Exorcism and Economic Crises: A sociocritical Reading of the Semiological Analysis
In a first approach to Scarface I had reconstructed the semiotic system of the initial se-quences of the film before proposing the outlines of a sociocritical reading. The problemat-ics that have emerged may now be submitted to new analyses conducted from perceptibly different and, for that very reason, complementary points of view. Our point of departure is the major semiotic text that emerged from our analysis, namely, the polarity of hiding and unmasking, which seems to run through the whole system.
As the film unfolds, this dialectic is explicitly articulated at the denotative level by a scene that the Hays Code censors required from the producer and the director: the inter-view that takes place in the offices of the Evening Record, opposing the apparent editor of the newspaper, Mr. Garston, to people who seem to be representatives of a pressure group. The latter reproach Mr. Garston for giving publicity to gangsters, for “keeping their activi-ties spread all over the front page,” for thinking that “our children must be saturated with violence and murder.” The editor tries to convince his interlocutors that one cannot “get rid of gangsters by ignoring them; by removing them from the front page,” and he draws their attention to the danger involved in “hiding the facts.” “We must arrest them, unmask them, and rid this country of them. That is how they will disappear from the front page.”7
This coincidence between the formulations of the ideological instance and the in-terplay of textual structures is extremely interesting to follow. From my methodological point of view, I can deduce a series of remarks. For those who have followed my semi-ological analysis, the remark of the editor will seem only a redundancy, a gratuitous repeti-tion of what the film is constantly saying. For the Hays Office censors, on the contrary, what was involved was the requirement that something finally be said that up to then had not been said. In my view, ideological instances are profoundly invested in the cultural object, which ideology itself refuses to admit and which, by this very refusal, reveals itself for what it is. By entering the film in this form, the ideological instance, paradoxically situ-ates itself as outside cultural production.
I shall not, however, take this coincidence as confirmation of the results of my se-miotic approach. That would be to ignore the fact that the two chains of meaning shaping the text –that of the sign and that of the signified– are distinct and autonomous. Seen in the context of their theoretical autonomy, the coincidence that makes the two chains of mean-ing cross here needs to be investigated.
The scene at the Evening Record marks out a zone of ideological conflict, appar-ently banal and relatively secondary in importance, bearing upon the role generally played by the media: the media are invested in the film in such a way that it may be immediately assumed that the characters assembled around Mr. Garston are making a negative judg-ment on the film from inside the film itself.
However, the point of view of Mr. Garston’s interlocutors is shared by the police commissioner, who sharply reprimands the reporter who has come to interview him about Camonte: “Colorful! What is the color of sewer rats? Listen here, your attitude is that of too many people in this country: they think these criminals are demigods. And what do they do about someone like Camonte? They sentimentalize him, romanticize him, joke about him. It was all right to glorify our bandits of the Old West; they met in the street at high noon and everyone went for the draw. But these creatures sneak around shooting peo-ple in the back and running away… When I think about what must be going on in the heads of these people, I want to vomit” (AS, p. 24).
This scene, which immediately precedes the Evening Record scene, draws our at-tention to the importance in the text of the little world of newspapermen. Thus, one of the first sequences of the film (the editorial room of the Daily Herald) provides a commentary on the brutal images of Big Louis’s assassination; the failed attempt on Meeham’s life is commented on in the same way (AS, p. 16). The gangsters keep close track of newspaper reports and are obviously flattered when they see their photos and accounts of their crimes spread all over the front page (“LOVO: What do the papers say? CAMONTE: I brought them [medium frontal shot of Camonte holding the newspaper]. They tell an awful story. There’s a picture of you… [he leans forward to give the paper to Lovo] …and one of me, too” [AS, p. 16]). They eagerly welcome reporters who want to interview them –as Gaffney does, for example, after the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. In their idle moments, they read newspapers (in the barbershop; at the start of the war of reprisal by Camonte against O’Hara’s gang: “A man is reading a newspaper when gunfire bursts from an approaching car… He sinks behind his newspaper”) to the point where, in the film at least, the newspa-per seems to be part of the iconography of gangsterism. At least three newspapers are men-tioned in the film: The Daily Herald, The Evening Record, and The Journal.
