instance. On this point, it is useless to dwell on the exaggerated antics of Camonte, whose gestures are magnified by the parodic reflections of Angelo, his double, and which make him a veritable clown. Signs here and there in the filmic text, as well as my semiotic analysis, suggest carnivalization: problematics of cross-ing; oppositions between inclusiveness and exclusiveness and between right side and wrong side; portrayal of Big Louis as farcical king; latent presence of a dynamic of exor-cism. This last secondary modeling system seems to recover and redistribute the mi-crosemiotic systems generated by the mental structures I described earlier. In passing from mental structures to a secondary modeling system, that is, from one level to another, the sign is not abolished in another sign, but it acquires a supplemental meaning, a semantic surplus value resulting from this new phase of the transformational process observable reality undergoes. At this point in my analysis, it is clear that all the observations we have accumu-lated confirm René Girard’s relation of the mimesis of appropriation (mimetic rivalry, Carnival) to the mimesis of the antagonist, which “converges two or more individuals on one and the same adversary they all wish to kill” (exorcism represented by Carnival crema-tion or by the representation of Camonte’s death). In Girard’s words:

It is a community’s unity that is affirmed in the rite of sacrifice, and this unity rises up in the paroxysm of division when the community claims it is being torn apart by mimetic dis-cord condemned to the endless circularity of vengeful reprisal. The opposition of each against each is brusquely followed by the opposition of all against one. … We readily un-derstand what this sacrificial resolution consists in: the community recovers its wholeness altogether, at the expense of a victim not only incapable of defending itself but totally pow-erless to arouse vengeance.28

In my interpretation of Camonte’s death, the fantasized reconstruction of the community’s unity constitutes the authentic value of the film at the heart of the mechanisms for the gen-eration of meaning. The detours we have taken make this hypothesis perfectly plausible. One might object that this general conclusion and the description of carnivalization in Scarface recall too closely what I have said about Quevedo’s Buscón to be entirely credible.29 Far from rejecting this comparison, I think, on the contrary, that it opens up a new debate and a new inquiry: although dependent on quite different determinants, the mental structures generated by the collective anguish of the ruling class in Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century seem to me strangely similar to those in America during the early decades of the twentieth century. Must we not conclude from this that spe-cific historical facts, both localizable and localized, are capable of reactivating archaic pat-terns buried deeply in the heart of the cultural context and of being redistributed by the fictional text?30

. American Films of the Thirties: The Case of Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1931) -Footnotes

1. This section presents the results of a research seminar on film criticism that brought together, under the direction of Edmond Cros, the members of the Jean Vigo Club. 2. On these principles of textual analysis, see Cros Edmond : Theory and history of Literature Chapter 6, pp. 75-92. 3. The notation (Ph.) refers to the numbers of the photograms, which are by Henri Talvat. 4. On the relations between carnivalesque festival practices and the thematics of re-demption and exorcism, see E. Cros. Ideología y genética textual, el caso del Buscón (Madrid: Planeta, 1980), pp. 17-33. 5. See Jean Delumeau, La Peur en Occident, XIV-XVIIe siècles (Paris: Fayard, 1978). 6. The reader may find it profitable to compare these discursive interplays with certain phenomenal have analyzed elsewhere (Edmond Cros, “Effets sur la génétique textuelle de la situation marginalisée du sujet –Eléments pour une synthèse,” Imprévue, 1 [1980], 23-30). 7. L’Avant Scène (AS), 132 (Jan. 1973), 24. Henceforth, references will be cited di-rectly in the text. The text of AS does not use the French subtitles but is based on the trans-lation of the original dialogue. 8. Jerome Lawrence, Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, l974), p. 161. 9. See John Kopler, The Life and World of Al Capone (London: Coronet Books, 1973), p. 65. 10. Geo London, Deaux Mois avec les bandits de Chicago (Paris, 1930), pp. 101-102. 11. We see only the other side or the aftermath of the party in Big Jim Colosimo’s cabaret, after the girls have left. 12. Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter, “Majority and Minority Americans: An Analysis of Magazine Fiction,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 10 (2) (1946), 168-190. 13. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1925). I thank C. Richard for drawing my attention to this intertext. 14. Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby, p. 24. Henceforth, all references will be cited directly in the text. 15. See Law and Contemporary Problems, 21 (Duke University, 1956), especially “American Immigration Policy in Historical Perspective.” In the following discussion, I am indebted to Norman H. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition (New York: Norton, 1976), and more especially, to John Higham, Send These to Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America (New York: Atheneum, 1975). 16. Higham, Send These to Me, p. 37. 17. Ibid.. p. 43. 18. Ibid., p. 26. 19. Ibid., pp. 46-47. 20. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 89. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., p. 88. 23. Ibid., p. 188. 24. Ibid., p. 186. 25. Lawrence, Life and Times of Paul Muni, p. 156. 26. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 152. 27. Highans, Send These to Me, p. 48. 28. René Girard, with Jean Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: Grasset, 1978), p. 32. 29. On the mimetic crisis and the mimesis of the antagonist in the Buscón, see Chapter 11. pp. 225-230. 30. See note 28.

