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"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."
September 22, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

The making of Goodfellas. Twenty years after the movie came out, Scorsese and the cast and crew talk about making the movie -- what was scripted, what wasn't, who was originally considered for the cast -- and how many real wiseguys made it on screen.
posted by devinemissk (117 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm so glad they roped in Illeana Douglas! (She shares more of her interesting recollections about the movie in her AVClub Random Roles interview.)
posted by hermitosis at 7:53 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Great post!

Now go get your fuckin' shinebox!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 AM on September 22, 2010 [14 favorites]


John Malkovich - "It's hard to explain why you end up in Eragon and not GoodFellas."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:54 AM on September 22, 2010 [18 favorites]


Personal theory regarding Liotta in Goodfellas: he's a vampire. Look at it: pale skin, red eyes, aversion to sunlight, does not age over a couple of decades.
posted by Artw at 7:55 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?
posted by lalochezia at 7:57 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Goodfellas gets (even more) extra points in my book for being the only* film to include "Monkey Man" - probably my favourite Rolling Stones song - on its soundtrack.

* possibly excepting latter-period Scorcese where he's just ripping himself off...I know he's used "Gimme Shelter" at least three times; I actually groaned when "The Departed" opened with it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:59 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


To the pre-emptive tl;dr brigade: yes, this is long. It's also totally worth it. Thanks for sharing, devinemissk!

Also:

Ballhaus: I wouldn't have done this movie with another director. These discussions—whether there is enough brain in the blood—are so absurd that you almost want to throw up.

This says a lot about both Scorsese's great and terrible movies, in my opinion.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:00 AM on September 22, 2010


Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (Doctor): If I start watching it, I'll be up all night. Sometimes I hate to put the movie on because it's like, I've got shit to do.

Sheeeeeeeeeeeeit
posted by dhammond at 8:02 AM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Irwin Winkler (producer): Tom Cruise was discussed.

That is an alternate universe I do not ever, ever want to visit.
posted by padraigin at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2010 [19 favorites]


Irwin Winkler (producer): Tom Cruise was discussed.

Wow, I'm glad that didn't work out.
posted by octothorpe at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Goodfellas gets (even more) extra points in my book for being the only* film to include "Monkey Man" - probably my favourite Rolling Stones song - on its soundtrack.

Interesting YouTube comment:

jacksedit i listen to this when i do airstrikes in iraq
3 months ago
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Goodfellas gets (even more) extra points in my book for being the only* film to include "Monkey Man" - probably my favourite Rolling Stones song - on its soundtrack.

Yeah, they talk about how that made the soundtrack just insanely expensive. There's a bit about a particular scene being the most expensive scene ever, and it's because of the music rights. I actually found the whole section about Scorsese choosing the music -- and developing shots based on what particular songs he wanted for particular scenes -- to be really fascinating.
posted by devinemissk at 8:07 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


My favorite movie. Thanks for this.
posted by davebush at 8:08 AM on September 22, 2010


A short while back I found the original magazine article that was later expanded out into Wise Guys, the book Goodfellas was adapted from. It's probably no surprise but large amounts of the voice over was straight lifted from it.

Slicing my garlic with a razor.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a little fucked up maybe

Tommy DeVito, master of the understatement.
posted by ODiV at 8:10 AM on September 22, 2010


Slicing my garlic with a razor.

But are your fingernails as shiny and perfectly manicured as Paul "Paulie" Sorvino's?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:18 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to read this later read this later.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:20 AM on September 22, 2010 [23 favorites]


Twenty years?
posted by notyou at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nate Penn is the king of the oral history.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:32 AM on September 22, 2010


The underlying message of the interviews seems to be that there's a fine line between making a great movie and a really crappy movie (not only Tom Cruise but Madonna too!).
posted by drezdn at 8:34 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that helicopter is following this thread.
posted by drezdn at 8:36 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seeing this post made my morning. This movie is on my top ten list. Long ago I had a cat bird seat for one of the John Gotti trials, and am still amazed how close to reality this movie was. (It doesn't hurt that it was faithful to an accurate book about a real wiseguy by a very good reporter.)
posted by bearwife at 8:41 AM on September 22, 2010


A pox on you and your house for posting this while I have work to do.

I mean, uh, thanks! I'll read this later!
posted by marxchivist at 8:42 AM on September 22, 2010


I'm so glad they roped in Illeana Douglas! (She shares more of her interesting recollections about the movie in her AVClub Random Roles interview.)

That's an AWESOME interview. Thanks so much for posting it. I didn't know she'd worked for Peggy Siegel.
"So that’s how I met everybody. I met Thelma [Schoonmaker], Michael Powell was there. It was insane. They were all sitting there in the dark, and they’re like, “Well, let’s hear it.” So I did my scream, and they all laughed and applauded. They said, “That’s horrible! How do you do that?” I said, “I work for a publicist. It’s pretty easy.”"
:D :D :D
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on September 22, 2010


flapjax at midnite: "Great post!

