American Films of the Thirties - The Case of Howard Hawks’s Scarface III

A Sociological reading 2 and footnotes

These economic determinants are, however, not the only ones worth mentioning, Higham notes two other factors that are part of the superstructure.
(1) The shock of foreign cultural models. In contrast to the first wave of immigra-tion, which was predominantly Protestant and British, the second wave, extending from 1820 to the National Act of 1924, was much more heterogeneous: it consisted largely of southern European Catholics. This second wave played an important role in the shaping of an urban industrial mentality; increasingly, these new arrivals settled in the cities. (In 1890, 62 percent of foreign-born citizens were city-dwellers, whereas only 26 percent of whites whose parents were born in the U.S. lived in cities.)
In contrast to the individualism of an older America that was not amenable to city life, the immigrant cultures, by nature, impelled the new arrivals toward collective action. Thus the labor unions were dominated by first –or second– generation immigrants; their most effective leaders were Irish, German or Jewish; they did a better job of attracting im-migrants than the political parties.
The immigrants succeeded in forging, as well, an urbanized mass culture to replace the traditions they could not transplant intact. It is not surprising that they found the sub-stance of their collective life in the stimuli of mass media. They were the pioneers of the production of a mass culture: in 1835 James Gordon Bennett, a Scotsman, launched the New York Herald; a Hungarian, Joseph Pulitzer, presented himself as the immigrants’ spokesman in the New York World; in the 1850s an Irishman developed advertising tech-niques in the first high circulation weekly, the New York Ledger.

The prominence of immigrant editors in the creation of mass circulation newspapers and magazines suggests that the need to adjust to a cosmopolitan society and an unfamiliar cul-ture nurtured a burning passion to communicate and an instinctive feeling for what is im-mediately transmissible to an amorphous public. Americans became a nation of newspaper readers because what they shared was not a common past but rather the immediate events of the present: the news.18

(2) The influence of certain currents of thought. (a) Social Darwinism, which is responsible for the confusion between natural history and national history, and which justified the theo-ries held by certain Anglo-Saxon thinkers, according to which nations are analogous to species struggling for their survival. (b) “Eugenic” theories resulting from the development of the science of genetics, and which encouraged other thinkers to call for the improvement of society through the preventive elimination of negative traits. (c) A new anthropological vision that, in William Z. Riplay’s book The Races of Europe (1899), distinguished three European races: the first, Nordic (northern Europe); the second, Alpine (central Europe); and the third, Mediterranean (southern Europe).19
The importance of Riplay’s theories in America in the 1920s and 1930s can be seen in the American novels more or less contemporary with Scarface. It figures importantly, for example, in the following passage from The Great Gatsby:

“Civilization’s going to pieces.” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessi-mist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard’?”
“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.
“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be –will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”
“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at [Daisy] impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”
“The idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and—” After an infini-tesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod....” — And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization—oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?” (p. 17)

