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White Heat
White Heat clearly belongs within Shatzs category of genres of order. How far do you agree with this statement? This is an exiting essay to write for a number of reasons. For one it is an honour to follow in the footsteps of Raul Walsh understanding the motivations that brought him to direct White Heat in the way he did it. For another reason is wonderful having the possibility to describe it through the Shatz^s module that can describe perfectly every aspect of a selected movie. Because it is essentially a narrative system, a film genre can be examined in terms of its fundamental structural components: plot, character, setting, thematics and so on. Shatz divided Hollywood film genres in two main categories, these are distinguished by completely different characteristics. As he said: ^Each genre represents a distinct problem-solving strategy that repeatedly addresses basic cultural contradictions^ (Shatz, 1948: 34). He defined certain genres like screwball comedy, family melodrama, musical and so on as rites of integration. Those films are centred upon a doubled or collective her! o set into a ^civilised^ space, the main problems are emotional and the resolution is always by love. Other genres centred on an individual male such as Western, gangster, detective, etc. appertain to the genre of order category. The protagonist (individual male) ^is the focus of dramatic conflicts within a setting of contested, ideologically instable space. Conflicts within these genres are externalised, translated into violence, and usually resolved through the elimination of some threat to the social order^ (Shatz, 1948: 34). At the end of the film the protagonist always leaves the contested space either by his departure or death and he always maintains his individuality and he doesn^t learn about values and lifestyle of the community. The principal thematics within this genre are the mediation-redemption, the male macho code, isolated self-reliance and utopia-as-promise. White Heat is a classic gangster and was directed, as I said, by Raul Walsh in 1949. It stands at the crux between the 1930^s gangster movies and the post^war film noir. The plot is briefly this: James Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a psychotic who dreams of being on "top of the world". Inadvertently leaving clues behind after a railroad heist, Jarrett becomes the target of federal agents, which send an undercover agent (O^Brien) to infiltrate the Jarrett gang. While Cody sits in prison on a deliberately trumped-up charge (he confesses to one crime to provide him an alibi for the railroad robbery), he befriends Fallon (O^Brien), who poses as a hero-worshipping hood who's always wanted to work with Jarrett. Busting out of prison with Fallon, Jarrett regroups his gang to mastermind a "Trojan Horse" armoured car robbery. The crime goes off without a hitch until Jarrett discovers that Fallon is a cop. >From the film^s opening title shot of the locomotive pulsing towards the camera out of the dark tunnel, until the final apocalyptic explosion that destroys the hero, this film is filled with flourishes of camera movements, cutting and composition clearly belonging to the most classic gangster. The sense of locale evoked by Walsh is, at my eyes, quite contemporary, making imaginative use of tourist courts and drive-in movie theatres. The signs of modernity are everywhere (most obviously in the ^scientific^ surveillance techniques bay the police to track Jarrett), and add to the sense that the tragic figure of the gangsters has outlived his day. The obvious brutality and emotional shock tactics of White Heat are striking even to present-day audiences. Jarrett kills anyone who challenges or crosses him; he indiscriminately kills cops and his own gang members with equal disregard. At the beginning of the film one of the engineers overheads Cody^s name, Cody shoots him, and later a! ssigns one of his men to kill a gang member who was accidentally burned during the robbery and cannot travel with the gangsters. In this film James Cagney acts one of the most maniacal, yet complexed ever gangster. Probably the ^white heat^ of the title refers in part to the debilitating headaches Cody suffers; he describes them as feeling like a buzzsaw in his brain. Jarrett^s migraine attacks and insane rages clearly equate his mental condition and his sociopathic profession. Yet the film plays out Cody^s psychosis quite astutely in the determinant relationship of the film^his exaggerated attachment to his mother. Although accompanied by his very nice, but ultimately duplicitous bride, Cody ignores her in favour of Ma Jarrett, advisor and comforter to her only son, and who never lives his side until he is taken to prison. As Shatz said: ^Not only Cody^s pathological state provide a rationale for