True Romance Sicilian Scene Analysis

Barthes saw the importance of keeping vital information hidden from the viewer in order to keep them excited and interested in the narrative. After watching a mystery unfold, we are often left kicking ourselves when we realise the important clues that we missed out that would have given the answer away much earlier on in the narrative. Whether it was something that was said or suggested by an actor, or something left lying around in the scene. It is Barthes who tries to define these different hints and clues to assist us in further understanding the depths of a narrative scene. By helping us realise that we can understand what’s going on from many indicators and not just what is being said out loud we are lead to heightened observations. He did this by defining five codes; the first two are the Hermeneutic, sometimes described as the enigma code, and the proairetic code. These two are often categorised together as they both focus on what can be found within the text. The three other codes are the semantic, symbolic and cultural codes; I will describe each of these further throughout the essay.

The Hermeneutic/enigma code looks at the ways in which suspense and mystery are added to “create uncertainty and foster curiosity”(Ribière,Mireille. 2002, pg. 46.) so that the interpreter is given hints and then proceeds to question subtly placed items or text that will later be answered in the text. These clues are known by terms such as ‘snares’ as they catch the viewer’s attention and keep them engaged they don’t allow the viewer to know the truth but they keep them guessing. ‘Equivocations’, like ‘snares’, are clues that keep the viewer involved, however, they give the viewer a slight insight into the truth while still concealing the whole truth. In the scene I am discussing an example of a ‘snare’ is the blood that we see all over Cliff’s hands. It leads us to contemplate ‘why is he covered in blood?’. Initially, we can’t work out why but on closer inspection we also notice the men standing around him are all dressed in dark clothes and standing over him in an intimidating manner. When we combine these ideas we can assume that these men are the cause of the blood and he didn’t just hurt himself, this in turn leads us to believe that Cliff is being forcefully interrogated.

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Not only the lighting and the smoky atmosphere of the set show key insights into the scene but also the location of the set. For this I think it is important to apply Barthes semantic and symbolic codes to the scene. I believe that Barthes symbolic code means to look at the visual side of the scene and try and work out the deeper connotations attached, this is code is also very similar to his Semantic code and Barthes never actually specified the difference [1] between them. However, the word ‘Semantic’ according to the OED means ‘relating to meaning in language or logic’ so I will look for the semantic signifiers from the spoken word. I believe that the fact that they are in a small, dark, confined space with no other people around and without any background sounds, in a Symbolic way suggests to the audience that no one else knows that Cliff is confined there and that if the mafia choose to kill him then his body will not be discovered for a considerable amount of time. The smokiness in the room also suggests to the audience that perhaps there is a dark atmosphere. and leads the audience to believe that this scene won’t end well.

I think a very critical part of this scene is where we see the role reversal between Coccotti and Worley, this happens as Worley accepts the fact that he will die in order to protect his son. There is both a proairetic code and a semantic code shown here. The proairetic code as mentioned the introduction, refers to an action in the text that leads the audience to second guess what will happen next. This is shown by Worley asking for the cigarette he initially refused (1.00). This is significant for the symbolic code also as i believe it holds connotations related to a last request of a condemned man, men were often given cigarettes before facing a firing squad [2] and i believe that this is also an important semantic code as i think that the smoking of the cigarette is the point where Tarantino and Scott want the audience to believe that Worley will not survive, when looking at this with the semantic code i believe that the fact that he asks for “one of those Chesterfields now” is very telling as it indicates that when he was offered one earlier he believed that he would survive. Another reference to the Symbolic code is that at the very instance that Worley asks for the cigarette The Flower Duet from the opera Lakme starts playing as background music [3]. This I believe is Tarantino making a reference to the vast use of classical music in famous gangster/mob films like The Godfather, Once upon a time in America and many others [4]. It is used for many reasons, one is to set an interesting juxtaposition to the violence that is going on and another is to set a tone in the scene and to represent the high status and views that mobsters hold of themselves, this has much to do with the typical stereotype of gangsters.

I consider it also important to now mention how stereotyping is used in this scene and how using these character assumptions also helps us in understanding the narrative. Lippmann explained the use of stereotypes in three ways[1], one was as an ‘ordering process’, a way to give a description to a mass of people without having to go into the specific detail or giving a general name to a large group of similar people. The second idea is that stereotypes are used as a short cut to describe someone’s characteristics and or appearance[1], in a way it means cutting down their personalities and type casting them, Lippmann explains ‘The real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal with so much subtlety, so much variety, so many permutations and combinations. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it. To traverse the world men must have maps of the world.’ (Lippman Walter: 2007 pg. 16) Lippmann’s final way of explaining using stereotypes is as a reference [1], for example, it is easier to build a character in a media text or script that is already based around a certain type-cast that the audience is familiar with, it helps them to relate to the character. I believe Tarantino has used a typical American-Italian mafia stereotype as a reference in this scene as Don Coccotti isn’t a major part in the whole film so it is important for the audience to quickly catch on to his purpose in the film

Don Coccotti’s immaculate grooming from the casually unbuttoned cashmere full length over coat with silk scarf, very stereotypical of the attire you see in Mafia related scenes like the Godfather, immediately put him echelons above his surrounding henchmen with hunched shoulders badly cut jackets that obviously conceal weapons, and the blank looks on their faces, that we find towards the end of the scene, accounts for the fact that at least one of the Scilians speaks no English what so ever and is truly fascinated by what Worley has said.