In a more or less close connection with this intellectual climate, the partisans of restrictive measures tried to explain that southern and eastern Europeans, who comprised the majority of the new waves of immigration, were not only dangerous but also unassimilable at the racial level; the dangers threatening the nation thus came from a change in the migrants’ countries of origin.
I have dwelt for some time on this situation of historical conflict because it gener-ated ideological systems that were, in turn, invested in the textual structures of the film in forms that are interesting to analyze. There is no doubt that observable reality underwent a process of transfirination in passing though the two inicrosemiotic systems we have de-scribed, and which encoded them in textual structures. But why these microsemiotics and not others? How can we explain that it is precisely these two codes of transformation that are at work here? Everything I have just said answers such questions. The narrative in-stance reconstructs the totality of a new urban way of life and a new culture based on col-lective action. Whatever the reality behind that vision, we cannot help seeing in the organization of the beer racket the transparent caricature of a syndicate whose objectives are being diverted and perverted for the sake of individual self-interest. But perhaps we can even better understand this vision (ecological well before its time) of urban life presented right at the start of the film in its least seductive aspects –a bleak dawn sullied by the city’s trash– and that throughout the film gives us only negative images of the city (the sordid atmosphere of bars, streets taken over by gangs). The journalistic writing I have termed a microsemiotic is integrated into a larger system which appropriates everything that is said, everything that is thought about this marginal world of the 1930s. This example, like my study of a text from the Spanish Golden Age, leads me to think that codes of transforma-tion are selected by the cultural object according to their contiguity with respect to observ-able reality and to the collective vision of it.
In Scarface, this vision is organized around the value system of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant ideology. The authentic values (in the Goldmannian sense) that are oper-ating most obviously in the film include puritanism, glorification of work and thrift, and family. Let us pause for a moment on this last point and remember that Prohibition was a focus for the fears of the dominant group. The leaders of the Anti-Saloon League delighted in pointing out the correlation they established between the rise of the number of saloons and the rise in the immigrant population in the 1 890s. Often it was the newly arrived im-migrants who ran them and who frequented them. The ASL saw the saloon as a place of perdition for the worker who wasted his money and his health there, and as a threat to the “Victorian” home. Thus the struggle against alcoholism –which involved a loss of physical and moral control and gave rise to vulgar, blasphemous drunkenness unleashed on the streets– was linked to the struggle against prostitution. It was a matter of protecting the “American family.” In this connection, Camonte’s mother’s home serves as a fiil, for it is the setting for a number of countervalues: the inarticulate mother humiliated by her own children (“She told me: ‘Shut up and mind your own business’ just like you told me!” [AS, p. 30]), the marked absence of a father (she is presented as Camonte’s mother and not as Mrs. Camonte), wine on the table, Cesca described by her mother as an “easy woman” (“I’m always telling her, Come home. … She met a man and they both came home to-gether” [AS, p. 31]). Her home’s lack of conformity to the American model makes it a breeding ground for vice.
Thus the image confirms the fears of the Prohibition party, which, in l87O, asked the government to do something about the saloons, white slavery, gambling, and, in gen-eral, all the “worthless, dangerous, disorderly, unproductive elements within the United States threatening the purity, the tranquility and happiness of the American home.”20 “The purity of the American home” –that is the leitmotif of the pietists who asked the State to take charge of public morals and protect the essentially pietistic characteristics of the American way of life.21
Thus we are touching upon a final aspect of this situation of conflict: the religious component. In the course of the nineteenth century, and probably as a response to the sec-ond wave of immigration, generations of Americans were incited to a more or less virulent anti-Catholicism by Protestant preachers such as Lyman Beecher, who, at the same time as he fought alcoholism, predicted a war between Christianity and “popery” for the posses-sion of “the American soul and soil.” Even if they did not share this apocalyptic vision, many Protestants nevertheless considered Catholic immigrants to be members of an infe-rior class, illiterate and vulnerable to the temptations of evil. “They seemed,” writes Nor-man H. Clark, “in need of directions to honor the Sabbath, to resist the liquor traffic, and to assimilate the bourgeois lifestyle. They seemed too much given to an open and public qual-ity of life –they congregated in saloons– than to a private dignity, and too much given to a priestly rather than a bourgeois family discipline.”22
This last point of conflict as well as all the other elements of the sociopolitical and sociocultural situation we have described were timely again in the presidential campaign of 1928 opposing Alfred E. Smith, the defender of the cultural traditions of the recent immi-grants, representing the cities and the abolitionist tendencies, to Herbert Hoover, whose victory represents, in the view of some American historians, “the last major victory of the country over the city, of the old American over the new”: to this Clark replies that Smith lost essentially because he was not born in the United States. In the course of this violent campaign, James Cannon, a Methodist bishop, called Smith “bigoted” and typical of “the Irish Roman Catholic hierarchy of New York City,” declaring that Smith’s goal was to bring to power “the kind of dirty people that you find today on the sidewalks of New York.”23 Clark summarizes the political atmosphere of the time:

The implication for the older Bryanites was that these men –wet, Catholic, urban, and fabu-lously wealthy– were about to take over the party and the White House and deliver both to Jews and Catholics who were determined to overwhelm the traditions of the Protestant Re-public. During the campaign of 1928, the Reverend Bob Jones was speaking throughout the South to crowds wherever he found them: “I’ll tell you, brother, that the big issue we’ve got to face ain’t the liquor question. I’d rather see a saloon on every corner of the South than see the foreigners elect Al Smith President”.24