Now go get your fuckin' shinebox!
"

MOTHERFUCKING MUTT!
posted by bwg at 8:53 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not a Scorsese fan in general but I watched "GoodFellas" for the first time all the way through last year and was floored. An absolute tour de force in every way imaginable.
posted by blucevalo at 8:54 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, all nice and good but Dances With Wolves is still the superior film.
posted by philip-random at 8:55 AM on September 22, 2010


"Imperioli: When was the last time you rented Dances with Wolves?"
posted by devinemissk at 8:57 AM on September 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Boids on the Hood
posted by zarq at 9:01 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Low: I did come up with my own lines of, "What am I, a schmuck on wheels?" "I've been bleeding for this caper." "Jimmy is being an unconscionable ball-breaker!" During a break, one of the Mob guys in the movie comes to me and he says, "What is this 'ball-breaker' thing that you're saying, the 'unconscionable?' " I said, "You know, in the Caribbean there's conch shells; you can't break 'em." They all give me like the thumbs-up: "Oh, I get it. 'Unconscionable!' "
I predict Low would eventually wind up getting whacked by his mob pals if were really in the mob.
posted by mazola at 9:01 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now go get your fuckin' shinebox!

He'll make your shoes look like fuckin' mirrors.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:04 AM on September 22, 2010


Fingers crossed for the same treatment of Casino in 5 years.
posted by mazola at 9:07 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had wanted to see this in the theater, but as usual, it passed me by. But at the time it came out on VHS, my mom was buying sooooo many movies. I remember she gave me this one because she had sat down to watch it (she was about 70 then) thinking it was a comedy and she couldn't get beyond the opening scene. I think she thought she was going to see a Robin Williams comedy (which can also be terrifying).

We waited until after she & our kids had gone off to bed, and I remember thinking: this is a brilliant, terrifying, wonderful movie. (I also remember my wife going to bed, too: she loved Liotta from Something Wild, but just could.not.take.the.violence in GoodFellas) My boss, whose ethnic extraction caused him to call The Godfather Trilogy "Roots for my people," went wild for GoodFellas. He could quote long passages from almost any movie he'd seen, and no less so with GoodFellas. I earned some props for catching a little remarked upon epithet from the end of the "funny, how?" confrontation, when Pesci says something to the effect of "had ya goin' didn't I, you stuttering fuck."

Ahead quickly these twenty years now passed. A friend of mine in Chicago, when in the throws of his personality's manic grip, will adopt the persona and speaking style of someone in the latest movie he's seen. He doesn't go out a lot, but has been buying up literally hundreds of VHS tapes at garage sales, library purges, etc. For weeks he was Professor Henry Higgins, then Harold Hill from the Music Man. (I just noted the two H. H. names, which might lead you to believe that he took on Henry Hill from GoodFellas.) For the last several weeks, he has alternated between Tommy and Jimmy, stopping at tables in restaurants he frequents to press twenty-dollar bills into the hands of children sitting with their families, and buying jewelry almost daily for his gf. We're all hoping this phase ends soon--but we're also glad that Tony Clifton moved on a while ago.

I think this movie continues to make an impact on the people who watch it. It has been at least 15 years since I last saw it, and I don't know as I could sit through it again--but I do know that I often slice my garlic the way that Paulie Cicero did while in jail. How else you gonna get it that thin?
posted by beelzbubba at 9:08 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think this movie continues to make an impact on the people who watch it.

One word: Sopranos
posted by KokuRyu at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2010


ingers crossed for the same treatment of Casino in 5 years.

Yes! I love Casino! Excellent flick: sadly underrated and underappreciated, I think.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:10 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here is the "At the Movies" review of the film from back in 1991.
posted by MotorNeuron at 9:11 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


philip-random: “Yes, all nice and good but Dances With Wolves is still the superior film.”

It really is, though. I think the relation here is pretty simple –

The Godfather : Goodfellas :: Malcolm X : Shaft

God, looking at that list, though, I'm reminded what a shit year 1991 was for movies. The Godfather III was nominated for Best Picture? Seriously? Yech. At least Creature Comforts won something that year. Come to think of it, it was four years before it got any better; not that the establishment noticed much. Hollywood was atrocious in 1990s.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2010


I love the movie.
It is a Christmas (!) tradition for me. Often, my wife is decorating while I do gift wrapping downstairs, I put it on.
posted by Drasher at 9:19 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


For me, one of the most interesting and subversive aspects of this film is the central role played by food.

There is food in nearly every single scene, and in many scenes it is the focus (slicing garlic with a razor blade "so it liquefies in the pan", smuggling sausage into prison, making the pasta sauce, Paulie barbecuing sausage, the plates of cold cuts at the card games, the diners, the restaurants). Food is also conspicuously absent in almost all of Karen's scenes (except when she smuggles it into prison, and even there, she angrily expels it from her coat).

