Above: James “Jimmy” Darmody (Michael Pitt) and his wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino) celebrate a night out on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. The Princeton educated Jimmy starts out as Nucky’s driver and bodyguard, but eventually becomes his underworld nemesis. Since Hurricane Sandy, images of the now destroyed historical promenade have gained new meaning. Photo: © 2012 Home Box Office, Inc.
20 EB 4/2012
“Further into the psychohistory of the American dream” Shantel on Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire (HBO) There has always been a nebulous relationship between the representation of La Cosa Nostra in the American literary and cinematic traditions and its reality. The romanticism at the core of our image of organized crime is, in a sense, misleading. But it’s also undeniable that the history of the Mafia is nebulous in and of itself, because it’s a history of immigrant subcultures—strangers in a strange land trying to survive. Certainly, the Mafia is a brilliant backdrop for the explanation of the American Dream, and a subject matter that director Martin Scorsese has a deep understanding of. The historical beginnings of American
gang activity is at the center of 2002’s Gangs of New York, while Scorsese’s other films, including Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino and The Departed, reverse the focus, observing organized crime in the context of specific moments in American history. In both instances however, finding accurate or even any sources on which to base his semi-historical narratives was supposedly not a simple undertaking. That said, fiction has often been integral to the construction of national myths and national identity, and this is where Scorsese’s strengths lie as a director. I would argue that our collective vision of La Cosa Nostra has, over time, been strongly
influenced by Scorsese’s hyperreal narrative vision—both historical and imagined. Not that it’s always easy to tell the difference. With Boardwalk Empire, Scorsese has created a masterpiece together with former Sopranos writer and executive producer Terence Winter, whose knowledge of New Jersey and ability to surprise viewers with a contemporary take on “historical” events is nothing short of astonishing. This is the kind of historical Mafia storytelling I can relate to. When I was doing research for my project Kosher Nostra about the history and music of Jewish-American organized crime, I quickly found out how difficult it was to find