Let us look once more at the inscription in Scarface of this view of the facts: Angelo stum-bling over the word secretary and Camonte over the expression Habeas corpus reproduce the stereotype of the ignorant immigrant; the theater scene, which is characterized by the stupidity of the gangster’s comments and which is only incidental to the story, must be approached from the same point of view. However, it is the incestuous affair betwen Tony and Cesca that may be problematic from this point of view. Let us note, first of all, that it did not shock the censors for any of the reasons that are generally put forward; in fact, ac-cording to Hawks himself (as quoted in Jerome Lawrence, Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni), the censors felt that the relationship between Camonte and his sister was too beautiful to be attributed to a gangster. Thus, continues Hawks, they did not recognize “the incest of the Borgias.” It is true that nothing in the film explicitly refers to the Borgias, but given the anti-Catholic climate I have just described, one cannot help being struck by the fact that this historical connotation was part of the director’s intentions; in fact, it is to Ben Hecht that we owe the comparison: “The Borgia family is living today in Chicago. And Caesar Borgia is Al Capone.”25 Since, after all, one can treat an incestuous relationship without having in mind a specific historical example, and even if a connotation of this sort were necessary, why make such a specific connection with the Borgias? If, on the other hand, Hawks notes that the “discerning spectator” may perceive this connotation, it is be-cause the character must be treated in a certain way. How and why is it appropriate to see in Camonte the image of a sovereign (“The World Is Yours!”) who bases his domination on a perverted doctrine? What is clear in any case –if we leave the film momentarily– is that once again, filmic writing has been ideologically marked, and that the projection of these “precise and specific facts” is being filtered through a mental structure, itself codified by a microsemiotic.
The strong points of this microsemiotic fuse with what I call a discourse of the sa-cred and the demonic. At its heart is the illuminated sign working at several levels as the symbol of temptation, in the sense, first of all, that it is an invitation to a voyage and solic-its desire by its very nature as advertising and by its function; second, by what it says at the mythic level, echoing the diabolic tempter’s words in the biblical text: “The world is yours, all its wealth is at your feet,” as if this social function revealed itself for what it is, as if it were saying that, as advertising, it is but illusory temptation, illusion, source of sin and evil, in a perfect match of signifier (the medium) and signified; “I am what I say and I say what I am; I give expression to illusions and I am illusion myself.” It is an ambivalent sign both of that stretch of the filmic text in which things are hidden, deformed, or perverted, and of that other one in which they denounce themselves as perverse or deformed; marked in this way by the same stigmata that condemn all the media invested in Scarface (journal-ism, film, advertising), a text written in letters of fire, like his own name, which Tony Camonte wishes to write above the city in machine-gun bursts (“I’ll write my name over the whole city, and in big letters! [AS, p. 22]). The correlation the filmic text itself estab-lishes between these two phenomena denounces the demonic nature of the protagonist, who, at first fascinated by diabolical messages, later symbolically inscribes them himself in the sky over the city. Let us refer to the levels involved: in the first two cases (AS, pp. 19 and 30), the shot shows Tony and Poppy reunited, with the sign in the background, and significantly marks the evolution of their love affair in the context of the gangster’s strat-egy of seduction; the first occurrence precedes the notorious shirt scene); it defines a desire and a dual effect of temptation –direct in Tony’s case, indirect in Poppy’s case– through the intermediary of a Tony who is both tempter and tempted, and who, because he is a temptor, takes on the diabolical function. But Poppy is the true stake of the contract: she is included in the totality of the world that is coveted: “Some day, I’ll look at that sign and I’ll say, it’s true, it is [you are] mine” (AS, p. 19).
The contract is accepted and honored by the two parties (Satan and his instrument). After Lovo’s death, Tony reminds Poppy of that implicit commitment: he goes to her place, shows her the illuminated sign, and asks her if she remembers what he told her (AS, p. 30). Poppy smiles, and they leave together for Florida. Here one cannot object either that the psychological evolution of the young woman was already broadly outlined (the preced-ing dancehall scene in which she indicates that she has made a choice), or, a fortiori, that no explicit mention of any contract is made. A contract is, in fact, inscribed in the filmic text through the whole mythical text that is invested in it, a mythical text already presented as such in Big Louis’s first (and last) words: “Everybody will say: Ah! Big Louis, he has the world at his feet!” (AS, p. 7), and which as such denounces the gangster boss, whoever he is, as the chief usurper of the world. This biblical text coincides significantly with the ending of the filmic text; the last shot thereby authenticates its message. In fact, the camera ascends vertically on the policemen and then on the buildings rising up behind them, and frames the illuminated sign. The low-angle shot, obviously signifying here Camonte’s Lu-cifer-like fall, is the penultimate sign of this demonic discourse; it repeats, but at the level of filmic syntax, what was said more explicitly by Camonte’s lamentable descent of the stairs, arms open, in a kind of inverted Calvary. But this low-angle shot is itself the support for a final sign: the diabolical phrase, after having flashed, goes out, and only the lighted globe remains visible in the darkness. One cannot better express the idea that Camonte’s death liberates the Earth from Satan’s power!