From Cros Edmond, Theory and Practice of Sociocriticism, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis Theory and History of Literature,1988

American Films of the Thirties- The Case of Howard Hawks’Scarface II

In a first approach to Scarface I had reconstructed the semiotic system of the initial se-quences of the film before proposing the outlines of a sociocritical reading. The problemat-ics that have emerged may now be submitted to new analyses conducted from perceptibly different and, for that very reason, complementary points of view. Our point of departure is the major semiotic text that emerged from our analysis, namely, the polarity of hiding and unmasking, which seems to run through the whole system. As the film unfolds, this dialectic is explicitly articulated at the denotative level by a scene that the Hays Code censors required from the producer and the director: the inter-view that takes place in the offices of the Evening Record, opposing the apparent editor of the newspaper, Mr. Garston, to people who seem to be representatives of a pressure group. The latter reproach Mr. Garston for giving publicity to gangsters, for “keeping their activi-ties spread all over the front page,” for thinking that “our children must be saturated with violence and murder.” The editor tries to convince his interlocutors that one cannot “get rid of gangsters by ignoring them; by removing them from the front page,” and he draws their attention to the danger involved in “hiding the facts.” “We must arrest them, unmask them, and rid this country of them. That is how they will disappear from the front page.”7 This coincidence between the formulations of the ideological instance and the in-terplay of textual structures is extremely interesting to follow. From my methodological point of view, I can deduce a series of remarks. For those who have followed my semi-ological analysis, the remark of the editor will seem only a redundancy, a gratuitous repeti-tion of what the film is constantly saying. For the Hays Office censors, on the contrary, what was involved was the requirement that something finally be said that up to then had not been said. In my view, ideological instances are profoundly invested in the cultural object, which ideology itself refuses to admit and which, by this very refusal, reveals itself for what it is. By entering the film in this form, the ideological instance, paradoxically situ-ates itself as outside cultural production. I shall not, however, take this coincidence as confirmation of the results of my se-miotic approach. That would be to ignore the fact that the two chains of meaning shaping the text –that of the sign and that of the signified– are distinct and autonomous. Seen in the context of their theoretical autonomy, the coincidence that makes the two chains of mean-ing cross here needs to be investigated. The scene at the Evening Record marks out a zone of ideological conflict, appar-ently banal and relatively secondary in importance, bearing upon the role generally played by the media: the media are invested in the film in such a way that it may be immediately assumed that the characters assembled around Mr. Garston are making a negative judg-ment on the film from inside the film itself. However, the point of view of Mr. Garston’s interlocutors is shared by the police commissioner, who sharply reprimands the reporter who has come to interview him about Camonte: “Colorful! What is the color of sewer rats? Listen here, your attitude is that of too many people in this country: they think these criminals are demigods. And what do they do about someone like Camonte? They sentimentalize him, romanticize him, joke about him. It was all right to glorify our bandits of the Old West; they met in the street at high noon and everyone went for the draw. But these creatures sneak around shooting peo-ple in the back and running away… When I think about what must be going on in the heads of these people, I want to vomit” (AS, p. 24). This scene, which immediately precedes the Evening Record scene, draws our at-tention to the importance in the text of the little world of newspapermen. Thus, one of the first sequences of the film (the editorial room of the Daily Herald) provides a commentary on the brutal images of Big Louis’s assassination; the failed attempt on Meeham’s life is commented on in the same way (AS, p. 16). The gangsters keep close track of newspaper reports and are obviously flattered when they see their photos and accounts of their crimes spread all over the front page (“LOVO: What do the papers say? CAMONTE: I brought them [medium frontal shot of Camonte holding the newspaper]. They tell an awful story. There’s a picture of you… [he leans forward to give the paper to Lovo] …and one of me, too” [AS, p. 16]). They eagerly welcome reporters who want to interview them –as Gaffney does, for example, after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. In their idle moments, they read newspapers (in the barbershop; at the start of the war of reprisal by Camonte against O’Hara’s gang: “A man is reading a newspaper when gunfire bursts from an approaching car… He sinks behind his newspaper”) to the point where, in the film at least, the newspa-per seems to be part of the iconography of gangsterism. At least three newspapers are men-tioned in the film: The Daily Herald, The Evening Record, and The Journal. From the point of view of narrative technique, moreover, the newspaper a remark-able role to play, to the extent that, on several occasions, it takes over the narration. Thus, it is the newspaper that explains the circumstances of Big Louis’s death (“Do you know what happened?