La mafia va al cine

Why (Low) Life Imitates Art – Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate by Diego Gambetta

Il connubio tra criminalità organizzata e cinema è stretto e di lunga data. Perché?

Per rispondere, cominciamo con una storia triste ambientata in Giappone. Alla mafia non dispiacque un film che la dipingeva in una luce satirica… ecco come reagì…

… On a mild Friday night in May 1992 at about 8.45 p.m. three young men dressed in black approached Japanese film director Juzo Itami as he was parking his car near his apartment in Tokyo. Two held him down while the third pulled out a knife and slashed his face and neck. “They cut very slowly; they took their time,” Itami later said. They left him bleeding on the sidewalk and sped off in a black car. A few days before, Minbo no Onna (translated as either “Mob Woman” or “The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion”) had opened to rave reviews in Japan. In the film yakuza gangsters are depicted “as crude bullies who are outsmarted and eventually beaten by a female lawyer.” “The lawyer is played by Itami’s wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, who stars in all his movies,” including Tampopo, the cult film for which Itami is best known in the West. In Mob Woman, a young yakuza member stabs the lawyer in an attack that soon “was imitated in real life.”…

Da sempre yazuka e cinema conducono una vita parallela

… Tolerated by Japanese society and enjoying a near-legal status, yakuza once were also the pampered darlings of the Japanese B-movie industry. Yakuza films became a genre in their own right in postwar Japan. They were mostly low budget—each film was shot and packaged in less than a month—and yet they became so popular that around 1974 studios were producing a stunning hundred of these films a year…

I gusti della mafia: adora la difesa del debole e nutre una certa nostalgia per il passato e il bel tempo andato…

… Like cowboys, these outlaws define their own code of morality, and help the weak and the oppressed, but unlike cowboy movies Yakuza films do not contain the essential theme of social mobility but rather stress the immutability of the social order, and they are driven, like many other Japanese films, by nostalgia for a preindustrial past…

Diciamo che le storie dei samurai e il teatro kabuki forniscono canovacci ottimali.

Lunghi silenzio e messaggi in codice farciscono i film sulla Yazuka…

… “Yakuza films are litanies of private argot, subtle body language, obscure codes, elaborate rites, iconographic costumes and tattoos.”

Lo zoccolo duro dei film sulla Yazuka sono i criminali stessi…

… Buruma writes that “real mobsters in Japan are among the greatest fans of this cinematic genre, often imitating the style of movie yakuza”…

C’è il piacere estetico ma c’è anche l’aspetto funzionale: per la mafia è importante che venga pubblicizzata la sua crudeltà (visto che non puo’ farlo direttamente ingaggiando un’agenzia)…

… Movies that make mobsters look vicious are actually good publicity, not just because all publicity is good but because they advertise mobsters’ threatening image, which is their greatest asset…

La mafia è scocciata solo se il cattivo non è professionale, non certo quando il cattivo è cattivo…

… Itami’s film is unique in displaying mobsters’ faults in their own professional terms. What they worry about is not being thought of as bad, quite the opposite. They resent being seen to be bad at being bad…

E in questo senso gli interessi dei produttori  sono in armonia con quelli criminali: il cattivo imbranato puo’ andar bene per una pellicola ma il soggetto non regge a lungo, non offre molti spunti narrativi.

C’è il caso satirico di Roberta Torre (Tano da morire). La mafia non se la prese, ma c’erano dei motivi: si perculava anche l’antimafia, era tutto un mondo sopra le righe…

… Roberta Torre’s farcical musical (Tano to Die For), a parody of Sicilian mafiosi, which came out in 1998 in Italy, is the only other film I know of that might similarly have offended its models… Yet nothing happened to Roberta Torre. It may have helped that her film also makes fun of the antimafia people, or that the production company, according to Salvatore Zanca and Marcello Fava, two mafiosi who turned state’s evidence, paid 15,000 euros to the boss of La Vucciria, a Palermo neighborhood, to be able to shoot without problems…

***

A Hong Kong si paga il capo-rione per girare certi film…

… In order to shoot in peace and enjoy the collaboration of the locals, for example, crews in various parts of the world have been asked by mobsters to pay up or else face the consequences. Chu Yiu Kong documents this practice extensively in Hong Kong, which spread when outdoor filming became more common in the 1980s, exposing the industry more to extortion…