Having thrown light on this semantic focalization, we may bring out certain of its semiotic ramifications. We note that in this context the various textual traces which define a character –in particular, the fact that when the killer is about to strike he whistles a well-known tune of the period whose first words evoke a storm (“Stormy weather…”), a doubly significant phenomenon, first of all, because storms and tempests, in social imagery, estab-lish the habitual contexts in which ghosts or devils make their appearance (in the theater of Shakespeare or Ca1derón, among others), but also by the very fact that this supernatural object is accompanied or preceded by a sign associated with it which then functions autonomously as a delegated power of the sacred, its threatening force commensurate with its impalpability (in sound or odor). Related to the code of death, which functions here in the narrative only because the successive deaths of Big Louis, Lovo, and Rinaldo have sacralized it, this sign transforms these settlements of account into something more, not valorizing them but, rather, giving them a semantic surplus value. Death here surpasses the anecdotal level, not that this sign, at the level of the character’s experience of reality, can transform the irruption of the unexpected into an anguished expectancy of its fulfillment, but more simply, because in this way it is the materialization of a force that is beyond us: the concrete and brutal act of crime is transformed into an act programmed by a will supe-rior to the criminal. This semantic modification will be clearer if we relate it to two other phenomena.
(1) Rinaldo’s habit of tossing a coin in his hand, which might be alluding to the Chicago killers’ practice of placing a nickel in their victim’s hand and, more generally, to the ransom the dead have to pay in order to cross the river to the beyond. Thus the same sign can function in a maleficent way, as a foreboding of death, or in a beneficent way, as a propitiatory element; in both cases, it is an index of the beyond.
(2) The series of predictions uttered either by the police commissioner (“Some day you’ll make one false move and go downhill … and fall to the bottom, you understand, to the very bottom” [AS, p. 9]) or by Guarino (“Take away your gun, and you’ll fall to pieces just like all the other punks” [ibid.]), or by Camonte’s mother (“Some day, when he needs you, he’ll use you … just like he’d use anybody” [AS, p. 12]).
All these textual phenomena consequently define a predetermined text and refer us to the notion of destiny. An obvious index of destiny, the tune Tony the killer habitually whistles makes him subject to forces beyond him. Thus it is that Tony, “inhabited by Sa-tan,” bursts out in diabolical laughter at the end of the film, in a blind unleashing of de-structive will, at the very instant the floodlights of the authorities bathing the scene in glaring light symbolically represent the struggle of light against darkness. Thus we can see in the background of the narrative the outlines of a Manichean perspective, emphasized even more by the scene the censors had the director add, and which gives an apocalyptic vision of the situation (“The city is full of machine guns … Children can’t go to school in safety anymore” [AS, p. 24]). The values being threatened by this state of affairs (family, school, social order), precisely because they are caught in the orbit of Evil become the foundations of Good. Thus, by plunging into the heart of a Manichean struggle between Good and Evil, a specific social group sanctifies the moral categories it honors. The sacred and the demonic define themselves with respect to each other in this manner, as shown by the two following obvious indexes of the functional modalities governing them.
(1) The dancehall where Tony and his gang go in tuxedos and where scenes of vio-lence successively take place (the expulsion of a killer, the threatening rivalry of Tony and Lovo, the expulsion of Cesca by her brother, who teaches a lesson to the dancer with whom he has caught her in the act) bears the name Paradise, a paradise where –at least if one accepts my interpretation in which Camonte represents a demonic character– the gang-ster is flattered and recognized as king of the festival. All the elements that tightly weave one scene to another (the name of the place, the definition of the gang leader, Big Louis, as monarch of the underworld –“he has the world at his feet”; the shape of the streetlamp that reproduces from the very first frames, on the doorstep of the cabaret, the vertical and hori-zontal lines [22nd Street sign] of the Latin cross) establish a relationship of identity be-tween the two places. Both are presented in this way as latitudes of perdition, despite (or by the intermediary of) signs that apparently present them as contradictory to what they are.
The gangster himself is escorted by two bodyguards; one of them is named Angelo and the other will end up by repenting on the threshold of a new life (Rinaldo). I cannot help seeing in this threesome, taking account of the semiotic context in which it is function-ing, the distorted projection of Christ surrounded by the two robbers.