… Costello was the last of the old-style gang leaders. … They’re going to shoot each other down like rabbits”). The newspaper fills gaps left in the narration, sum-marizes diegetic ellipses: it is the newspaper that informs us simultaneously of the attack on Meeham, its relative and temporary failure, and the fact that it is part of a series (“An-other failed assassination attempt: Meeham, riddled with bullets, escapes death” [AS, p. 16]); it is the newspaper that allows an indirect summary of another action not witnessed by the spectator, namely, the absence of Tony, who has gone to spend a month in Florida, and the changes in the criminal underworld during his absence. (“A newspaper office: In the foreground a seated man. … A man approaches him and offers him a newspaper. THE MAN WITH THE NEWSPAPER: Big Tony is back from Florida. SEATED MAN [taking the news-paper]: Well, he better be careful [AS, p. 30]). The newspaper thus seems linked to the narrative instance, either because it is the means used by the latter to advance the action (as when Camonte learns through the newspaper that Meeham is only wounded), or because it takes the place of the narrative function. If the newspaper cannot be identified with the narrative instance (N), it is, at the very least, a narrator (n) that is, it plays a role within the narrational level. But the newspaper is a narrative at the second degree, a mirror of events; elsewhere, it appears only in its status as mirror. Though what it says precisely may escape us, it is itself commented upon, and this commentary corresponds to a second projection of the event, a projection that, in turn, will be given visual form in the film (event  report-age  commentary  film). This is the case, for example, of the story of Big Louis’s mur-der and of the announcement of Tony’s return. The newspaper loses its informative function in order to become integrated with narratological programming. But in its manner of integration (when it is seen only as a mirror of the event), it presents itself essentially as observation, literally as medium. In this role, it most clearly resembles other media in-scribed in the text: first, advertising (“The World Is Yours”), which metaphorizes Camonte’s ambition and his social ascension and reflects in this way the thematic struc-ture; second, the theater, which reproduces the dual mimetic rivalry whose stake is, or has been, women: (“CAMONTE: I want to know which one of the two guys Sadie chose” [AS, p. 25]), thereby reflecting as well the interplay of the film’s two love triangles (Camonte–Poppy–Lovo; Camonte–Cesca–Rinaldo); and third, the film medium itself, which merits closer study. The reader will have no doubt noticed the abundance of frames within frames: doors, windows, balconies cutting the depth of the visual field into spaces enclosed within one another: the curtains of Poppy’s bedroom defining a forbidden space; the rear window of the car in which Rinaldo and Camonte return after Camonte’s interview with Lovo, in which we see passing street scenes, and so on. Two textual phenomena give meaning to this series: (1) the murder of Big Louis at the very moment he goes to the telephone: be-hind a window, we see the silhouette of a man wearing a hat; a few seconds later, the kil-ler’s shadow is etched in profile, behind the lighted window, and it is through this window that his murderous gestures are seen (the pointed revolver, the cleaning of the weapon, etc.). We do not witness Big Louis’s assassination directly, that is, we do not see him fall the moment he is hit; we discover his body lying on the floor. Between the action and our seeing it, a window, that is, a screen, a medium, has intervened. We have not witnessed an assassination; we have witnessed the projection of an assassination. Just as the newspaper is presented as “mirror of the event,” the film is being presented here as mirror, reflection, gaze. (2) The first image of Scarface, in this context, has a certain a posteriori function. This first image bore the mark of a St. Andrew’s cross standing out in black against the screen or rather, against a screen that is at the same time that of the movie theater in which we are seated. and a screen that strikes us as such