From the point of view of narrative technique, moreover, the newspaper a remark-able role to play, to the extent that, on several occasions, it takes over the narration. Thus, it is the newspaper that explains the circumstances of Big Louis’s death (“Do you know what happened?... Costello was the last of the old-style gang leaders. … They’re going to shoot each other down like rabbits”). The newspaper fills gaps left in the narration, sum-marizes diegetic ellipses: it is the newspaper that informs us simultaneously of the attack on Meeham, its relative and temporary failure, and the fact that it is part of a series (“An-other failed assassination attempt: Meeham, riddled with bullets, escapes death” [AS, p. 16]); it is the newspaper that allows an indirect summary of another action not witnessed by the spectator, namely, the absence of Tony, who has gone to spend a month in Florida, and the changes in the criminal underworld during his absence. (“A newspaper office: In the foreground a seated man. … A man approaches him and offers him a newspaper. THE MAN WITH THE NEWSPAPER: Big Tony is back from Florida. SEATED MAN [taking the news-paper]: Well, he better be careful [AS, p. 30]). The newspaper thus seems linked to the narrative instance, either because it is the means used by the latter to advance the action (as when Camonte learns through the newspaper that Meeham is only wounded), or because it takes the place of the narrative function. If the newspaper cannot be identified with the narrative instance (N), it is, at the very least, a narrator (n) that is, it plays a role within the narrational level. But the newspaper is a narrative at the second degree, a mirror of events; elsewhere, it appears only in its status as mirror. Though what it says precisely may escape us, it is itself commented upon, and this commentary corresponds to a second projection of the event, a projection that, in turn, will be given visual form in the film (event report-age commentary film). This is the case, for example, of the story of Big Louis’s mur-der and of the announcement of Tony’s return. The newspaper loses its informative function in order to become integrated with narratological programming. But in its manner of integration (when it is seen only as a mirror of the event), it presents itself essentially as observation, literally as medium. In this role, it most clearly resembles other media in-scribed in the text: first, advertising (“The World Is Yours”), which metaphorizes Camonte’s ambition and his social ascension and reflects in this way the thematic struc-ture; second, the theater, which reproduces the dual mimetic rivalry whose stake is, or has been, women: (“CAMONTE: I want to know which one of the two guys Sadie chose” [AS, p. 25]), thereby reflecting as well the interplay of the film’s two love triangles (Camonte–Poppy–Lovo; Camonte–Cesca–Rinaldo); and third, the film medium itself, which merits closer study.
The reader will have no doubt noticed the abundance of frames within frames: doors, windows, balconies cutting the depth of the visual field into spaces enclosed within one another: the curtains of Poppy’s bedroom defining a forbidden space; the rear window of the car in which Rinaldo and Camonte return after Camonte’s interview with Lovo, in which we see passing street scenes, and so on. Two textual phenomena give meaning to this series: (1) the murder of Big Louis at the very moment he goes to the telephone: be-hind a window, we see the silhouette of a man wearing a hat; a few seconds later, the kil-ler’s shadow is etched in profile, behind the lighted window, and it is through this window that his murderous gestures are seen (the pointed revolver, the cleaning of the weapon, etc.). We do not witness Big Louis’s assassination directly, that is, we do not see him fall the moment he is hit; we discover his body lying on the floor. Between the action and our seeing it, a window, that is, a screen, a medium, has intervened. We have not witnessed an assassination; we have witnessed the projection of an assassination. Just as the newspaper is presented as “mirror of the event,” the film is being presented here as mirror, reflection, gaze. (2) The first image of Scarface, in this context, has a certain a posteriori function. This first image bore the mark of a St. Andrew’s cross standing out in black against the screen or rather, against a screen that is at the same time that of the movie theater in which we are seated. and a screen that strikes us as such from inside the film, a screen that is signed, marked in its materiality as screen by a sign inscribing in it an idea of projection, and, probably, a message. Thus the film opens with a symbolic reflection of itself. Whether it is a question of sexual rivalry whose stake is first Poppy and then Cesca, or a general thematics of social ascension and world domination, or of the function and nature of the media, or even of narrative processes in general, the film creates systematic reflections of textual phenomena, presented as reflections, shadows, projections.