There is only one scene in the Godfather (part 2 I think) where food plays such a central role (when the gangsters are hunkered down in the Corleone compound, one of them remarks about making the perfect sauce as he labors over a stovetop.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:20 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is only one scene in the Godfather (part 2 I think) where food plays such a central role

You're forgetting six very important words:

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 9:33 AM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Pastabagel, that is one of the aspects of the book and movie that is so true to life. I listened to a lot of tapes of John Gotti and his crew (and related others), some of which were never played in open court, and it was incredible how much they talked about food. . . often while discussing who to "whack" or who they'd beaten up, or who needed to "learn a lesson."
posted by bearwife at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2010


Douglas: I said to Marty, "I think you know that Dances with Wolves is going to win Best Picture, and you're going to win Best Director." I even got him a little table where he would put his Oscar. We were romantically involved at the time. When he lost, that was again like a condemnation of the film. I remember him saying, "They put me in the front row with my mother, and then I didn't win," which is such an Italian thing to say. He came home: "They don't like me. They really, really don't like me."
Ha! Scorcese is the anti-Sally Field!
posted by mazola at 9:34 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pileggi: They had the screening in Southern California for an audience of Orange County, white, conservative people. They started seeing people getting shot in the trunks of cars and guys stabbed and about seventy people walked out. The Warner Bros. bosses were sitting there, they said, "Holy shit. We've got a bad movie. We've got problems."

Hollywood is so depressing.
posted by drezdn at 9:37 AM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh man, I read that title line and I just hear the 1994 snares rushing in to my brain all over again.
posted by Theta States at 9:43 AM on September 22, 2010


Awesome post-I love this movie. And I just got exactly zero done this morning. But so worth it-this movie is such a classic.

Fingers crossed for the same treatment of Casino in 5 years. - God willing!
posted by supercapitalist at 9:54 AM on September 22, 2010


Whenever I hang up the phone I try to do it like Deniro outside of the dinner.
posted by digsrus at 9:55 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


oops, diner.
posted by digsrus at 9:56 AM on September 22, 2010


I have Music from the films of Martin Scorcese on my iPod and my heart beats fast when that opening of Jerry Vale doing "Rags to Riches" comes on shuffle. The track has Liotta's voice over. Anytime I hear the opening lines I want to go home immediately and watch it again.
posted by readery at 10:00 AM on September 22, 2010


Great read. Especially the section about music. Even though it wasn't mentioned (in the interview), the scene with "Jump Into The Fire" by Nilsson still remains in my top 5 list of best scene-scoring.
posted by sundrop at 10:00 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is only one scene in the Godfather (part 2 I think) where food plays such a central role (when the gangsters are hunkered down in the Corleone compound, one of them remarks about making the perfect sauce as he labors over a stovetop.

That's in part one.

There's also a pretty excruciating scene in GIII where Andy Garcia and Sofia Coppola make gnocchi. Blech.
posted by padraigin at 10:03 AM on September 22, 2010


I first saw this movie in the theatre at the old Heisman 4 in Norman, as part of a high school double feature (as in, just walk into the next movie after seeing the first one). The other movie? Silence of the Lambs.

Probably the best day of cinema of my whole life.
posted by norm at 10:08 AM on September 22, 2010 [10 favorites]


1. I absolutely adore this film - great post. 2. I remember the Heisman 4 from when I was a little girl! I probably saw at least one Superman movie there, but memory escapes me right now.
posted by PuppyCat at 10:12 AM on September 22, 2010


It's a beautiful thing.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:17 AM on September 22, 2010


Adding to the Godfather / food discussion ...

There is the scene in Part 2 where Hyman Roth is welcoming Michael and the various business interests to Cuba -- steel, telecommunications, chemicals, etc. There is a cake presented to the group.

The cake is in the shape of the island of Cuba itself. The island is literally and figuratively being carved up for the businessmen.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:21 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


This was a really fun read. I think Goodfellas was the first "grown up" movie I ever watched, where I noticed and admired the way the moviemaking helped tell the story. It did not play by all the movie rules and conventions I thought were unbreakable. It was startling, and made a big impact on me.

The format of this interview freaks me out a little. Much of it reads like a group interview or a conversation amongst a group, so when, like, Spike Lee shows abruptly it's kind of jarring and funny. I'm imagining this big room with this really intense conversation going on and all of a sudden John Malkovich is popping up to say something and then disappearing in a puff of smoke.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:22 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]




There is only one scene in the Godfather (part 2 I think) where food plays such a central role (when the gangsters are hunkered down in the Corleone compound, one of them remarks about making the perfect sauce as he labors over a stovetop.

The presence of oranges in all three Godfather movies indicates that a death or a close call will soon happen. The Senator is framed for murder after playing with oranges at the Corleone house, and Johnny Ola brings an orange into Michael's office before the attempt on Michael's life. Fanucci eats an orange just before he is gunned down and Michael is eating an orange (it looks like an apple, but it is an orange) while plotting to kill Roth. Plus, Marlon Brando (gunned down after purchasing oranges) as Vito puts an orange peel in his mouth prior to his death. ––Peter Cowie, Coppola: A Biography
posted by Gungho at 10:26 AM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes! I love Casino! Excellent flick: sadly underrated and underappreciated, I think.