from inside the film, a screen that is signed, marked in its materiality as screen by a sign inscribing in it an idea of projection, and, probably, a message. Thus the film opens with a symbolic reflection of itself. Whether it is a question of sexual rivalry whose stake is first Poppy and then Cesca, or a general thematics of social ascension and world domination, or of the function and nature of the media, or even of narrative processes in general, the film creates systematic reflections of textual phenomena, presented as reflections, shadows, projections. At this point, I shall discuss a sign that has undoubtedly been misinterpreted thus far: the St. Andrew’s cross, which Eliane Le Grivès (in Avant Scène), too quickly reads as a Latin cross. Jerome Lawrence, in The Life and Times of Paul Muni, cites an interesting comment by Howard Hawks in this connection:

Newspapers at the time always labeled their photographs of killing and accidents with a point of reference. X marks the spot where the body was found. … I got the crew together and I said: “We’re having a lot of killings and I want each to be labeled ‘X marks the spot’ in a cinematic way. So anybody who comes up with a notion we can use will get fifty bucks. No, make that a hundred.”8

The X thus belongs to what I shall call a specific microsemiotic –to that secondary model-ing system constituted by journalism. This comment justifies a posteriori the observations we have just made and allows us to interpret them. In fact, it is this microsemiotic that is vested in the film and that functions as a code for the transformation of observable reality. This microsemiotic accounts, in particular, for the following: –The sensationalistic style of the film (the striking series of killings and assassina-tion attempts, the incestuous relationship between Cesca and Tony, the spectacular attack by the police at the end, automobile chases, machine-gun attacks, etc.). –The status of the narrator, who bases the credibility of his omniscience on the sug-gestion that he possesses an impressive knowledge of the facts, the kind of knowledge characteristic of any “well-informed” daily newspaper. –The complicity with the spectator that is established beforehand through the in-termediary of journalism. The narrative assumes, in fact, that the spectator already knows a number of facts upon which it is based. These facts are known to us only through the newspapers of the period. (We are explicitly told that the scenario is “based on Scarface, by Armitage Trail, as well as on newspapers of the period” [AS, p. 5].) The film thus situ-ates itself as an extension of written news media, and this gives it a powerful realism. To cite one example, there is the allusion to 22nd Street, notorious in the Chicago of the 1930s for its nightclubs and restaurants, whose “gem” was none other than the cabaret of Big Jim Colosimo, the obvious model for Big Louis in the film. Big Jim was murdered on the door-step of his restaurant, despite the fact that he had, in 1920, brought from New York two bodyguards, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone.9 The film’s scenario closely follows reality, thus recreating in an obvious manner a reality already known to the spectator through the daily newspapers. The principals of the drama are thinly veiled behind easily readable fic-tional names: Johnny Torrio becomes Johnny Lovo; Al Capone becomes Camonte; Big Jim becomes Big Louis; and the leader of the Northside gang, O’Bannion, lurks behind O’Hara. However, I shall mention two major differences: (1) Al Capone is a natural replacement for the Southside gangleader after Torrio leaves for Italy when his life is threatened by the Irish. This enables us to understand better the profound didacticism of the film, which makes “struggle among leaders” into a general law. (2) Al Capone, at least if we are to believe the eyewitness accounts of the period, especially that of Geo London, was neither foolish nor uncouth (“Outwardly, he was a gen-tle, sympathetic, articulate man. … In addition, he lacked neither a sense of appropriate-ness nor finesse”10). This comment heightens the importance of the carnivalization the protagonist undergoes in Scarface, which brings to the fore the way ideological stereotypes function in the film. While Scarface was being filmed, that is, in late spring and early summer of 1931, an investigation was being carried out into the activities of Al Capone, who appeared in court in October of the same year. Finally, let us remember that Ben Hecht was a reporter and that Scarface is a reporter’s film. Let us return to the St. Andrew’s cross, which I interpreted earlier as the iconogram of interdiction. Clearly, this is also its meaning, which is tantamount to saying that the X also refers to another microsemiotic opposed to the preceding one on this point: the first has as its objective to reveal, to display the facts on the front page; the second, which we have