At this point, I shall discuss a sign that has undoubtedly been misinterpreted thus far: the St. Andrew’s cross, which Eliane Le Grivès (in Avant Scène), too quickly reads as a Latin cross. Jerome Lawrence, in The Life and Times of Paul Muni, cites an interesting comment by Howard Hawks in this connection:
Newspapers at the time always labeled their photographs of killing and accidents with a point of reference. X marks the spot where the body was found. … I got the crew together and I said: “We’re having a lot of killings and I want each to be labeled ‘X marks the spot’ in a cinematic way. So anybody who comes up with a notion we can use will get fifty bucks. No, make that a hundred.”8
The X thus belongs to what I shall call a specific microsemiotic –to that secondary model-ing system constituted by journalism. This comment justifies a posteriori the observations we have just made and allows us to interpret them. In fact, it is this microsemiotic that is vested in the film and that functions as a code for the transformation of observable reality. This microsemiotic accounts, in particular, for the following:
–The sensationalistic style of the film (the striking series of killings and assassina-tion attempts, the incestuous relationship between Cesca and Tony, the spectacular attack by the police at the end, automobile chases, machine-gun attacks, etc.).
–The status of the narrator, who bases the credibility of his omniscience on the sug-gestion that he possesses an impressive knowledge of the facts, the kind of knowledge characteristic of any “well-informed” daily newspaper.
–The complicity with the spectator that is established beforehand through the in-termediary of journalism. The narrative assumes, in fact, that the spectator already knows a number of facts upon which it is based. These facts are known to us only through the newspapers of the period. (We are explicitly told that the scenario is “based on Scarface, by Armitage Trail, as well as on newspapers of the period” [AS, p. 5].) The film thus situ-ates itself as an extension of written news media, and this gives it a powerful realism. To cite one example, there is the allusion to 22nd Street, notorious in the Chicago of the 1930s for its nightclubs and restaurants, whose “gem” was none other than the cabaret of Big Jim Colosimo, the obvious model for Big Louis in the film. Big Jim was murdered on the door-step of his restaurant, despite the fact that he had, in 1920, brought from New York two bodyguards, Johnny Torrio and Al Capone.9 The film’s scenario closely follows reality, thus recreating in an obvious manner a reality already known to the spectator through the daily newspapers. The principals of the drama are thinly veiled behind easily readable fic-tional names: Johnny Torrio becomes Johnny Lovo; Al Capone becomes Camonte; Big Jim becomes Big Louis; and the leader of the Northside gang, O’Bannion, lurks behind O’Hara. However, I shall mention two major differences:
(1) Al Capone is a natural replacement for the Southside gangleader after Torrio leaves for Italy when his life is threatened by the Irish. This enables us to understand better the profound didacticism of the film, which makes “struggle among leaders” into a general law.
(2) Al Capone, at least if we are to believe the eyewitness accounts of the period, especially that of Geo London, was neither foolish nor uncouth (“Outwardly, he was a gen-tle, sympathetic, articulate man. … In addition, he lacked neither a sense of appropriate-ness nor finesse”10). This comment heightens the importance of the carnivalization the protagonist undergoes in Scarface, which brings to the fore the way ideological stereotypes function in the film.
While Scarface was being filmed, that is, in late spring and early summer of 1931, an investigation was being carried out into the activities of Al Capone, who appeared in court in October of the same year. Finally, let us remember that Ben Hecht was a reporter and that Scarface is a reporter’s film.