Salvatore Giuliano chiese i diritti a Rosi…

… Tullio Kezich, a veteran Italian film critic—who worked with Francesco Rosi on the set of Salvatore Giuliano in 1961 in Sicily—said that the crew came under pressure from locals as well as from jailed mobsters working through their lawyers. The message was, “You are taking pictures of my windows and you must pay me, or else I’ll lean out of the window and ruin your take.”…

Ma sono gli stessi registi che chiedono protezione prima ancora di iniziare le riprese…

… Crews in Sicily eventually learned to move first and ask for “protection” without waiting to be prompted. British director Anthony Waller, when filming Mute Witness in 1993 in Moscow, said: “we were told by our Russian co-producers that we had to pay offthree different mafia groups to allow us to shoot in peace. They were quoting prices more expensive than Hollywood…

Si crea una sorta di parassitismo reciproco.

Rourke vantava la sua amicizia con Gotti

… Dressed in an off-white double-breasted suit and wearing a ponytail, Mickey Rourke went to the late John Gotti’s trial in New York together with Anthony Quinn in a show of solidarity with the Gambino family boss. Rourke said that he and “Mr. Gotti were friends. I do roles that are urban-type roles, and he knows about them,” Mr. Rourke said. “He’s very intelligent, he’s very generous with his time.”…

Alcuni mafiosi, specie in Giappone, hanno prodotto dei film ma una vera commistione affaristica tra i due settori (criminalità e mafia) non è mai avvenuta…

… There are, however, few cases of mobsters turning into producers. Toei, the studio that shot hundreds of yakuza movies, “owed much of its success to its general producer, Kouji Shundo,” who was an expert in the matter, being himself an ex-yakuza.24 He is an exception though… There is a peculiar incompetence among mobsters, which I discussed in chapter 2, and the smart ones let the professionals do the work. The main business of a well-functioning mafia is protection, and when it engages in other activities that do need protection, it does so by what economists call “vertical integration” rather than by taking over the business altogether…

Ecco i prerequisiti per attrarre il business criminale…

… Peter Reuter and I showed that the sectors that attract (or often ask for) mobsters’ protection have certain features in common—firms are small, there are low entry costs, they are unionized, they have lots of unskilled labor, and they need low technology.27 B movie making is work of this kind…

Certi B-movie sono appetibili.

***

Molto spesso la sceneggiatura si ispira a storie vere della criminalità…

… Scriptwriters have ransacked the underworld for stories. Nick Pileggi, who wrote Wiseguys and Casino, both made into films by Martin Scorsese, is one of the most successful examples. Mike Newell, who directed Donnie Brasco, based the movie on the experience of FBI agent Joseph Pistone, who as we know infiltrated the New York mafia in the late 1970s. Other scriptwriters have drawn on fragments of mobsters’ lives rather than on entire stories. Sicilian mafioso Cesare Manzella traveled through the United States hidden in a large cargo crate. The same trick was used in Il Mafioso, where comic actor Alberto Sordi is shipped to the United States to commit a murder as payment for the protection he received from the mafia in the past.29 Mario Puzo, who scripted the most famous mafia movie of all, The Godfather, “read his way through a mountain of Senate hearings about the mafia, garnering a mass of authentic details to use in the story of the Corleone family.”…

I mafiosi diventano consulenti ricercati.

Mafiosi veri che discutono di mafiosi finti

… During a criminal investigation in the late 1990s, the FBI tapped the phones of some New Jersey mafiosi. A large part of their conversation was taken up with discussing on whom the characters in The Sopranos television show were based…

Mafiosi finti che frequentano mafiosi veri…

… The crew of The Godfather and its actors happily communed with the “boys.” James Caan was seen in the company of Carmine “The Snake” Persico so often that the FBI thought he was part of that crew…

Mafiosi critici cinematografici

… Meyer Lansky, a longtime Jewish associate of Italian American mafiosi, telephoned Lee Strasberg, the actor who played “him” in the Godfather: “He said, ‘you did good.’”But he also added, somewhat more ominously: “Now, why couldn’t you have made me more sympathetic? After all, I am a grandfather.”…

Locali  punto di ritrovo dei due mondi…

… A whole demimonde has grown around the industry of mob movies, and nowhere more so than in New York. There is an Italian-American hangout, Rao’s in East Harlem, where “a network of would-be wise guys, celebrities, prosecutors and crime reporters” meet and “form a kind of pseudo-commission ruling on the mob’s narrative mythology.”…