I had never seen Casino until some local channel ran it at like 2 in the morning recently. For some reason I was up and started watching; could not shut it off, no matter how many times I told myself "FFS, you can rent this you know - you don't have to stay up until 5:30 in the morning to see it."

Really compelling film.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:26 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


The format of this interview freaks me out a little.

I think the format is generally known as an "oral history". Everybody related to a subject or with some expertise on it is interviewed, and then all the quotes are arranged chronologically, or in this case by category, kind of.

The first time I ever encountered it, I think, was a biography of Edie Sedgewick, and now I tend to seek it out, or rather, if there's an oral history book of something I'll give it a shot, whatever it's about. I really like it as a storytelling device, especially when one quote contradicts the previous quote. It's like having access to collective memory. Sometimes someone really only has the one thing to say, but it's worth weaving that one thing into the narrative.
posted by padraigin at 10:29 AM on September 22, 2010


A++++ Would read an article by this author again!!! FAST SHIPPING!! Items as described!!
posted by d1rge at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Godfather

Mind the oranges, Marlon!
posted by Artw at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I really like it as a storytelling device, especially when one quote contradicts the previous quote.

I like it too; I think there's a lot of value in arranging the stories like this. You can mine a lot of meaning out of seeing two slightly different stories juxtaposed, or noticing what one left out. There's a lot of richness to it; it's a fun device.

But it's still totally funny when someone mentions The Sopranos and suddenly David Chase is like "Hi!"
posted by peachfuzz at 10:45 AM on September 22, 2010


I love the movie.
It is a Christmas (!) tradition for me. Often, my wife is decorating while I do gift wrapping downstairs, I put it on.


Nice. We have Casino as our Christmas tradition. I think it's all the shiny lights in the Saul Bass opening. Or the chinchilla coat. Something Christmassy, like all that red and green of the cornfield.
posted by Capt. Renault at 10:47 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's a bit of a shame they didn't include Henry Hill, because he's such an entertaining guy. But I have no doubt he would've constantly steered everything toward his own self-aggrandizement. And I was surprised how little Nick Pileggi had to say.
posted by rikschell at 10:52 AM on September 22, 2010


There are so many terrific acting moments in the film that are too small to be mentioned in that article, too, from the way Karen decides not to go down that street and get free dresses to the way Henry answers the phone at the wig shop while Jimmy strangles Morrie. It's an unbelievable film.

The book it was based on is fascinating, the film is fascinating, the making of the film is fascinating, and what happened to Hill after the events depicted in the film is fascinating.

But I think you only have to listen to the real Hill for a short period of time to realize how much Hollywood fairy dust is in that movie, no matter how gritty and realistic people say it is. The real Hill has significantly less of the charisma and quiet intelligence that Liotta communicates, and I suspect that's true of all the main characters.

Thanks for the link, that was a fun read. And I watch Die Hard every Xmas.
posted by heatvision at 10:55 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fantastic post. Thanks.
posted by Splunge at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2010


Best part of Casino was what happened to Nicky (Pesci) and his brother. Bru. Tal.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oooo, do I love me some Goodfellas!

Here's the pistol-whipping scene. I love how confidently he walks up to the guy, and then how much he looks like an animal after he beats him.
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2010


With the spate of Irish mob movies coming out lately, it's worth remembering that this was one of the first modern Irish mob movies -- both Henry Hill and Jimmy "The Gent" Conway are Irish (Hill is half Italian) -- De Niro's character is based on James Burke, whose actual nickname was The Big Irishman. He also once almost strangled Jimmy Breslin to death, which is an interesting little footnote in Irish-American history. Another Irish character in the film: Sonny Bunz, based on Angelo McConnach, owner of the Bamboo Lounge in Canarsie.

Of course, it's not Miller's Crossing, which came out the same year. But nowadays it seems like almost every mob film is about Irish mobs (which was the case with a lot of early mob films, such as Angels With Dirty Faces and The Public Enemy), after mafia films had been popular for so long, and it's interesting as to where this all got started. Weirdly, the little-remember State of Grace came out in 1990.

Prior, what is there? Prime Cut in 1972. The Friends of Eddie Coyle in 1973. That's about it.

It's like everybody just rediscovered Boston, and the Irish, and Irish criminals, all at once, in 1990. The book The Westies came out about 1990, but I can't think of anything else that would make everybody else just go, hm, Irish mob, all at once. Anybody have any ideas?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:16 AM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


It is a Christmas (!) tradition for me.

It is a perfect Christmas movie.
posted by marxchivist at 11:18 AM on September 22, 2010


When was the last time you rented Dances with Wolves?
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on September 22, 2010


Yeah, they talk about how that made the soundtrack just insanely expensive. There's a bit about a particular scene being the most expensive scene ever, and it's because of the music rights.
Chase: The sequence in GoodFellas—moving the cocaine, making the Sunday gravy, and taking care of the brother in the wheelchair, and dodging helicopters—the way music and film are used there, so that you actually feel you're high on coke? I don't think anybody's ever done that before or since. It's beautiful filmmaking.