Let us return to the St. Andrew’s cross, which I interpreted earlier as the iconogram of interdiction. Clearly, this is also its meaning, which is tantamount to saying that the X also refers to another microsemiotic opposed to the preceding one on this point: the first has as its objective to reveal, to display the facts on the front page; the second, which we have yet to describe, tends, on the contrary, to hide the facts. An X stamped on a photo-graph that reconstructs a crime, in fact, marks that photograph with the sign of censorship: it says that the body was lying there hut that the sight of this body is impossible or forbid-den. It signifies the refusal of hypersensationalism, that is, inside a sensationalist form, it inscribes an ideological trace that undermines sensationalism. It is a question no longer of a mere zone of coincidence but rather of a zone of ideological conflict.
Let us provisionally call this new microsemiotic a “rhetoric of silence and hiding.” We saw it explicitly operating in the Evening Record scene, but it is inscribed as well in each reproduction of the X, that is, in each killing. This rhetoric is also discernible in all the changes the film underwent –in particular the elimination of twelve scenes, including the original ending in which Camonte is shot down by a rival gang and not by the police.
This rhetoric of silence and hiding is also at work in the way killings are generally shown: either the camera momentarily leaves the victim at the precise instant of his death (Big Louis, Gaffney, Johnny Lovo), or it substantially mitigates the brutality of the scene (the anonymous gangster sinking behind his newspaper, the smokescreen masking the bod-ies of the victims of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre). Such veiling contrasts with the din of machine-gun fire and the spectacular scenes of speeding cars.
This “rhetoric of hiding,”11 which reproduces, in filmic “writing,” the interdictions of the Hays Code, is linked to another ideological trace in which repressive social struc-tures are expressed. One cannot miss seeing the connection here between the police com-missioner and the editor-in-chief of the Daily Herald; seated behind their respective desks, they receive information gathered or written by their fellow workers. Obvious stereotypes, they anonymously embody two types of power. The police, at certain times, take charge of the narration: they add an important element to the reconstruction of the facts preceding and explaining Big Louis’s death by recounting Tony’s past and by pointing out that at the time of the murder he was both Johnny’s friend and the victim’s bodyguard (AS, p. 8). The police play a role in narratological programming by anticipating events in a way that makes sense of their apparently chaotic presentation (“GUARINO: Take away your gun and you’ll fall apart like all these other punks” [AS, p. 8]; “GUARINO: Lovo is practically done for; he’s scared to death!”; “COMMISSIONER [to Guarino]: Good, try to find Gaffney: they’ll probably try to get him after they get all the others” [AS, p. 24]).
To a lesser extent, certainly, than journalism, the police temporarily take on the function of a narrator (n2), which allows us to assume the coexistence of (n1) and (n2) within the narrative instance (N). We may conclude that this narrative instance, itself rep-resenting a space of contradiction, redistributes two ideologically contradictory mi-crosemiotics linked to the bipolar opposition we discussed before: hiding/unmasking.
Now that this zone of conflict has been isolated, we may examine it.
Earlier in this study of Scarface, when I brought out other semiotic texts (problem-atics of crossing; inclusiveness/exclusiveness; wrong side/right side), I suggested that we could see functioning in the film “a thematics of exclusion that designates as scapegoat not merely a group defined as morally and socially marginal, but an entire unintegrated ethnic minority.” This directed connection with the economic crisis of 1929 was, I believe, made too hastily, and I should like to propose a more careful study of these phenomena.
I shall start from an obvious fact, namely, that it is the Italian minority that is in question (recall the Italian who is, curiously, one of the Garston’s interlocutors: “It’s true! They [the gangsters] only cast dishonor on my people” [AS, p. 24]), but it is a fact whose limits must be defined. “Every incident in this film is based on fact,” according to the cred-its in the French version of the film, and indeed, we have seen how faithful the film’s sce-nario is to the actual facts as reported by the press at the time. In that case, one might wish to object, how, where, and why would ideology be functioning? And yet ideology is oper-ating, but it is true that it operates –as always– in Textuality. I have just shown this in part.