Rocco Musacchia: il link…

… Liz Hurley, the British actress who produced Mickey Blue Eyes, “lavishes praise on Musacchia, whom she refers to as the link between the likes of Al Pacino, Johnny Depp and Barry Levinson and the kind of men who could be on F.B.I. surveillance lists.”…

Eppure, pochi attori diventano criminali, nonostante la contiguità l’osmosi è problematica: il salto è troppo radicale…

… There are a “tiny” number of men with a criminal past “who are getting parts as wise guys in mob-themed movies and television shows because of the tough-guy demeanors they have cultivated since they were kids.”40 Bobby “Blue” Martana is one example. He “moonlighted as a bodyguard to Robert de Niro’s Al Capone in the Untouchables, then returned to his day job”—described as “busting heads across Brooklyn and Staten Island for the Gambino family.”41 Other mobsters appeared as extras in the crowd scenes in The Godfather in Little Italy. But they tend to be small-time crooks who in most cases have given up crime. Joe Bonanno took acting classes in his youth,42 but there is no record of serious actors becoming mobsters.43 Besotted by the mob, Frank Sinatra loved to congregate with and sing for such mobsters as Lucky Luciano and Sam Giancana…

Ancora: pochi gangster diventano attori

… And there is no record of mobsters becoming actors, with one exception, which is found, once again, in Japan. Noboru Ando, once the boss of a Tokyo crime family, the Andogumi, became an actor after the fall of his gang…

Eppure tutti i mafiosi sono un po’ attori naturali

… “All yakuza have to be actors to survive”46—but the act they perform requires them never to reveal that it is one. They gain much from their fearsome reputation, and the more they can advertise it by a sheer display of menace and self-assurance rather than by actual acts of violence, the better it is for them…

Il mafioso è attore naturale ma non ama il set: teme di essere visto come impostore, e questo lo blocca…

… So while mobsters may be attracted by actors’ ability to scare and impress the public while being fakes, and while they like being seen in the company of celebrities, the last thing they want is to be seen as impostors…

***

Film sulla mafia e mafia si imitano a vicenda. Si imitano a cominciare dai nomi

… As the Nigerian government combed the world in pursuit of more than $4bn (£2.76bn) that disappeared under the rule of General Sani Abacha, one trail led to Switzerland where the late dictator’s sons had opened a series of bank accounts. To the investigators’ surprise, they found many of the Swiss accounts used one of two code names—Kaiser for those opened by Ibrahim Abacha and Soze for his brother Mohammed…. Keyser Soze was the name of a shadowy Turkish Mafia leader in The Usual Suspects, the 1995 film starring Kevin Spacey…

Ma si imitano anche nelle pratiche

… “Toto’ Di Cristina had just finished reading The Godfather”—said Antonino Calderone—”and he had the idea of doing like in the book…. They disguised themselves as doctors and killed [Candido Ciuni, a hotel manager] in his [hospital] bed.”…

Le Brigate Rosse presero spesso spunto dai “poliziotteschi” tanto cari a Tarantino…

… Mario Moretti, one of the leaders of the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group, said that when they started to rob banks to finance their activities they followed “the same technique we saw in films.”…

Suicidarsi per proteggere i parenti: una pratica ispirata dai film…

… In The Godfather, a mafioso who is about to testify against the Corleone family takes his life to make sure his relatives will not suffer from his behavior. Suicide is rare among mafiosi. Yet Antonino Gioé, arrested in connection with the killing of Judge Giovanni Falcone, did exactly that…

Robert Altman sulla responsabilità del cinema nell’attentato del 9/11…

… The late director Robert Altman suggested the grandest and most tragic example of this dynamic. He believed that a Hollywood genre he calls the “comedy of apocalypse” may have been a contributory factor in the staging of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon: “The movies set the pattern, and these people have copied the movies. Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they’d seen it in a movie. How dare we continue to show this kind of mass destruction in movies? I just believe we created this atmosphere and taught them how to do it.”…

I criminali al cinema sono anche una miniera di argomenti retorici da cui spesso i mafiosi attingono nei processi…

… Movies also help to expand one’s armory of arguments. Frankie Locasio was John Gotti’s codefendant and was convicted of murder and racketeering. At the trial his son Salvatore was “one of a sleek-suited crew who populate[d] the public benches. ‘This is America!’ shouted Mr. Locasio after the judge dismissed one of his father’s lawyers. ‘Haven’t they ever heard of the Bill of Rights? Tell them to go over there and read it.’ In 1959, when Rod Steiger played Al Capone, he used the same line.”…

***

Per la mala il cinema ha una funzione fondamentale di coordinamento. E’ lo spazio pubblico del criminale, ovvero di colui a cui è negato ogni spazio pubblico…

… While criminals need conventional signals to communicate with each other and with the outside world, they are also hard put to agree on what these signals are and how to establish them credibly. They lack a coordinating and standardizing authority, and have to operate in secrecy. They cannot for instance devise a company jingle and make it known to everyone without getting caught. Movies can accidentally offer some solutions to those problems. What they offer is “common knowledge,” the foundation of coordination in the absence of a central authority: coordination occurs when everyone knows that everyone else knows that s means k or that people like us always do j….