Corrigan: He samples like fifty different pieces of music in a minute. George Harrison and the Rolling Stones. Muddy Waters. The Who.

Brooks: Ooh, that was an expensive scene.
Worth every penny. More a sequence than a scene, and more like the sequence. Probably my all-time favourite cinematic crescendo of a sequence ever. Unravels Henry's whole world in a couple of taut, tightly edited minutes. Absolute note-perfect portrayal of the psyche of deep paranoia - you totally feel Henry's stress and delirium just ratcheting and ratcheting and ratcheting upward. God, the editing, the way shit keeps moving in and out of the frame or it's just a liittle overlit? You're in Henry's mind in that sequence. And the music is the binding, the shifting rhythm that holds it together.

No matter how many times I've seen the movie, every time it comes on I'm hooked because I'm like, well, shit, I've just gotta see that whole thing where Henry's reminding Michael not to let the sauce stick while he cuts up cocaine and argues with Lois about her lucky hat and all that.

I mean, it's no buffalo charades on the open plain, but still, a helluva movie.
posted by gompa at 11:25 AM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


When was the last time you rented Dances with Wolves?

I thought this was a serious question when I first read it. I figured the next guy was going to say "yeah, we rent Dances with Wolves every so often to point, laugh, and otherwise ridicule it. Now that Avatar got done, though, we can just watch that instead for our white shaman cinema schadenfreude."
posted by norm at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Artw: "When was the last time you rented Dances with Wolves?"

1991. I tried to watch it twice and fell asleep. Gave up and returned it without finishing it.
posted by octothorpe at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2010


When was the last time you rented Dances with Wolves?

That'll be never.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:36 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're reading my mind, Artw!
posted by ooga_booga at 11:40 AM on September 22, 2010


I saw teevee guide identify Dances With Wolves as a movie about an interrracial romance between a white man and an Indian, and, unless something went on between Kevin Costner and Graham Greene that was left out of the version I saw, this told me that even teevee guide hadn't seen the film.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:44 AM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


it's not Miller's Crossing, which came out the same year

The same month even!
posted by heatvision at 11:48 AM on September 22, 2010


I went to see Goodfellas with my father when the day it was released. After the movie was over, he asked if I wanted to watch it again, to which I replied, "absolutely." We were both so completely amazed by it, that we felt compelled sit through two consecutive screenings. Even now, I can't really think of another movie that is all around as satisfying. The interview points to why it so rich with detail - Scorsese poured not only his own personal experience into the movie, but the experiences of almost ever other member of the cast.
posted by borges at 11:55 AM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The bit about slicing up the garlic so thin that it dissolved when you sauteed it (something that I've never done, but always wanted to try) stuck with me, too, but that was mostly because it was part of the whole thing about how they got all this great food in prison, because of their connections, and that led to the realization of how utterly mundane the jail experience was for them, not just because of the luxuries that they could get but that they simply accepted it as part of the cost of doing business. Contrast that with Karen Hill's serious discomfort at visiting Henry in jail, with the kids, in a visiting room where another con is getting a blowjob from his girlfriend practically right next to them.

Also, something that no one's mentioned WRT the music: Scorsese chose the Sid Vicious version of "My Way" for the end. Pileggi says that it's the Sex Pistols, but that's not quite right; it was on the soundtrack of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, but that was made after Johnny Rotten had left, and it wasn't really the Pistols without him. For me, the significance of using the Vicious version was that I took GoodFellas to be a direct response to, and refutation of, the Godfather films, in that, contrary to the gangster world being this operatic saga, it was composed of a bunch of thugs who were barely in control of themselves even at the best of times, just as Sid was a talentless junkie who could barely stand on stage, let alone play and sing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2010


Loved this. Thanks. I kept flipping over to YouTube to watch the scenes they are discussing.



Here's the scene with Scorsese's mom.
The Copa tracking shot scene.
"I amuse you?"
The single take of Deniro crying.

And the best one to watch while reading this marvelous GQ story: the Johnny Roastbeef scene.
"Williams: Here's a guy who's done 200 films, and here I am. I owned a deli up in Harlem. I don't act. I can't act for shit. But he needed a fuse, he needed a light, and he says, "Johnny, somewhere—I don't care where it is—just tell me not to get excited." If you watch that scene, when I said, "What're you getting excited for, Jimmy?" that was liftoff. I gave him what he wanted. This is Robert De Niro. The line wasn't in the script.

De Niro: ......He was very good, as I remember, and doing what he should be doing, just reacting. I was the more kind of dominant, aggressive person in the scene because I was chewing him out. So all he had to do was just react, and the best thing is to do nothing and just sort of take it. And that's how those things happen in life, you know, usually.

Douglas: You see his face, it's like, "Whoa, I thought I was going to do a scene, but I didn't know..." and I think Bob likes to utilize something that is really happening in you. He kind of waits like an animal and sees what you're going to do, and then it triggers something in him that is so ferocious that you're just hanging on for dear life."