his aberrant behaviour, it also exonerates society from any responsibility for h! is criminality. We learn that his law father had been confined in a mental institution and had died of similar seizures. As the narrative develops, it becomes increasingly obvious that Cody is willing to gamble with death because he assumes the same fate that had destroyed his father awaits him^ (Shatz, 1948: 108). I think that there might be a misunderstanding about White Heat^s clear belonging to Shatz^s category of ^genres of order^. All signs of ^genre of order^ are related in some kind to the film that is one of the 40^s latest gangster movies. We cannot expect from White Heat the same plot of other gangster films. First it would be very boring, and second this movie was filmed after the war, during a different historical moment compared to its predecessors. From my point of view White Heat is the classical product of what Shatz called ^genre evolution^. As Warshow puts in: ^Variation is absolutely necessary to keep the type from becoming sterile; we don^t want to see the same movie over and over again, only the same form^ (Warshow, 1962: 147). This is a clear gangster movie and Jarrett is the ^social animal^ gangster hero. Making a comparison between earlier gangster movies, there could be a bit of confusion on four characteristic of film^s structure: the hero figure, the settin! g, the conflict and the macho code. On one hand, everything indicates that Cody Jarrett is the hero but on the other hand Hank Fallon, the cop, could be seen as the final hero. He goes undercover in the prison to gain Jarrett^s confidence and lead him to the gas chamber. Exploiting Jarrett^s psychological weakness, Fallon manages to partially fill the emotional void left when Cody finds out his mother has been killed (a schene which provides the film^s emotional peak, when upon hearing the notice Jarrett freaks in the prison mess hall). I think that O^Brien, as Shatz says, is clearly intended to counterbalance Cagney/Jarrett^s antisocial posture Walsh^s characterisation of him tips the scale toward the criminal forces (Shatz, 1948: 109), nothing more. He is not the hero; he doesn^t dye as the hero. Jarrett does: realising his betrayal by Fallon, and after a hopeless battle with the police he reaches the top of a big tank filled with something unknown, but very, very explosive! , he fires his pistol into the drum shouting ^I made it Ma, top of the world^. The white hot explosion, which follows not only marks Jarrett^s ascension to the tragic, but equates his madness with the end of the world, is the classical sign of the figurative demise of the classic gangster hero. White heat is clearly set in a contested space where, as Shatz said: ^forces of social order and anarchy are locked in an epic and unending struggle^ (Shatz, 1948: 83), although is represented in a different way than his predecessors, he appertains to the ^rural gangsters^. It is clearly expressed in the first part of the film: the train comes out from the tunnel in an open rural space. Anyway we can partially find the gangster^s urban milieu in the prison and in the final scenes where Jarrett has to fight to reach his goals in smaller spaces than the rest of the film. Misunderstanding the film ^conflict^ could be quite simple: Jarrett is mad, the conflict could be seen as internal be! cause of his migraines that are connected to his mother: at one point on of the agents explains that Jarrett used to fake his headaches to attract his mother^s attention. I suppose that the film^s main conflict results in the end internalised but very violent: Jarrett internal conflict is spread out in his violent actions and manners. Jarrett^s insanity is an other variation introduced to the macho code by Walsh. On one hand Jarrett is the macho and Cagney delivered an incredible credibility to his character. He is rude, he treats his wife as a ^woman^: he assures her ^You^d look good in a shower curtain^; punches a lackey who had left the radio on and tells him, ^if the radio^s dead, it^s gonna have company^; he locks a double-crossing prison member in a car trunk and then gives him: ^a little air^. On the other hand Cagney can also alternate Jarrett^s macho being to his migraine attacks in a wonderful way. Each headache attack increases his excessive vulnerability towards t! he most non-macho aspect of the Hollywood gangster: his mother. In conclusion I guess that
White Heat
is probably one of the few gangster movies that tend to shake towards ^genre of integration^ category, but I think that belongs within Shatz^s category of ^genres of order^. Bibliography: Shatz, Thomas. ^ÓHollywood Genres^Ô, 1948 St. James Press. ^ÓThe movie Guide^Ô, 1990 Internet: http://www.thenwage.com Warshow, Robert. ^ÓThe immediate experience^Ô, 1962

 



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