Nel cinema è possibile produrre e veicolare significati senza rispondere di affiliazione al crimine…

… The soundtrack acts as an icon that gives a clear meaning without constituting evidence of affiliation…

Un esempio: il guardaroba del gangster…

… William Everson, a film historian, argues that gangster lore was invented in a 1912 silent film called Musketeers of Pig Alley, in which all the protagonists wear suits and hats, and that Al Capone and the Chicago mob adopted the movie tradition…

Non che senza i film i mezzi manchino, ma il cinema è una grande arma in più…

… Without movies we would still have gangsters. We did have them. But without films, mobsters would need different sources for their conventional signals….

Il problema della mafia russa: l’assenza di una tradizione cinematografica.

Come si rimediò? Attingendo alla filmografia sulla mafia italiana…

… Knowing how to behave has been a serious headache for the many new gangs that have sprouted in Russia since 1989. They have no history, no agreed-upon codes, and they plunder anything that plausibly can be plundered. Russian mobsters are said to mimic “the clothing and swagger of American gangsters in 1930’s movies.”… Others in Russia have looked to Sicily, as mediated by fiction, as a source of inspiration…

I film servono anche ad educare le nuove generazioni criminali: la mafia non puo’ aprire una scuola…

… The effectiveness of movies is particularly relevant for transmitting conventional codes to younger generations. Newcomers and would-be mobsters cannot easily learn how a mobster is supposed to behave. Movies help not just to create but to spread the codes of behavior. “Young gangsters or triad members,” Chu Yiu Kong wrote, “like to watch gang movies to learn how to behave as a triad. It should be noted that triad membership is a criminal offence in Hong Kong and the gang movie is one of the major sources for youngsters to learn how to behave to be a triad.”…

Come devo vestirmi? Guarda i film dei gangster…

… Rakesh Kurana told me that a friend of his “went to work on a college internship for an investment bank in New York. When he asked what he should wear at the office he was told to go watch the movie Wall Street.”…

In fondo era così anche nel XIX secolo

… In his biography of Kipling, “David Gilmour makes a similar point about Kipling’s ‘Departmental Ditties’ and ‘Barrack-Room Ballads’; they taught the British soldiers in India to talk and act like Danny Deever and Tommy Atkins.”…

Anche nel medioevo

… “The Medieval European aristocrats, from the 13th century on, emulated the actions they admired in books….

Sappiamo bene come i pirati sfruttassero la libera stampa.

Il cinema ha un ruolo importante per tutte quelle professioni che hanno a che fare con i segreti

Le Carré said that young spies have looked at his books as a source on which to tailor their demeanor and vocabulary…

Due condizioni valorizzano certi film agli occhi di certe professioni 1) la segretezza e 2) la necessità di un codice per comunicare in modo criptato…

… Two conditions jointly foster the generation of conventional codes through fiction. First, there must be a value in having commonly shared and stable conventions. Next, there must be obstacles to creating and spreading them by means of an overarching authoritative forum—because of a need for secrecy, perhaps, or because of poor means of communication or coordination (both certainly problems for medieval knights)…

Il mondo del crimine gira proprio intorno alla segretezza e ai codici criptati. E’ naturale che tra crimine organizzato e cinema si realizzi il matrimonio perfetto.

***

I film sono anche una pubblicità per la mafia, che non si puo’ affidare ad un’agenzia.

… Mobsters benefit from and revel in the publicity they vicariously get from movies about them…

Spesso, addirittura, il prodotto viene confezionato dopo la pubblicità anziché prima…

… an additional reason to do as they see done in the movies. To inform their own audience that they are those whom the movie really talks about—that guy on the screen is me!…

Lucky Luciano investì nel cinema…

… In the 1950s Lucky Luciano returned to Lercara Friddi, his hometown in Sicily. His contribution to local culture was to provide financial backing for the opening of the first cinema in the village. The first film showed there was Little Caesar, a gangster classic with Edward G. Robin son….