Here, we might apply an approach borrowed from the sociology of content, the bet-ter to pinpoint just how a true sociocriticism of cultural objects differs from it. Thus, I shall make brief use of a 1946 study by Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter: “Majority and Minority Americans: An Analysis of Magazine Fiction.”12 The corpus analyced by these two researchers consists of 198 short stories published in eight major magazines between 1937 and 1943 and chosen at regular intervals (first, third, and fifth) for each magazine. The themes generally have to do with love affairs and family and marital problems; we also find a few adventure stories. Almost all the stories are set on the East Coast, most fre-quently in New York, and practically never in the South. Rapidly summarized, the conclu-sions reached by these studies are as follows.
(1) Distribution of characters. Of 900 identifiable characters, there are only 16 blacks ¿African Americans? and 10 Jews. While ethnic minorities (Mexican Americans, Italian Americans, Japanese Americans, Irish Americans, Jews, blacks ¿African Ameri-cans?) make up 40 percent of the population at the time, they appear here in a ratio of one to ten.
(2) Role of characters. The important roles are most frequently held by white Americans. “Positive” roles (that is, those that portray likeable, gracious, wise, desirable, respectable, honest characters) are reserved for them. Those roles given to minorities are less positive and are most frequently onedimensional stereotypes. Certain of these charac-ters are like objects serving to create a specific ambience (thus one American heroine is described as talking politely with an Italian flower-seller).
(3) Character traits. Here are a few examples of stereotypes: the ignorant and ri-diculous Negro; the Italian gangster with scars on his face; the wicked and wily Jew; the emotional Irishman; the brutish and stupid Pole. The authors of this article note than when stereotypes are applied to ethnic groups such as blacks, Jews or Italian Americans, they function as xenophobic stimuli. The authors add that studies on mass attitudes have shown that people have very set notions about the characteristics and behavior of members of marginal groups, very definite mental images of what people who are different from them-selves believe and do.
(4) Status of characters. White Americans live well and their comfortable lifestyle is shown in descriptions of their clothing, food, and homes. They apparently deserve this level of lifestyle since the source of their wealth is rarely mentioned; this is not the case of members of marginal groups, about whom, when they are wealthy, the stories think it ap-propriate to mention how they got their wealth. This seems to mean that is perfectly normal for white Americans to belong to the highest strata of society, whereas if ethnics do, it calls for an explanation because it is so exceptional. Furthermore, only rarely do white Ameri-cans marry nonwhite Americans.
(5) Characters’ goals. White Americans are idealistic; the others are materialistic.
The best-treated nonwhite American characters are those who come closest to the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant type.
Berelson and Salter argue that these stereotypes may be explained by the necessity of creating a style of writing at once fast-paced and conformist, as well as by the needs of a heterogeneous audience that requires the use of well-known and widely recognizable sym-bols of identification. It is obvious, however, that these stereotypes reactivate the predispo-sitions of a hostile audience only too ready to find in them fuel to feed their xenophobia.
This study has been useful, for it brings out, in fact, all the stereotypes used in the film: apart from the Italian gangsters, there is Epstein, writ of habeas corpus in hand, who embodies the wily and wicked Jew. However, the most revealing scenes are the ones de-voted to the description of the Italian family: the mother is portrayed through clothing and gesture that marginalize her; she is seen in the folkloric aspect, in a home marked by pov-erty. This fleeting vision seems to be there only as a point of reference with respect to what Camonte is to become. His rapid rise to wealth is marked by a copious series of indexes (cigars, bundle of money given to his sister, jewelry, cars, apartment, shirts, grotesque self-satisfaction, etc.). As if performing the function of narrator, Poppy cruelly underlines many times the vulgarity of the newly rich: “How elegant you are. … I see you’re wearing jew-elry … an heirloom, of course?” (AS, p. 17). Tony’s leitmotif: “They don’t give them away,” incessantly reproduces the view the prevailing ideology has that the marginal per-son can get rich only by illegal means. What is said about Camonte is equally valid for Big Louis or Lovo (“Look at me … I’m rich. I have a house, a car, the prettiest girls” [AS, p. 6]).