(2) This allusion is all the more persuasive since Camonte has a scar on his face in the form of the Latin cross. There is no doubt that this sign echoes the mark of the super-natural that is already inscribed in the killer’s tune (Stormy Weather), but it is worth noting that it makes it more specific, and that, in conjunction with those I have just mentioned, it illuminates remarkably well the function played by the whole text that has thus been con-stituted in the course of the film.
Thus we see a discourse of the sacred (Paradise, Angel, Christ, Cross, calvary), but of a sacred that is subverted –as we have steadily seen– by the demonic. The Latin cross, which seems, curiously, to be related by contiguity or superimposition to the character of Camonte, thereby functions as an index of perversion.
Do these modalities of the functioning of the sacred indicate an investment of dog-matic and theological problems? One might cite in this connection the series of textual marks in which the narrative instance condemns a number of infractions of the fundamen-tal virtues of the Protestant ethic (luxury, lavish spending, idleness, deceit, violence), but it would seem, nevertheless, more correct to see in them only the rejection of a cultural model related to Catholicism, without any deeper matter. Faithful to the nature of the me-dia, Scarface avoids the conceptual level and is content to move the viewer by means of a number of effects systematically employed.
I turn now to the immediate historical context of Scarface. Hoover, the winner of the election, was forced by those who had brought him to power to take restrictive meas-ures against alcoholism; these measures reinforced the provisions of the Volstead Act and became law in March 1929. A wave of arrests took place in 1929 (more than four thousand people were imprisoned for violations of the law), and this repression provoked a violent protest movement. The economic crisis intensified this anti-Prohibitionist feeling: the pub-lic became less and less willing to pay federal agents to fight alcohol drinkers; economists noted that the taxes on alcoholic beverages could allow the repayment of the foreign debt in less than fifteen years; the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, led by sev-eral dozen millionaires and a large number of former brewers and distillers, was fundamen-tally motivated by the realization that a tax on alcohol would greatly reduce the taxes they paid. Thus, after 1926, the Association spent a million dollars a year in its campaign for the repeal of Prohibition. This campaign had the support of the business world and intellectu-als. In 1929, a feminist organization was created, the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. In 1931, the commission on Law Enforcement and Observance, chaired by George Wickersham, submitted its report to the President; it did not propose amendment but did recognize that the situation was difficult and that nothing could be done to improve it.
In the next presidential election, the AAPA financed Roosevelt and the Democrats, favoring the creation of a liberal, anti-Prohibitionist coalition representing urban industrial interests. In 1933 a number of states repealed their dry laws before the Twenty-first Amendment –repealing the Eighteenth– was voted on. A new society was being affirmed. In this battle against Prohibition, the young generation of the middle classes played an im-portant role. Clark writes “that middle-class young people in the United States and in Western Europe were rejecting the social conventions, ideals, and values of their elders.”26 I shall be returning to this question.
Thus we can see that the problems posed by Scarface were of burning interest at the time the film was being made; this is why it is presented to us in the form of a space of projected conflicts. For its message cannot be reduced to a single meaning, and we can understand why, despite the difficulties Hawks had with the Hays Office, he published at the time a declaration, reproduced in many newspapers, in which he claimed that the first showings of his film had been delayed by the opponents of Prohibition. We have discerned certain semantic traces in the text of these conflictive zones; but we should particularly note the reflection on the mass media and their social functions, which I link to the polarity revealed by this semiotic analysis (hiding/unmasking), as well as to the intersections of the two microsemiotic systems.
We should also note that it is in a chaotic form and as an effect of displacement (in the Freudian sense) that ideological traces are invested in structures. Each of these traces seems to be disconnected from the ideological system to which it belongs, and to enter into a new configuration to which it transfers its own capacity to produce meaning. It is these ideological traces, in the pure state, which, in abstract form, enter into the combinatory complex of the genotext, and which I believe I have seen in the course of this semiotic analysis.
I shall illustrate this hypothesis by considering the fear the new generation exer-cised over the old in the l930s in America. No doubt this social dynamic was transcribed in Scarface (as we saw in semiotic text no. 2), but the ideological structure, which undergoes this dynamic, projects it outside of itself by identifying it with all the evils it intends to exorcise. In order to emerge from the collective unconscious, avowal must undergo a dis-placement. But the problem of the renewal of generations is not the only locus of anguish. The determinants we have passed in review (economic determinants, shock of foreign cul-tural models, intellectual currents) develop in a certain context; they only illuminate, de-fine, and furnish an intellectual foundation for fears and anxieties that are already widespread.
At a deeper level, what made the restrictionist movement develop in the early dec-ades of the twentieth century was the discovery that immigration was undermining the unity of American culture and threatening WASP dominance.