yet to describe, tends, on the contrary, to hide the facts. An X stamped on a photo-graph that reconstructs a crime, in fact, marks that photograph with the sign of censorship: it says that the body was lying there hut that the sight of this body is impossible or forbid-den. It signifies the refusal of hypersensationalism, that is, inside a sensationalist form, it inscribes an ideological trace that undermines sensationalism. It is a question no longer of a mere zone of coincidence but rather of a zone of ideological conflict. Let us provisionally call this new microsemiotic a “rhetoric of silence and hiding.” We saw it explicitly operating in the Evening Record scene, but it is inscribed as well in each reproduction of the X, that is, in each killing. This rhetoric is also discernible in all the changes the film underwent –in particular the elimination of twelve scenes, including the original ending in which Camonte is shot down by a rival gang and not by the police. This rhetoric of silence and hiding is also at work in the way killings are generally shown: either the camera momentarily leaves the victim at the precise instant of his death (Big Louis, Gaffney, Johnny Lovo), or it substantially mitigates the brutality of the scene (the anonymous gangster sinking behind his newspaper, the smokescreen masking the bod-ies of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre). Such veiling contrasts with the din of machine-gun fire and the spectacular scenes of speeding cars. This “rhetoric of hiding,”11 which reproduces, in filmic “writing,” the interdictions of the Hays Code, is linked to another ideological trace in which repressive social struc-tures are expressed. One cannot miss seeing the connection here between the police com-missioner and the editor-in-chief of the Daily Herald; seated behind their respective desks, they receive information gathered or written by their fellow workers. Obvious stereotypes, they anonymously embody two types of power. The police, at certain times, take charge of the narration: they add an important element to the reconstruction of the facts preceding and explaining Big Louis’s death by recounting Tony’s past and by pointing out that at the time of the murder he was both Johnny’s friend and the victim’s bodyguard (AS, p. 8). The police play a role in narratological programming by anticipating events in a way that makes sense of their apparently chaotic presentation (“GUARINO: Take away your gun and you’ll fall apart like all these other punks” [AS, p. 8]; “GUARINO: Lovo is practically done for; he’s scared to death!”; “COMMISSIONER [to Guarino]: Good, try to find Gaffney: they’ll probably try to get him after they get all the others” [AS, p. 24]). To a lesser extent, certainly, than journalism, the police temporarily take on the function of a narrator (n2), which allows us to assume the coexistence of (n1) and (n2) within the narrative instance (N). We may conclude that this narrative instance, itself rep-resenting a space of contradiction, redistributes two ideologically contradictory mi-crosemiotics linked to the bipolar opposition we discussed before: hiding/unmasking. Now that this zone of conflict has been isolated, we may examine it. Earlier in this study of Scarface, when I brought out other semiotic texts (problem-atics of crossing; inclusiveness/exclusiveness; wrong side/right side), I suggested that we could see functioning in the film “a thematics of exclusion that designates as scapegoat not merely a group defined as morally and socially marginal, but an entire unintegrated ethnic minority.” This directed connection with the economic crisis of 1929 was, I believe, made too hastily, and I should like to propose a more careful study of these phenomena. I shall start from an obvious fact, namely, that it is the Italian minority that is in question (recall the Italian who is, curiously, one of the Garston’s interlocutors: “It’s true! They [the gangsters] only cast dishonor on my people” [AS, p. 24]), but it is a fact whose limits must be defined. “Every incident in this film is based on fact,” according to the cred-its in the French version of the film, and indeed, we have seen how faithful the film’s sce-nario is to the actual facts as reported by the press at the time. In that case, one might wish to object, how, where, and why would ideology be functioning? And yet ideology is oper-ating, but it is true that it operates –as always– in Textuality. I have just shown this in part. Here, we might apply an approach borrowed from the sociology of content, the bet-ter to pinpoint just how a true sociocriticism of cultural objects differs from it. Thus, I shall make brief use of a 1946 study by Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter: “Majority and Minority Americans: An Analysis of Magazine Fiction.”12 The corpus analyced by these two researchers consists of 198 short stories published in eight major magazines between 1937 and 1943 