Thus, filmic writing undergoes a contamination that is all the more insidious since it seems to be perfectly adapted to its subject, and since its scenario seems to produce by itself these iconograms of stereotypical identification that Berelson and Salter’s study shows are imposed from the outside and produced by specific mental structures.
The observations of content analysis must be distinguished, however, from my own on one important point: whereas my analysis is concerned with modalities of intratextual functioning of certain ideological traces that, by their intersection, define zones of conflict, Berelson and Salter’s study allows us to connect Scarface directly to the entire cultural production of a particular society. Indeed, their work demonstrates how a society is orga-nized by a secondary modeling system whose ideological traces are reproduced in Scar-face. These traces may be seen in the American novels more or less contemporary with Scarface –The Great Gatsby comes especially to mind. Camonte is in some way an exag-gerated caricature of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero, who is described by Tom as “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere.”13
Juxtaposing the two works, we can see explicit echoes of Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel in Howard Hawks’s film: thus, the illuminated sign The World Is Yours can be com-pared with the gigantic blue eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, which “look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a non-existent nose.”14 concrete markers of the media, with reference to which the narrative seems to unfold in both cases.
One may also recall, in the sumptuous affairs staged every week by James Gatz, alias Jay Gatsby, son of “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people” of the Middle West, the grotesque spectacle of Tony drunk with his newly acquired power and wealth. Gatsby’s fortune is the talk of New York high society, and gives rise to all kinds of legends about his past as murderer, adventurer, or bootlegger. “Contemporary legends such as ‘the un-derground pipeline to Canada’ attached themselves to him and there was one persistent story that he didn’t live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore” (p. 88).
In the sequence in which Camonte displays to Poppy his piles of shirts in order to seduce her, we see an explicit index of this intertext:
Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high. … He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray (pp. 83-84)
Behind these two fundamentally different narratives, the same ideological trace is govern-ing the writing process: from the very first lines of the novel, the narrator, Nick Carraway, whose family descends, he claims, from the Dukes of Buccleuch, rejects Gatsby and his world with the scornful remark: “Gatsby … represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn” (p. 8). Fascinated by Gatsby’s personality, at the same time he often criticizes him from the standpoint of his own values: “And I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Sometime before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care” (p. 47). Nick’s comment on the autobiographical history he hears right out of the protagonist’s mouth signals his constant suspicion: “He looked at me sideways, and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. … And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t some-thing a little sinister about him, after all. … For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg but a glance at him convinced me otherwise” (pp. 60-61).
By juxtaposing Gatsby’s fantasy (“I am the son of some wealthy people in the Mid-dle West. … I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years … it is a family tradition” [p. 60]) with the truth about him (“James Gatz, that was really, or at least legally, his name. … His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people –his imagination had really never accepted them as his parents at all” [pp. 88-89]), Nick demystifies Gatsby’s mask. In doing so, he demysti-fies the man behind the mask, thus presenting the narrative instance as though itself en-slaved to an ideological instance manipulating iconograms of stereotypical identification such as facial characteristics (“The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of southeastern Europe,” [p. 63]); or by scrupulously conforming to racial or social “models”: Gatsby, being who he is, can only be an ignoramus, and the pages of his books covering the shelving of his magnificent “high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak,” have never been cut. One evening one of his guests comments on this fact in particularly scornful terms: “Absolutely real –have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and –Here! Lemme show you. … This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too –didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?” (pp. 44-45).