---

And just for no good reason, but because I stumbled on it and was amused, here is Joe Pesci winning the best supporting actor Oscar for Goodfellas.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I like your interpretation, Halloween Jack, but I'm sure I'm not the only punk historian who will jump in to tell you that Sid was far more than a talentless junkie. He was the son of a jazz trombonist and had been active in bands for a full year prior to joining the Sex Pistols, including having been singer and sax player for The Flowers of Romance with Keith Levene, later of The Clash -- he was a fan of the band, having been at every single gig. He wasn't much of a bass player, no, but it was because he was just handed a bass when he joined the band, replacing Glen Matlock. He tied to be studious with the instrument, teaching himself the entirety of the first Ramones album in one night. But it's not an easy instrument, and he was only bass player for The Sex Pistols for one year.

he did have a genuine passion for music -- I read an interview with him from way back where he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of Jamaican music -- and he had real stage presence. Malcolm McLaren has gone on record as saying if he had met Vicious before Johnny Rotten, he would have made Sid the lead singer of the Pistols.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2010


I watched Dances with Wolves last week because after seeing Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves we thought it would be really bad-funny to watch Costner act and I've never seen it before.

We ended up really liking it. He was in his element as an actor. Good direction. Good plotting until the end when it just...ended. I was hoping for more.

The main character was fleshed out really well. One of my all-time favorite takes on that kind of starting-over naif. Hell, his horse was a well-rounded character.

And unlike Avatar, he's pretty much a normal guy. A very pleasant change from the WHITE DUDE who is BETTER than EVERYONE!!! and basically JESUS!!! Ugh. Avatar was the worst.

I hated the female romantic interest's hair.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:15 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Best Oscar Acceptance Speech Evar.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:19 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does he stab anyone with a pen?
posted by Artw at 12:24 PM on September 22, 2010


Astro Zombie, I think I was a little flip in labeling Sid Vicious a "talentless junkie"; in the book that Nancy Spungen's mom wrote, she said that he was actually sweet, if a little dim, and believed him when he said that he didn't kill Nancy. But, regardless of how big of a fan of music he was, how many bands he'd been in, his dad, etc., the talent just wasn't there. If he'd lived and gotten off the junk, who knows.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2010


If they had actually used Madonna and Tom Cruise, it would have been dangerously close to Dick Tracy. *shudder*
posted by wenestvedt at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I took GoodFellas to be a direct response to, and refutation of, the Godfather films, in that, contrary to the gangster world being this operatic saga, it was composed of a bunch of thugs who were barely in control of themselves even at the best of times

Why does GoodFellas have to be a refutation of the Godfather movies? They're different types of films. The Godfather movies are an allegory.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:47 PM on September 22, 2010


Best Oscar Acceptance Speech Evar.

"wow that speech was shorter than him"
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2010


Ever since he was a kid, Tommy "Wommy" O'Meira wanted to dabble in the Mafia."
posted by Zerowensboring at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is a new TV series, just finished the last season (not an ad so I'm not naming specifics), a cop and medical examiner. The cop's mother is played by Lorraine Bracco (Karen Hill) and father played by Chazz Palminteri (I thought for sure he was in Goodfellas, but IMDB says no, he was in A Bronx Tale.)
I found it funny that the cop's brother is named 'Tommy'.

Also, A Bronx Tale was a good DeNiro movie too.
posted by Drasher at 1:16 PM on September 22, 2010


The Godfather movies are an allegory.

Err... what? Metaphor maybe?
posted by Justinian at 1:36 PM on September 22, 2010


Worth every penny. More a sequence than a scene, and more like the sequence. Probably my all-time favourite cinematic crescendo of a sequence ever.
posted by Anderson_Localized at 1:43 PM on September 22, 2010


Halloween Jack: “For me, the significance of using the Vicious version was that I took GoodFellas to be a direct response to, and refutation of, the Godfather films, in that, contrary to the gangster world being this operatic saga, it was composed of a bunch of thugs who were barely in control of themselves even at the best of times, just as Sid was a talentless junkie who could barely stand on stage, let alone play and sing.”

kirkaracha: “Why does GoodFellas have to be a refutation of the Godfather movies? They're different types of films. The Godfather movies are an allegory.”

Exactly. And more to the point, I think – it's a complete mischaracterization of the two Godfather films to say that they portray the world of gangland violence as "an operatic saga." There's something operatic about the story, it's true; but that element is a much too limited part of the whole thing to claim that it's an assertion the series is making. And what Godfather did you watch where the criminals aren't barely in control, aren't confused about who they are and what they're doing, aren't constantly doing frightening and strange and scary things? The Godfather and The Godfather Part II both have those elements in spades, and what's more they're an immediate and obvious part of the plot and the characters' lives; I barely even have to mention Sonny and Alfredo, Michael's brothers, to conjure up memories of terribly costly mistakes and sad human frailty. In fact, even for Michael, the antihero of the whole saga, the general theme is that an intelligent man, a superlative man, is still pretty unlikely to be able to keep it together if he chooses to try to live such a life.

