Bullets over Hollywood
John McCarty
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Buy *Bullets over Hollywood: The American Gangster Picture from the Silents to *The Sopranos** online

Bullets over Hollywood: The American Gangster Picture from the Silents to *The Sopranos*
John McCarty
Da Capo Press
323 pages
June 2004
rated 2 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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For that hemoglobin-lusting filmgoer forever seeking out the bloodiest images ever printed on a piece of celluloid, this will provide a sort of encyclopedic overview of the gooey genre. The premise here is that this country loves its gore and its gangster, and while the philosophy may be difficult to swallow, it's really not too difficult to accept.

The book begins circa 1915 with the much-heralded if terribly biased Civil War epic "The Birth Of A Nation" that not only presented blacks in a terribly unfavorable and untrue light but made heroes of the Ku Klux Klan. McCarty moves on to the Western, where good guys never wore black, Prohibition-era Chicago and Cagney and Bogart were applauded for portraying their on-screen sociopath-meets-homicidal maniac characters, and ultimately to Pacino and DeNiro and all those other pre-Gandolfinis. And the proliferation of 'gangsta and barrio-oriented films, where violence simply becomes the simplest theme upon which one might write a script. Most of these types of movies are based on revenge or ego, and the filmgoer knows the ending by the first scene.

Again, most of what the author says is true - we love our shootouts. But this seasoned writer, with well over a dozen titles under his belt, tends to exaggeration. Yes, in 1984, as stated in his Appendix I: The Oscars section, "Beverly Hills Cop" won the coveted award for Best Screenplay. Eddie Murphy unholsters that gun of his in just about every scene, but is the film a true gangster, bullet-ridden extravaganza? Hardly. More a vehicle for an undercover black policeman to invade the uber-white 'burb of Beverly Hills, California.

The panoramic view, here, is more related to the violent aspect of film than simply a mean character or a cocked shotgun. Even in Disney films, a fish gets caught on a hook - should that be mentioned here?

"The Godfather," "Goodfellas," and "Pulp Fiction" represent the purest forms of these violent presentations, where the shootings and muggings and ear amputations are integral plot points. But in "Jaws", where that not-so-great white shark takes his final sleep with the fish, is this a truly "violent" film? We know the shark is not going to be captured and put in an aquarium at Sea World. He's going to be blown into steak. And yet our author logs it; graphic, yes, but only if you're another shark.

We watch what we watch because the pictures and story and characters fill an emotion inside of us; if watching Pacino acting as a one-man shooting brigade in "Scarface" is your caliber of film, by all means watch it. And if you like reading about Al and his escapades, then this may be the book for which you've looking.

© 2004 by Steven Rosen for curledup.com.

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