and chosen at regular intervals (first, third, and fifth) for each magazine. The themes generally have to do with love affairs and family and marital problems; we also find a few adventure stories. Almost all the stories are set on the East Coast, most fre-quently in New York, and practically never in the South. Rapidly summarized, the conclu-sions reached by these studies are as follows. (1) Distribution of characters. Of 900 identifiable characters, there are only 16 blacks ¿African Americans? and 10 Jews. While ethnic minorities (Mexican Americans, Italian Americans, Japanese Americans, Irish Americans, Jews, blacks ¿African Ameri-cans?) make up 40 percent of the population at the time, they appear here in a ratio of one to ten. (2) Role of characters. The important roles are most frequently held by white Americans. “Positive” roles (that is, those that portray likeable, gracious, wise, desirable, respectable, honest characters) are reserved for them. Those roles given to minorities are less positive and are most frequently onedimensional stereotypes. Certain of these charac-ters are like objects serving to create a specific ambience (thus one American heroine is described as talking politely with an Italian flower-seller). (3) Character traits. Here are a few examples of stereotypes: the ignorant and ri-diculous Negro; the Italian gangster with scars on his face; the wicked and wily Jew; the emotional Irishman; the brutish and stupid Pole. The authors of this article note than when stereotypes are applied to ethnic groups such as blacks, Jews or Italian Americans, they function as xenophobic stimuli. The authors add that studies on mass attitudes have shown that people have very set notions about the characteristics and behavior of members of marginal groups, very definite mental images of what people who are different from them-selves believe and do. (4) Status of characters. White Americans live well and their comfortable lifestyle is shown in descriptions of their clothing, food, and homes. They apparently deserve this level of lifestyle since the source of their wealth is rarely mentioned; this is not the case of members of marginal groups, about whom, when they are wealthy, the stories think it ap-propriate to mention how they got their wealth. This seems to mean that is perfectly normal for white Americans to belong to the highest strata of society, whereas if ethnics do, it calls for an explanation because it is so exceptional. Furthermore, only rarely do white Ameri-cans marry nonwhite Americans. (5) Characters’ goals. White Americans are idealistic; the others are materialistic. The best-treated nonwhite American characters are those who come closest to the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant type. Berelson and Salter argue that these stereotypes may be explained by the necessity of creating a style of writing at once fast-paced and conformist, as well as by the needs of a heterogeneous audience that requires the use of well-known and widely recognizable sym-bols of identification. It is obvious, however, that these stereotypes reactivate the predispo-sitions of a hostile audience only too ready to find in them fuel to feed their xenophobia. This study has been useful, for it brings out, in fact, all the stereotypes used in the film: apart from the Italian gangsters, there is Epstein, writ of habeas corpus in hand, who embodies the wily and wicked Jew. However, the most revealing scenes are the ones de-voted to the description of the Italian family: the mother is portrayed through clothing and gesture that marginalize her; she is seen in the folkloric aspect, in a home marked by pov-erty. This fleeting vision seems to be there only as a point of reference with respect to what Camonte is to become. His rapid rise to wealth is marked by a copious series of indexes (cigars, bundle of money given to his sister, jewelry, cars, apartment, shirts, grotesque self-satisfaction, etc.). As if performing the function of narrator, Poppy cruelly underlines many times the vulgarity of the newly rich: “How elegant you are. … I see you’re wearing jew-elry … an heirloom, of course?” (AS, p. 17). Tony’s leitmotif: “They don’t give them away,” incessantly reproduces the view the prevailing ideology has that the marginal per-son can get rich only by illegal means. What is said about Camonte is equally valid for Big Louis or Lovo (“Look at me … I’m rich. I have a house, a car, the prettiest girls” [AS, p. 6]). Thus, filmic writing undergoes a contamination that is all the more insidious since it seems to be perfectly adapted to its subject, and since its scenario seems to produce by itself these iconograms of stereotypical identification that Berelson and Salter’s study shows are imposed from the outside and produced by specific mental structures. The observations of content analysis must be distinguished, however, from my own on one important point: whereas my analysis is concerned