I haven't said too much because it's sort of silly to run down a movie you happen to dislike for no good reason; but I'll allow myself this brief criticism since I think I have something to say that's at least interesting:

The difference between The Godfather and Goodfellas, in my mind, is that The Godfather has a degree of nobility at heart. Goodfellas just ends up seeming confused and sad. I accept the account you give of its thematic thrust – it seemed pretty clear to me that the point of Goodfellas was that the criminal life isn't glamorous, and that killing and torturing people for a living makes a person wretched. But the trouble with that in my mind is that this point should be obvious – of course killing and torturing people can make you unhappy, and is generally a bad career move. But beyond that, I don't know how much I buy the angle that Goodfellas was trying to reinject realism and an acknowledgement of the daily difficulties of gangsterhood back into the Mafia-movie genre. In fact, the whole thing struck me as a pretty bourgeois exercise in fantasy; there's something voyeuristic about the 'human interest' angle and the whole 'gosh, wouldn't it be great to be a mobster!' approach, and I've never been able to shake the feeling that that was a big chunk of the reason for its appeal in the 1990s.

That decade did, after all, belong to the sold-out hippies in their middle ages who were looking back on their years with some nostalgia – so my immediate reading of Goodfellas has always been that it's in the same class as all these films of which Forrest Gump is probably the chief example, although pretty much every single 'period piece' made between 1985 and 1998 falls into the category (and incidentally a good chunk of them were directed by Robert Zemeckis). It's a fantasy about how cool it would be to be a gangster; and in the end, the awful, terrible thing about the life isn't that it's hard to be cruel and to torture and kill people, or that it's hard not knowing if you're going to be safe, or that there are moral dilemmas and thorny issues of right involved (as the Godfather saga took such pains to point out) – at the end of Goodfellas, the terrible thing about a gangster's life is having to leave it and be a normal person. It even finishes off with the classic 'celebration of a mystique' technique: we get those pithy little titles telling us where all the characters ended up, more as a way of satisfying idle curiosity than anything else, and those wrap-ups don't have to be part of the story because the story wasn't really about where any of it would get you in the first place; it was about being there, about the whole experience of the thing, and where they ended up is incidental to that central concern. We always get these things at the end of nostalgia movies; they give us the feeling that we're remembering how it was, that we're meant to wonder what it was that went wrong, but not too actively, since the only thing that really went wrong was that life happened, and everybody ended up somewhere else, but what a thing when the crew was all together, eh?

Others might disagree with me; and I might be totally wrong. This is just the impression I got from Goodfellas – and it's the reason why I didn't like it much.
posted by koeselitz at 2:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's like everybody just rediscovered Boston, and the Irish, and Irish criminals, all at once, in 1990. The book The Westies came out about 1990, but I can't think of anything else that would make everybody else just go, hm, Irish mob, all at once. Anybody have any ideas?

My immediate thought was increasing coverage of Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang. There were federal court hearings in 1988 in which John Morris admitted to informing Bulger of police activities targeting him, and the joint task force to break up the gang was formed in 1990, so maybe that's where people started thinking more about Irish and Boston crime.
posted by Errant at 2:11 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq: "Boids on the Hood "

Thirty Dirty Birds
posted by Splunge at 3:55 PM on September 22, 2010


I also absolutely loved the use of Harry Nilsson's Jump into the Fire as the musical backdrop to the helicopter sequence.

Talk about the perfect tune for the moment.
posted by bwg at 5:37 PM on September 22, 2010


koeselitz: I think I read the book first, so it might be less so in the movie, but what Wise Guys/Goodfellas taught me was how these were just crude, grown up bully boys with no imagination, no honour, no class and no loyalty. They were so banal in their evil. I loved it. And definitely antithetical to the Godfather films.
posted by Trochanter at 7:23 PM on September 22, 2010


Astro Zombie -- Yeah, I'm not sure. The whole Bulger thing didn't come collapsing down for another few years. Although certainly Boston Irish criminals were getting more press around 1990 just because the Patriarcas had been pushed out, but I didn't think it was that big a thing in national profile. Certainly the Italian Mafia was in the news -- 1990 was about the time the law enforcement folks actually got a wiretap of a Mafia induction ceremony.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:27 PM on September 22, 2010


Best part of Casino was what happened to Nicky (Pesci) and his brother. Bru. Tal.

Billy Batts got his revenge.

By the way, I recently had a surreal experience while watching Disney Channel shows with my six year old niece. Debi Mazar popped up in the Jonas Brothers as a music video director... then not thirty minutes later it turns out Ray Liotta is Hannah Montana's school principal.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:42 PM on September 22, 2010


Trochanter: “They were so banal in their evil. I loved it.”

Those two sentences together – that's precisely what grosses me out about Goodfellas and its popularity, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 8:47 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It also inspired one of my favorite Mr. Show sequences, Pallies
posted by borges at 9:55 PM on September 22, 2010


When I say I loved it, I mean I feel like the movie enlightened me. I had tended to think that organized crime was all about gambling, and drugs, and women and such -- things where the mob are just business men catering to the wants of people who want what the law says they can't have, and then, because they've gone outside the law, using violence to police themselves and their businesses. Not essentially evil or cruel, just outlaws.

