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Influence of American Cinema

The popular perception of American cities, members of particular social classes, cultures, and historical events all have been heavily influenced by film. Often, Hollywood’s depictions of these tidbits of daily life are taken as authentic interpretations when they have actually extrapolated, or exaggerated the truth.

The result of this is a dual reality, one that is exact and immediate, and one that is in the mind. When one thinks of New York, hot dogs, organized crime, the Statue of Liberty, and thick accents are liable to come to mind. When one thinks of L. A., they may think of movie stars, expensive cars, and shallow egos. These are typical characteristics assigned to these cities by a majority of Americans, many of whom may never have even visited New York or California. This contrast is the result of Hollywood interpretation of America. Hollywood depiction of Los Angeles One of the more noted and obsessively received films depicting California life is the film Clueless. Despite many surface differences, Amy Heckerling’s film Clueless can very easily be proclaimed as a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s novel Emma.

The main characters are both high class snobs who pride themselves in their matchmaking abilities. Emma Woodhouse is a member of a upscale society in nineteenth century England, while Cher Horowitz lives in wealthy, upscale Beverly Hills U. S. A. Both Cher and Emma are among the culturally elite in their societies. Cher’s father is a litigation lawyer in the most affluent city in America, and Cher is arguably the most popular girl in her school. This can directly be connected to Austen’s description of Emma in which she describes Emma as, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition (5).

Just as Jane Austen’s novel was a depiction of upscale elitists life in London during the Victorian era, Clueless depicts the same socioeconomic class only with regards to Beverly Hills in the 90’s. The film had such a popular reception it inadvertently resulted in further establishing the archetype of the valley girl (most synonymous with snobby, wealthy, Barbie-like California teenagers) as an American stereotype. America’s historical infatuation with this stereotypical image can most prevalently be seen with the notorious popularity of women like Marilyn Monroe, Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith, and Britney Speares.

The ideals exploited and enforced by women like this has resulted in the driving force behind the stigma that California, specifically Los Angeles is over populated with superficial plastic individuals. This is a persona that has developed over the years and solidified with the film Clueless but it is certainly a change from the classic magical mystique of Hollywood’s heyday in the 1950’s. Over the past 50 years, the common American view of L. A. lifestyle has grown from being glamorous to superficial, and film has a large part to do with this change.

Hollywood Depiction of New York City Since the creation of American cinema, Hollywood has had a significant influence on developing the cultural mystique and International infatuation that is synonymous with New York. No New York director has more authentically and imbedded New York ideals into popular culture than Martin Scorsese. Classified as a contemporary auteur he has carved a niche as a New York Hollywood director. The auteur theory protests that the director’s films reflect the particular director’s personal creative vision, as though he or she were the sole author of the work.

The French word for author, many film producers have notably been credited for having auteur like influences on film projects. It has also had a major impact on film criticism, since it was erected by film director and critic Francois Truffaut in 1954. This is partly why Auteurism is most immediately connected with French New Wave. This of course, was a connection made most commonly in the mid 1950’s to 60’s before American filmmakers embodied the theory. Today, no contemporary American director more deserves the title of auteur than Martin Scorsese.

He has presented his genuine Italian New York culture in such an authentic way that, for so long, it is unclear whether his work is a reflection of the city, or the city is a reflection of his work. Martin Scorsese is the perfect example of an auteur because he uses the same thematic consistencies throughout all of his work. These entail Catholicism, virgin/whore conflict, redemption, ethnic pride, and of course crime culture. On top of this, he supports all of his plots with very eclectic soundtracks. The cinematography he uses is very similar in all of his films.

He utilizes the fluid motion of the camera with each shot, while making the mis-en-scene of each frame valuable to the plot of the story. He is also know for using some of the same actors in his films, specifically Robert Deniro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Of his large body of work, Mean Street symbolizes the blue print to the archetype that has become his unique style (Raymond, 2002). It was his first film and it contains all of the key characteristics with which he modeled his style. Scorsese has a visual style that relies on the city of New York.

Mean Street embodies the culture that comes with this location. In the film, the audience is subjected to getting to know characters who spend their time womanizing, hustling, fighting, and drinking. Centered on the struggles of four men in their mid-20’s and all residents of Little Italy, who are working their way up the rungs of gangster culture, some are loan sharks, and some are just plain hoods. Tony (David Proval) is a big friendly guy who runs the neighborhood bar; Michael (Richard Romanus) is a small-time loan shark who tends to rip off Brooklyn adolescents.

Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) is an irresponsible hood who borrows money from loan sharks that he never intends to pay back, and Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is the nephew of the mafia boss Giovani (Cesar Danova). Charlie’s only aspiration is to run his own restaurant. Mean Street is authentically based on specific events Scorsese saw almost regularly while he was brought up in Little Italy (Raymond, 2002). The influence this auteur’s work has had on America is multifaceted.

On one hand, he depicts an American crime subculture, which though often overlooked actually set the foundation for big city society and has some initial connection with most big business in America today. On the other hand, his work has been credited for causing many of the stereotypes which haunt Italian Americans throughout the United States. His films depict characters who interact with a dialect that is authentic to New York, but not to all New Yorkers. The majority of Scorsese’s most popular films represent the criminal underbelly of New York, because it is the image of the city that people find most believable.

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