The camera angle used gives an added dimension to the vulnerability of the seated Worley, up until the point where Worley slowly and graciously insults Coccotti with a beautifully crafted story about the Moors breeding with Sicilian women. This story, to Barthes would be a part of the text referring to his cultural code as it is a sign that uses a reference from outside of the text to help the audience understand and relate to the narrative. Hopper carries on up to the final insult where Hopper refers to Coccotti as ‘part Eggplant’ this is an old racist slur that was stereotypically used many by italian americans to offend black people as Peter E. Bondanella the author of Hollywood Italians: Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, Wise Guys, and Sopranos explains ” ‘Moulan Yan’ — a particular Italian American derogatory term for Blacks deserves some glossing. Alternately spelled a number of ways, the word derived from the standard Italian word for eggplant — La melanzana.” so this is the final insult for Don Coccotti and is a horrible use of a stereotype, it also sets the Sicilians in the scene in a stereotype of being racist. By that point you know that the proairetic sign of Don Vincenzo giving Worley the kiss of death means that he is about to die.

The almost off camera reminder of Hopper’s police background is constantly hovering in the form of his division badge and you forget that he really is a policeman due to his ironic soliloquy in the face of obvious death. Don Coccottis nervous laughter at first and short spurts of eye contact with his henchmen are typical and become more manic as Hopper continues the well-crafted insults. The atypical action of him turning his back extracting the henchman’s gun and without warning turning and killing Worley brings the scene to a juddering halt. This is firstly revived by the Don saying ” I haven’t killed anybody since 1984″ and the black comedy of the scilian henchman asking what was said, the clipped response he said ” Franco what happened?” to which the english speaking one replies “He said that Scilians are spawned by niggers so Don Vincenzo killed him” (5.15). ties the scene off neatly and leaves no loose ends whatsoever.

From the previous scenes and the way the film plays out there was never going to be any doubt that hopper would always protect his son and that Don surrounded by his subordinates had to get the information or kill hopper, the play out in my opinion was almost a classic scene of black comedy had it not been for the true feeling and empathy you have towards hoppers character, protecting his son and his own integrity.

It’s also worth noting that the product placement of the Chesterfields also reinforces the 5th avenue sophisticated appearance of Don. When hopper asked for the chesterfield he mentions the cigarette brand by name in a way that he would savour a product with this image that might well be deemed out of reach or out of place to a street cop he refers to them as “one of those Chesterfields” and i feel that sentence suggests he is unfamiliar with them.

From this essay I have found that Barthes five codes are very interesting for looking at a scene in depth, I discovered things about this scene that I had not realised before and this is thanks to the way his codes pick out the tiniest action in a scene and reveal the bigger connotation it holds. I did however, find it difficult to distinguish the boundaries between one code and another particularly the symbolic and semantic code. I found Lippmann’s ideas on stereotype very interesting and I liked thinking about stereotype as I think the use of stereotype’s is important to Tarantino, I believe that he likes to adhere to your typical stereotype like the gangsters and the mafia but he also likes to throw in an anomaly to confuse the audience and get them excited by the character, I believe that Cliff Worley’s integrity and bravery in the scene shows this.


Narration in the Fiction Film – David Bordwell Chapter 2 – Diegetic Theories of Narration

The Pleasure of the text – roland barthes

S/Z – Roland Barthes

The media students book – Branston and Stafford – narrativesI

Italian-Americans in Film: From Immigrants to IconsCarlos E. Cortés MELUS, Vol. 14, No. 3/4, Italian-American Literature (Autumn – Winter, 1987), pp. 107-126

‪Hollywood Italians: Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, Wise Guys, and Sopranos‬ By Peter E. Bondanella

Articles The Independent-Angry Italian-Americans demand MTV pull ‘hateful’ reality show by Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Italian-Americans in Film: From Immigrants to IconsCarlos E. Cortés MELUS, Vol. 14, No. 3/4, Italian-American Literature (Autumn – Winter, 1987), pp. 107-126

Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality Journal of Social History, Winter, 2007 by Janice Kelly

Public Opinon by Walter Lippmann 2007 edition accessed on January 1st 2010 accessed on January 1st 2010 accessed on January 1st 2010

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