Goodfellas/Wise Guys showed me that they are mainly just out and out thieves. Half witted and murderous slobs. Completely selfish. It was a revelation.

The performances were fascinating and actors charismatic, but I don't the characters were sympathetic or heroic or in any way noble. We watched "Jimmy the Gent" revealed for what he was. They were all repulsive by the end, I think. It's been a while since I watched it, but I think that's what I remember. That's what's stuck with me, anyway.
posted by Trochanter at 9:58 PM on September 22, 2010


And another thing I liked is that Scorsese lets these people damn themselves. He doesn't do it for them, or us. It's kind of like how Nabokov lets Humbert Humbert justify himself page after page after page and yet still reveal himself as a monster.
posted by Trochanter at 10:31 PM on September 22, 2010


I think Goodfellas was the first "grown up" movie I ever watched, where I noticed and admired the way the moviemaking helped tell the story. It did not play by all the movie rules and conventions I thought were unbreakable. It was startling, and made a big impact on me.


Same for me, Peachfuzz. It was the first adult movie I can say I "got", and has made a lasting impression on me. On a side note, the scene where Henry and Tommy are selling tax-free cigarettes out of the back of a car brings me back to my childhood in Detroit, where I used to see the same thing occurring outside the Ford plant where my Dad worked. Street-level crime, to be sure...maybe that's why this film has stayed with me so much longer than any of the Godfather films.
posted by motown missile at 10:56 PM on September 22, 2010


Goodfellas - the television series
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:45 AM on September 23, 2010


In fact, the whole thing struck me as a pretty bourgeois exercise in fantasy;

That's not how I look at it at all. The Godfather's world is completely foreign to me, it's a world I can never be a part of. The Italian mob is nationalistic & exclusionary; no matter how smart or ruthless one is, you can never be a part of that world if you're not Sicilian. Henry Hill even says flat-out that neither he nor Jimmy could ever be "made" because of their backgrounds. Yet they still prosper because they have completely embraced their Id.

In the Goodfellas criminal structure, the most important thing isn't intelligence or nationality, it's balls. Hill's character sums it up pretty susinctly at one point in the movie:
For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills were dead. I mean they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2010


In fact, the whole thing struck me as a pretty bourgeois exercise in fantasy;

I remember a review of Donnie Brasco when it came out that said The Godfather was the Mafias's upper classes, Goodfellas was the Mafia's middle classes and Brasco was it's working classes. I'm not sure if that's exactly right for Brasco but I think it holds for Godfather and Goodfellas.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


As said above by others, Goodfellas is a movie that if I happen to click to it I have to watch it to the end. So I've seen it many, many times.

I had the distinct pleasure recently of coming across it on The Accessible Channel as described video.

The entire thing was manic, but the end sequence was just insane!
posted by mazola at 11:30 AM on September 23, 2010


Such a fascinating article. Goodfellas really is one of my favourite films, and that's not just because I love a good gangster movie.
posted by ob at 12:06 PM on September 23, 2010


And now I've finally got around to reading the whole article it made me want to watch Goodfellas all over again and I only last watched a few months ago.

I've just checked IMDB and it's at 17 in the all time list, putting it head and shoulders above Scorsese's more critical revered films like Raging Bull and for myself it's probably the film of his I've seen more often than any other and is probably my overall fave even if the film critic part of my brain is saying something like King Of Comedy

Obviously being in the UK I've haven't seen Boardwalk Empire yet. But I've heard it's pretty good.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:22 PM on September 23, 2010


I had the distinct pleasure recently of coming across it on The Accessible Channel as described video.
The entire thing was manic, but the end sequence was just insane!


Oh yay, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has discovered the occassionally surreal joys of described video.
posted by Theta States at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2010


Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro, who teamed up to make the classic crime films Goodfellas, Casino and Mean Streets, are returning to the scene of organized crime in an upcoming film.


Scorsese and De Niro are planning to make a film based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses (Steerforth Press). The book, written by former prosecutor Charles Brant, is based on four years of taped interviews of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a Philadelphia native, Teamster union official and self-confessed hit man for La Cosa Nostra.


It could be either really good or a tiresome rehash. I will go opening weekend, probably the only upcoming movie that I feel that way about.
posted by readery at 1:13 PM on September 23, 2010


All this Godfather talk and no love for Once Upon a Time in America?
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2010


All this Godfather talk and no love for Once Upon a Time in America?

tl;d(re-)w
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aw, come on, it's only 6-8 hours, max.
posted by Artw at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a back and forth at salon.com on the movie: Is Goodfellas Overated?
posted by Trochanter at 9:31 AM on September 28, 2010


Well that's me pretty much uninterested in anything this Ian Grey fellow has to say on any subject, ever.
posted by Artw at 9:34 AM on September 28, 2010


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