with modalities of intratextual functioning of certain ideological traces that, by their intersection, define zones of conflict, Berelson and Salter’s study allows us to connect Scarface directly to the entire cultural production of a particular society. Indeed, their work demonstrates how a society is orga-nized by a secondary modeling system whose ideological traces are reproduced in Scar-face. These traces may be seen in the American novels more or less contemporary with Scarface –The Great Gatsby comes especially to mind. Camonte is in some way an exag-gerated caricature of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero, who is described by Tom as “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.”13 Juxtaposing the two works, we can see explicit echoes of Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel in Howard Hawks’s film: thus, the illuminated sign The World Is Yours can be com-pared with the gigantic blue eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, which “look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”14 concrete markers of the media, with reference to which the narrative seems to unfold in both cases. One may also recall, in the sumptuous affairs staged every week by James Gatz, alias Jay Gatsby, son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people” of the Middle West, the grotesque spectacle of Tony drunk with his newly acquired power and wealth. Gatsby’s fortune is the talk of New York high society, and gives rise to all kinds of legends about his past as murderer, adventurer, or bootlegger. “Contemporary legends such as ‘the un-derground pipeline to Canada’ attached themselves to him and there was one persistent story that he didn’t live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore” (p. 88). In the sequence in which Camonte displays to Poppy his piles of shirts in order to seduce her, we see an explicit index of this intertext:

Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high. … He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray (pp. 83-84)

Behind these two fundamentally different narratives, the same ideological trace is govern-ing the writing process: from the very first lines of the novel, the narrator, Nick Carraway, whose family descends, he claims, from the Dukes of Buccleuch, rejects Gatsby and his world with the scornful remark: “Gatsby … represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn” (p. 8). Fascinated by Gatsby’s personality, at the same time he often criticizes him from the standpoint of his own values: “And I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Sometime before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care” (p. 47). Nick’s comment on the autobiographical history he hears right out of the protagonist’s mouth signals his constant suspicion: “He looked at me sideways, and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. … And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t some-thing a little sinister about him, after all. … For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg but a glance at him convinced me otherwise” (pp. 60-61). By juxtaposing Gatsby’s fantasy (“I am the son of some wealthy people in the Mid-dle West. … I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years … it is a family tradition” [p. 60]) with the truth about him (“James Gatz, that was really, or at least legally, his name. … His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people –his imagination had really never accepted them as his parents at all” [pp. 88-89]), Nick demystifies Gatsby’s mask. In doing so, he demysti-fies the man behind the mask, thus presenting the narrative instance as though itself en-slaved to an ideological instance manipulating iconograms of stereotypical identification such as facial characteristics (“The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of southeastern Europe,” [p. 63]); or by scrupulously conforming to racial or social “models”: Gatsby, being who he is, can only be an ignoramus, and the pages of his books covering the shelving of his magnificent “high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak,” have never been cut. One evening one of his guests comments on this fact in particularly scornful terms: “Absolutely real –have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and –Here! Lemme show you. … This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too –didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?” (pp. 44-45). As for Poppy in Scarface, she certainly must be compared with Daisy. But what does the choice of such first names mean? We note first of all that in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel the narrator insinuates some doubt about the young woman’s origins, presenting her as not belonging to the WASP class (“ ‘The idea is that we’re Nordics, I am and you are, and you are and–’ after an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod” [p. 