The mounting sense of danger –even dispossession– among millions of native-born white Protestants in the period 1910-1930, is not hard to understand. A people whose roots were in the towns and farms of the early republic saw great cities coming more and more under the control of strangers whose speech and values were not their own. A people who uncon-sciously identi lied Protestantism with Americanism saw Catholic voters and urban bosses gaining control of the industrialized states. A people whose religion was already badly damaged by modern ideas saw the compensating rigors of their life-style flouted in the sa-loons and cabarets of a more expressive, hedonistic society.27

Clark brings out in his study on Prohibition the profound fear of dispossession experienced by older American Protestants. I see this anguish operating in what I call (to use a concept of René Girard’s) the mimetic rivalry enacted in Scarface, through a sequence of over-throwal (Big Louis dethroned by Lovo, who will be deposed in turn by Camonte, whose supremacy is threatened upon his return from Florida), systematic repetition at the erotic level (Camonte–Poppy–Lovo; Camonte–Cesca–Rinaldo) as well as at the metaphorical level (advertising billboard The World Is Yours; plot of the play the gangsters go to see). On this very points however, we should refrain from thinking that the ideological instance is content to project these phenomena on the Other, by attributing to the Other those behav-iors in which it is not involved itself. On the contrary, it is the ideological instance that seems to generate this sequence, since in every case the provisional victor of these strug-gles for power seems only to have as objective the imitation of the ideological instance, to be its grotesque parody, and to climb to the social rank it occupies. The conquest of power in the Chicago underworld appears, for that very reason, only as the means of attaining power of a very different nature. Parodic devices, in such a context, are essential to the framework set in place by the narrative instance. On this point, it is useless to dwell on the exaggerated antics of Camonte, whose gestures are magnified by the parodic reflections of Angelo, his double, and which make him a veritable clown. Signs here and there in the filmic text, as well as my semiotic analysis, suggest carnivalization: problematics of cross-ing; oppositions between inclusiveness and exclusiveness and between right side and wrong side; portrayal of Big Louis as farcical king; latent presence of a dynamic of exor-cism. This last secondary modeling system seems to recover and redistribute the mi-crosemiotic systems generated by the mental structures I described earlier. In passing from mental structures to a secondary modeling system, that is, from one level to another, the sign is not abolished in another sign, but it acquires a supplemental meaning, a semantic surplus value resulting from this new phase of the transformational process observable reality undergoes.
At this point in my analysis, it is clear that all the observations we have accumu-lated confirm René Girard’s relation of the mimesis of appropriation (mimetic rivalry, Carnival) to the mimesis of the antagonist, which “converges two or more individuals on one and the same adversary they all wish to kill” (exorcism represented by Carnival crema-tion or by the representation of Camonte’s death). In Girard’s words:

