Symposium brings together gangsters and the American dream

By Paige Ewing

Take a seat and grab some popcorn as the gangsters roll onto Rider University’s campus at the 2017 film symposium from March 2-3.

The symposium,“Sure Deals” and “Offers You Can’t Refuse,” studies and outlines the history of gangster films across the world, featuring films such as “Dark Manhattan,” “Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film,” “Donnie Brasco” and the classic “Scarface.”

According to Cynthia Lucia, associate English professor, and the film and media studies director, this is the ninth film symposium at Rider and students chose this year’s theme.

“In the past, we have done comedy, we have done horror, so it really varies,” she said. “This is a mutual decision driven mainly by students and their interests. We had a few choices where people voted and it ended up being the gangster films.”

At this year’s symposium, there are three featured events focusing on the discussion of gangster films and their influence around the world. The first featured panel on March 2 hosts five members from the languages and literature department talking about the gangster films throughout the world. Attendees will hear about films from other countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia and China, and how those films differ from the classic American gangster film.

Paula J. Massood, a professor of film at City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center is to lead the second featured event at 7 p.m. on March 2. Massood is an accomplished scholar in African American films and plans on examining the gangster film from that perspective. African American directors have worked from as early as the 1930s into the present time, and have made films about crime and gangster life. One of these films, “Dark Manhattan,” will be shown earlier in the day at 4:10 p.m. and then later discussed at this event.

On March 3 at 4:30 p.m., the final featured event is with Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University. According to Lucia, he “is considered one of the top scholars in the field of American film history.” Doherty intends to discuss the impact of production codes on gangster films and how they have shaped film in the modern era. His presentation incorporates clips of classic gangster films from the 1930s and talks about the historical impact of these films.

In addition to the featured events throughout the two days of the symposium, students and faculty will be joining on panels to discuss different works such as ‘The Godfather’ and “Bonnie and Clyde.” Senior English major Karly Muñoz is one of the students on the joint student-faculty panel on March 2 discussing “The Godfather.”

“I knew I wanted to talk about ‘The Godfather’ because it is such an incredible movie,” said Muñoz. “Not only does it talk about the gangster experience, but it also addresses the American Dream and what it means to make it in this country — something that I think is increasingly relevant today.”

These films have historical importance but they also reflect issues of today’s society.

“The gangster films often center on immigrant narratives because many times in the classic gangster film, the gangster comes from an Italian-American heritage or an Irish-American heritage or a Jewish heritage,” said Lucia.

In today’s political climate, Lucia feels these kinds of films are particularly noteworthy to watch and think about because of how parallel the narratives can be.

“It’s so interesting in the current climate looking at these movies that have to do with aspiring to a kind of dream, the American dream, and about who is allowed to have access to that dream, who is excluded,” she said. “In many cases, those who feel excluded will turn to shortcut methods, like crime, and so we can anticipate the connection with the current moment. It worked out really beautifully in the sense that these are the topics that are on everybody’s mind on a national scale right now.”


Originally published in the 3/1/17 edition. 

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