17]). In a later passage, he describes another character, Benny McClenahan, as always ac-companied by four young women, about whom Nick, while having forgotten their first names, remembers that “their last names were either the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be” [p. 59]). Should we conclude that these two first names, Poppy and Daisy, are functioning in the text to indicate Jewishness? I would be inclined all the more to think so, since in the logic of the ideology of Scarface, Poppy’s blondness, which clashes with the milieu of dark-haired Mediterraneans, cannot be referring us to the Nordic racial type because it is in a compromised position in the universe of Evil. In that case, the name given her would be neutralizing the iconogram of her blond hair. Does Gatsby’s refusal his family background (“his imagination had never accepted them as par-ents”) stem from the same cause? The narrator plants another seed of doubt when he dis-tinguishes between the Gatzes’ real name (which is never revealed to us), and their legal name, consequently synonymous here with inauthenticity and usurpation. In turn, however, Gatsby in some ways prefigures John Foster Kane insofar as the beginning of his rise in society is indirectly linked to the mining of precious metals. Dan Cody, whom James meets one afternoon on the shore of Lake Superior, and who befriends the boy, is a “product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since seventy-five” (p. 90). But this new paternity is itself presented here as demonic; it is in fact at the side of this “pioneer debauchee, who during one phase of American life brought back to the Eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and sa-loon,” that “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man” (p. 91). Thus, from Scarface to Citizen Kane, and including magazine short stories and the novels of Scott Fitzgerald, we may observe, at various levels and organized in different systems, the features of an ideological matrix. To better understand the interaction of these contradictions in the filmic text, we shall return to the question of minority and majority in America between 1920 and 1930, and examine the whole problem from a certain distance.15

At the time the American nation was born, the concept of immigration was based on an enlightenment doctrine that was the product of northern European Protestant culture, ac-cording to which the country’s greatness resided in the diversity and the multiplicity of its origins. The idea had two corollaries: (1) America was a land of refuge, and (2) every per-son had the right to leave his native land and move to a place where he might find suste-nance and happiness. But the consequences of the application of this doctrine were to come into contradiction with the cultural traditions of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant society –a con-tradiction that was to be hidden as long as the North American economy needed labor. Around 1880, another point of view began to be heard: the immigrants were ac-cused of “increasing the rift of classes, complicating the slum problem, causing boss-rule and straining the old moralities. These difficulties, like the immigrants themselves, cen-tered in the recklessly expanding cities.”16 Moreover, with the increasing scarcity of fertile land, people began to realize that America’s natural resources had their limits, and the sa-cred principle of laissez-faire began to be called into question. The first measures aimed at controlling immigration were put into effect in 1882, just before an economic depression. As this depression became more severe in the l890s, a movement favoring a restrictive policy spread and led to the first Immigration Act in 1891. At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the return of prosperity and despite the ef-forts of the Immigration Restriction League founded in Boston in 1894, this policy of con-trol was fought by chambers of commerce and by the National Association of Manufacturers because economic expansion and the simplification of industrial techniques required an unskilled labor force. The immigrant population became larger and larger (more than one million immigrants per year from 1905 to 1914). This lull only delayed the passage of new restrictive laws in 1917, 1921, and especially in 1924, with the passage of the National Act. The war with Germany “stirred public opinion like a cyclone.” Ameri-cans discovered all at once that they could not remain apart from world conflicts and that inside the country were millions of unassimilated people. This emotional climate affected mental structures; patriotic loyalty was confused with conforming; marginality was sus-pected of potential treachery.17 Thus we see that fluctuations in the mental structures of legislation were directly re-lated to economic crises. Moreover, restrictions were to be even more severe at the time of the Great Depression in 1930.