It is a community’s unity that is affirmed in the rite of sacrifice, and this unity rises up in the paroxysm of division when the community claims it is being torn apart by mimetic dis-cord condemned to the endless circularity of vengeful reprisal. The opposition of each against each is brusquely followed by the opposition of all against one. … We readily un-derstand what this sacrificial resolution consists in: the community recovers its wholeness altogether, at the expense of a victim not only incapable of defending itself but totally pow-erless to arouse vengeance.28

In my interpretation of Camonte’s death, the fantasized reconstruction of the community’s unity constitutes the authentic value of the film at the heart of the mechanisms for the gen-eration of meaning. The detours we have taken make this hypothesis perfectly plausible.
One might object that this general conclusion and the description of carnivalization in Scarface recall too closely what I have said about Quevedo’s Buscón to be entirely credible.29 Far from rejecting this comparison, I think, on the contrary, that it opens up a new debate and a new inquiry: although dependent on quite different determinants, the mental structures generated by the collective anguish of the ruling class in Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century seem to me strangely similar to those in America during the early decades of the twentieth century. Must we not conclude from this that spe-cific historical facts, both localizable and localized, are capable of reactivating archaic pat-terns buried deeply in the heart of the cultural context and of being redistributed by the fictional text?30

. American Films of the Thirties: The Case of Howard Hawks’s Scarface (1931) -Footnotes

1. This section presents the results of a research seminar on film criticism that brought together, under the direction of Edmond Cros, the members of the Jean Vigo Club.
2. On these principles of textual analysis, see Cros Edmond : Theory and history of Literature Chapter 6, pp. 75-92.
3. The notation (Ph.) refers to the numbers of the photograms, which are by Henri Talvat.
4. On the relations between carnivalesque festival practices and the thematics of re-demption and exorcism, see E. Cros. Ideología y genética textual, el caso del Buscón (Madrid: Planeta, 1980), pp. 17-33.
5. See Jean Delumeau, La Peur en Occident, XIV-XVIIe siècles (Paris: Fayard, 1978).
6. The reader may find it profitable to compare these discursive interplays with certain phenomenal have analyzed elsewhere (Edmond Cros, “Effets sur la génétique textuelle de la situation marginalisée du sujet –Eléments pour une synthèse,” Imprévue, 1 [1980], 23-30).
7. L’Avant Scène (AS), 132 (Jan. 1973), 24. Henceforth, references will be cited di-rectly in the text. The text of AS does not use the French subtitles but is based on the trans-lation of the original dialogue.
8. Jerome Lawrence, Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, l974), p. 161.
9. See John Kopler, The Life and World of Al Capone (London: Coronet Books, 1973), p. 65.
10. Geo London, Deaux Mois avec les bandits de Chicago (Paris, 1930), pp. 101-102.
11. We see only the other side or the aftermath of the party in Big Jim Colosimo’s cabaret, after the girls have left.
12. Bernard Berelson and Patricia J. Salter, “Majority and Minority Americans: An Analysis of Magazine Fiction,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 10 (2) (1946), 168-190.
13. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1925). I thank C. Richard for drawing my attention to this intertext.
14. Fitzgerald, Great Gatsby, p. 24. Henceforth, all references will be cited directly in the text.
15. See Law and Contemporary Problems, 21 (Duke University, 1956), especially “American Immigration Policy in Historical Perspective.” In the following discussion, I am indebted to Norman H. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition (New York: Norton, 1976), and more especially, to John Higham, Send These to Me: Jews and Other Immigrants in Urban America (New York: Atheneum, 1975).
16. Higham, Send These to Me, p. 37.
17. Ibid.. p. 43.
18. Ibid., p. 26.
19. Ibid., pp. 46-47.
20. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 89.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid., p. 88.
23. Ibid., p. 188.
24. Ibid., p. 186.
25. Lawrence, Life and Times of Paul Muni, p. 156.
26. Clark, Deliver Us from Evil, p. 152.
27. Highans, Send These to Me, p. 48.
28. René Girard, with Jean Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort, Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde (Paris: Grasset, 1978), p. 32.
29. On the mimetic crisis and the mimesis of the antagonist in the Buscón, see Chapter 11. pp. 225-230.
30. See note 28.

From Cros Edmond, Theory and Practice of Sociocriticism, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis Theory and History of Literature,1988

Posté le 21 December 2009 par Edmond Cros
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