Unreal Nature

December 17, 2015

Measured by His Narcissism

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… much of the time his masculinity is directly measured by his narcissism: the smarter the clothes, the more dangerous the man, and the more damaged the clothes, the more vulnerable the man.

Continuing through Undressing Cinema: Clothing and Identity in the Movies by Stella Bruzzi (1997):

… Men’s allegiance to functional and more professionally oriented dress codes’ is conventionally presumed to attest to an overwhelming impulse to conform, to blend in with the crowd.

… ‘We are offered the spectacle of male bodies, but bodies unmarked as objects of erotic display’ [Steve Neale] … The notion of the desexualised male body is a firmly held but flimsily proven truism that can be contested from the perspectives of both fashion and representation, with reference to the figure of the gangster. So many screen gangsters invite comments about their appearance, show themselves off, openly admire each other’s clothes and are obsessively consumed by their own image, as to question such opinions about male representation.

… As ‘the most reliably consistent trait of movie gangsters was their sartorial progression from dark and wrinkled nondescript clothing to flashy, double-breasted, custom-tailored striped suits with silk ties and suitable jewellery’ [Eugene Rosow], the transition point from petty hoodlum to successful mobster is often the acquisition of a new wardrobe. The gangster’s newfound power is put on display, crudely shown off, often in a scene that shows him getting fitted for a suit, as in Public Enemy when Tom (James Cagney) visits a tailor after executing his first big alcohol raid. In the subsequent scene he and Matt arrive transformed at a club, wearing their full finery of Homburg, belted coat, suit and breast-pocket silk handkerchief.

PublicEnemy

… Although Scorsese’s gangster costumes are tastelessly showy rather than understatedly chic, there is a parallel to be drawn between Ace’s downfall [in Casino] and Jef Costello’s in Le Samouraï, in that both are represented through the gradual (at first insignificant) disrobing of the narcissistic hero, emphasizing the vulnerability of the men through the brief exposure of their bodies. Appearance is all to the wise guys of Goodfellas and Casino; as one shouts to the cops arresting Paulie, ‘Whoever sold you those suits had a wonderful sense of humor’; worse than death is the anonymity they have to endure if they survive.

… Gangster films are about looks, they are about making the spectator desire what the gangsters possess (if only, in the moralistic Hollywood films of the post-1934 era, to set up materialistic, violent demons just in order to shoot them down). Tarantino understands this, commenting about costume, ‘I’ve always said that the mark of any good action movie is that when you get through seeing it, you want to dress like the character.’

… In both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction the image of masculinity is destroyed in the most spectacularly obvious way possible, negating the view that what we are really witnessing here (as has been suggested) is paranoid masculinity’s flight from the return of its silent Other. The discrepancy between men and myth is underlined in Pulp Fiction‘s final sequence. After an attempted robbery, Jules and Vincent leave the café they have ended up in. They try to swagger out of the diner as if nothing had happened, tucking their guns into their waistbands and synchronizing their movements, just as they had done at the beginning; but whereas earlier they were still dressed in their designer suits, now they are in bright and cheery nerd colors.

PulpFiction_end
from the end of Pulp Fiction

… The complexity of the gangster figure is that much of the time his masculinity is directly measured by his narcissism: the smarter the clothes, the more dangerous the man, and the more damaged the clothes, the more vulnerable the man.

My most recent previous post from Bruzzi’s book is here.

-Julie

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