Il Padrino è per la mafia quel che Marilyn Monroe è stata per Chanel n. 5…

… The absolute winner of the contest to supply the best free mafia advertising is undoubtedly The Godfather. That film had for the mafia the same effect that Marilyn Monroe’s famous quip about her nocturnal dress had for boosting sales of Chanel no. 5…

Il Padrino ha ispirato intere carriere. L’esempio di Gravano

… Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, John Gotti’s lieutenant, whose testimony was crucial in sending his former boss to jail, saw The Godfather in 1972, and later acknowledged that “[Puzo] influenced the life, absolutely.” “I would use lines in real life like ‘I’m gonna make an offer you can’t refuse,’ and I always tell people, just like from ‘The Godfather,’ ‘If you have an enemy, that enemy becomes my enemy.’”…

E quello di Milito

… Louie watched it like six thousand times. It was like a searchlight had lit up on something he had always believed in but never seen the proof before…. All our friends were watching it…the guys who came to the house were all acting like Godfather actors, kissing and hugging even more than they did before and coming out with lines from the movie…. Louie and Frank [de Cicco] watched it in the den and Frankie came upstairs looking like he’s just seen God…Louie thought it was close to reality, but I didn’t. Back then I laughed at all that, like it was a farce….

Il Padrino “legittima”…

… The “advertising” persuaded the mobsters first of all of the value of their deeds; it boosted their sense of their own legitimacy…

Accuse ai film che rendono il crimine glamour

… John Abbott, director general of the British National Criminal Intelligence Service, has openly blamed films, such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, both by director Guy Ritchie, for glamorizing and thus encouraging organized crime…

L’identificazione del criminale nei film e la sua autentica commozione. Il caso Gravano…

… Gravano said: Remember that scene when Michael [Corleone] goes to whack that drug dealer and the police captain?…Remember how Michael couldn’t hear anything as he’s walking up on them? Remember how his eyes went glassy, and there was just the noise of the train in the background, and how he couldn’t hear them talk? That’s just like I felt when I killed Joe Colucci…

L’universalità del Padrino…

… The Godfather transfixed not just the Italian American mobsters or their Sicilian cousins. Denizens of the underworld loved it in Hong Kong, in Japan, and in Russia—for all of whom the film was even less realistic. According to Nikolai Modestov, the mobsters of Sergei Frolov’s Balashikha gang could recite parts of the Godfather films by heart.89 It was a truly global movie,…

Padrino contro Donnie Brasco nell’immaginario criminale…

… In 1999, discussing the movie with Jeffrey Goldberg, Steven Kaplan, allegedly John Gotti Jr.’s bodyguard, revealed how much the film is valued by its models to this day: One evening earlier this month, while debating the strengths of various mob movies, Kaplan lavishly praised “The Godfather.” I [Goldberg] countered that “The Godfather,” while hugely entertaining, kept alive destructive myths, and suggested “Donnie Brasco” as a compelling depiction of hard-luck mob life. It is for this reason that “Donnie Brasco” is not popular in certain circles. Kaplan’s eyes grew beady, and he said, very slowly, in a manner meant to preclude further dissent, “The Godfather” is a better movie…

Mito e leggenda prevalgono sul realismo. Il realismo eccessivo non piace ai criminali.

Donnie Brasco è troppo realistico per realizzare una buona pubblicità, manca l’aspetto glamour…

… Donnie Brasco is arguably one of the best mob movies ever made on the subject (it took a British director who went to public school to portray effectively this society of men, their weaknesses and quirks, the mutual intimidation, the paranoia, the subjugation, the displays of power). But precisely because of its realism, because it portrays a case in which mobsters were conned by an astute undercover agent, it is unpopular with gangsters. Advertising is not supposed to dwell on shortcomings…

Goodfellas: film su mafiosi che vivono come se fossero in un film sui mafiosi. Troppo cerebrale…

… Goodfellas, by Pileggi and Scorsese, is a much more realistic movie also, which, as film critic Jim Shepard said, is “littered with the corpses of guys who thought they were in a movie called The Godfather”…

Il via libera dei boss alla serie dei Soprano

… According to James Gandolfini, the actor who played Tony Soprano, the series was closely monitored by mobsters, who did not hesitate to pass their verdicts on the show and let the actors know if their behavior did not ring true…

 

 

 

 

 

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