As for Poppy in Scarface, she certainly must be compared with Daisy. But what does the choice of such first names mean? We note first of all that in Scott Fitzgerald’s novel the narrator insinuates some doubt about the young woman’s origins, presenting her as not belonging to the WASP class (“ ‘The idea is that we’re Nordics, I am and you are, and you are and–’ after an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod” [p. 17]). In a later passage, he describes another character, Benny McClenahan, as always ac-companied by four young women, about whom Nick, while having forgotten their first names, remembers that “their last names were either the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be” [p. 59]). Should we conclude that these two first names, Poppy and Daisy, are functioning in the text to indicate Jewishness? I would be inclined all the more to think so, since in the logic of the ideology of Scarface, Poppy’s blondness, which clashes with the milieu of dark-haired Mediterraneans, cannot be referring us to the Nordic racial type because it is in a compromised position in the universe of Evil. In that case, the name given her would be neutralizing the iconogram of her blond hair. Does Gatsby’s refusal his family background (“his imagination had never accepted them as par-ents”) stem from the same cause? The narrator plants another seed of doubt when he dis-tinguishes between the Gatzes’ real name (which is never revealed to us), and their legal name, consequently synonymous here with inauthenticity and usurpation.
In turn, however, Gatsby in some ways prefigures John Foster Kane insofar as the beginning of his rise in society is indirectly linked to the mining of precious metals. Dan Cody, whom James meets one afternoon on the shore of Lake Superior, and who befriends the boy, is a “product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since seventy-five” (p. 90). But this new paternity is itself presented here as demonic; it is in fact at the side of this “pioneer debauchee, who during one phase of American life brought back to the Eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and sa-loon,” that “the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man” (p. 91). Thus, from Scarface to Citizen Kane, and including magazine short stories and the novels of Scott Fitzgerald, we may observe, at various levels and organized in different systems, the features of an ideological matrix.
To better understand the interaction of these contradictions in the filmic text, we shall return to the question of minority and majority in America between 1920 and 1930, and examine the whole problem from a certain distance.15
At the time the American nation was born, the concept of immigration was based on an enlightenment doctrine that was the product of northern European Protestant culture, ac-cording to which the country’s greatness resided in the diversity and the multiplicity of its origins. The idea had two corollaries: (1) America was a land of refuge, and (2) every per-son had the right to leave his native land and move to a place where he might find suste-nance and happiness. But the consequences of the application of this doctrine were to come into contradiction with the cultural traditions of an Anglo-Saxon Protestant society –a con-tradiction that was to be hidden as long as the North American economy needed labor.
Around 1880, another point of view began to be heard: the immigrants were ac-cused of “increasing the rift of classes, complicating the slum problem, causing boss-rule and straining the old moralities. These difficulties, like the immigrants themselves, cen-tered in the recklessly expanding cities.”16 Moreover, with the increasing scarcity of fertile land, people began to realize that America’s natural resources had their limits, and the sa-cred principle of laissez-faire began to be called into question.
The first measures aimed at controlling immigration were put into effect in 1882, just before an economic depression. As this depression became more severe in the l890s, a movement favoring a restrictive policy spread and led to the first Immigration Act in 1891. At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the return of prosperity and despite the ef-forts of the Immigration Restriction League founded in Boston in 1894, this policy of con-trol was fought by chambers of commerce and by the National Association of Manufacturers because economic expansion and the simplification of industrial techniques required an unskilled labor force. The immigrant population became larger and larger (more than one million immigrants per year from 1905 to 1914). This lull only delayed the passage of new restrictive laws in 1917, 1921, and especially in 1924, with the passage of the National Act. The war with Germany “stirred public opinion like a cyclone.” Ameri-cans discovered all at once that they could not remain apart from world conflicts and that inside the country were millions of unassimilated people. This emotional climate affected mental structures; patriotic loyalty was confused with conforming; marginality was sus-pected of potential treachery.17
Thus we see that fluctuations in the mental structures of legislation were directly re-lated to economic crises. Moreover, restrictions were to be even more severe at the time of the Great Depression in 1930.