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Thursday, March 15, 2012

'The Untouchables'

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The cinema itself is not the storyteller, but it is essentially the medium through which the story may be told. The creative work of the writers, actors, director, producer and the movie photographers themselves bring together their talents portrayal of action and the details of the story, using the means of cinema to reach their audience. In the film ‘The Untouchables’ De Palma uses the techniques of music, lighting, camera angles and narrative to convey the themes of good versus evil, loyalty, persistence and not giving in on something you really believe in. The story line relates to the US city of Chicago where gang warfare takes place during an era of Prohibition.


These ruthless gangs were confronted by the law. The main characters representing the law were special agents Eliot Ness, Jim Malone, George Stone and Oscar Wallace supported by regular police.


At the beginning of the film the director, De Palma, brings the attention of the audience, through a written code, the exact meaning of Prohibition and the gang-wars associated with it.


“Prohibition has transformed Chicago into a city at war. Rival





Gangs compete for control of the city’s billion-dollar empire of


Illegal alcohol, enforcing their will with the hand grenade and


Tommy gun. It is the time of gang lords. It is the time of Al Capone.”


The film then moves into a characterization of Al Capone, the gangland kingpin, showing him as a strong, powerful and confident leader of the ‘mob.’ The mood is set by many cinematic techniques, for example the camera angle, lighting and dialogue. This scene opens with a Bird’s Eye View camera shot, displaying Capone in the middle of the screen. Automatically the camera angle influences importance and power to the audience. As there is no music in this scene the mood must be maintained with a powerful dialogue, which is upheld by the conversation between Al Capone and the many people (media), surrounding him. He is then shown describing himself to the media as a ‘non violent man’ and with the help of close up camera shots; you are made to fell intimidated. As it can be seen De Palma creates a technique to introduce Capone to the audience as strong, powerful and a confident leader. The scene then cuts abruptly to a dramatic act of violence authorized by Capone himself, the corner store blast. Indicating to viewers Capone may be powerful and confident but also branded as a liar.


Usually being the leader in a mob as Capone proudly is you never have to perform your own dirty work. This is shown in a violent and disturbing scene where a baseball bat used. Using camera angle’s to set the mise-en-scene Capone is walking about a round table full of his co-workers in a rich setting with high key lighting, making a strong humorist yet serious statement on how you must work as a ‘team’ just like in baseball. With sudden burst’s of almost terrifying musical sounds you begin to experience through extreme close ups of Capone’s face a sense of horror. Capone then disturbingly beats the man to death with ironically a baseball bat to prove a point to his other co-mobsters. It is quite disconcerting the way the camera angle can make such an impact on the way a certain scene may be told.


The other main character of the story, Eliot Ness is introduced as being a quiet family man dismayed at the episodes of violence, which are occurring in the city. In this particular scene, De Palma creates a quiet peaceful mood through lighting, music and location, which is in contrast to the more aggressive atmosphere created around Al Capone. The music is calm and supple and controls the whole scene by making the viewers feel miserable even though no dialogue is introduced. It is supported by dull lighting and maintains the sense of sadness.


De Palma introduces sound, color and cinematic techniques to create a more ‘in your face’ approach to demonstrate the violence occurring within the operations of the gangs. The cinema is able to display in graphic detail explosions, gunshots and murders in such a way the audience does not need their own imagination as it is displayed for them to see on the screen. And this is the full power of the cinema in telling its story. De Palma expresses this approach in the film when Malone is tragically murdered. The color and sound is linked, as it is a dark night with a storm quickly approaching you are made to feel tense and unsure of the situation. With large crashes of thunder and suspenseful music De Palma gets the heart racing and prepares the audience that something is about to happen. A steady cam is used in this scene as the killer moves in and around Malone’s house; this camera technique makes you really feel part of the action as if you were the killer. De Palma creates this ‘in your face’ method to make the audience more involved in the story therefore enjoying the experience of cinema.


As the film becomes more in depth, the storyline shows how the police make plans and tactics as a means of overcoming problems that gangs have and are causing. It depicts violence on the streets, the fear within the community, shop owners and the general public. The techniques of the cinema enable this to be told with the sights and sound of an explosion, gunfight, chases and such action so that the audience has no need to imagine such things, so that it is there to be seen on the screen.


As the film continues the story unfolds in the way where Ness and co-forces make it increasingly difficult for the gangs to continue their operations. During this time Capone becomes extremely frustrated and begins to think his mob aren’t working as a ‘Team.’ Eventually the film shows how Al Capone is brought to justice and how the Prohibition gangs are overcome and how without Al Capone there is no mob. The violent reign of gang warfare in Chicago comes to an end.


No doubt about the place of the cinema in the art of storytelling. The use of this medium allows the creative talents of De Palma to combine the talents of many other people to produce the telling of the story in narrative and picture to captivate an audience.


The film created a very distinct image of this violent time in Chicago. Film created an atmosphere of realism, not only through the characters depicted on the screen but also by the ways in which sound, lighting, background music and camera angles were used.


The film “The Untouchables” was successful in telling its story of a particular time in the past and giving the audience an understanding of that time and the events of this particular period.


(Word count = 1,14)





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