Precious Bodily Fluids

Goodfellas

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High atop the list of so-embarrassed-I-haven’t-seen-’em movies long has sat Goodfellas. Scorsese’s film is reminiscent particularly of Mean Streets, with more of a Godfather element to it. Above all, however, the generation who grew up watching Animaniacs cannot watch this film without fondly recalling the “Goodfeathers,” a parody that surely must have pleased Scorsese. The long Steadicam shots following protagonists into clubs give one that warm feeling only gotten when watching a cinematic artist at work. These sorts of shots are common now, though they nearly always have that sort of stop-and-go photography to them that renders them so effects-driven that severely limit the impression of talent. Or, they take the “Steadi-” out of “Steadicam” and the “tracking” out of “tracking shot.” The result is that shaky, camera-on-the-shoulder look that has been so popular for the last ten years or so. Like most of Scorsese’s films, Goodfellas is a saga that is driven by characters and whose art is subservient to an episodic narrative. Much less glitzy than Coppola’s Godfather films, Goodfellas immediately lowers the bar with a voiceover narration from its main character, who puts all his cards on the table for the audience. Both the mundane details as well as the unforeseen climaxes give it the flavor of truth. Scorsese himself is a talker, and so is Liotta’s character and, of course, Pesci’s. Many of the plot turns hinge on words: words spoken foolishly, words overheard, words not spoken that should have been. The breaking points of the characters are often illustrated through speechlessness. David Thomson’s Have You Seen…? suggests that Scorsese “wanted in” on the mob movie, and thus made Goodfellas. He also asserts that Pesci’s character is way overboard; overindulgent. The first allegation doesn’t warrant a response. The second seems to be the very point of Pesci’s character; hence his demise. One of the last shots of the film was one of the best: Liotta picks up the paper in his track housing development, stands up, and sees a mirage of Pesci in front of him shooting straight at him. Ironically, Pesci is the only (?) close cohort of his who can take no revenge, having already met his fate without seeing it coming. It’s one of the few real “art” shots in the film; it’s reserved for the end and happens so quickly that it provokes deeply while the credits roll.

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This entry was published on January 12, 2009 at 11:38 pm. It’s filed under 1990s Cinema, American film, Martin Scorsese and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Goodfellas

  1. Though never close to the brilliance achieved by Scorsese in Taxi Driver, Raging Bulls or Mean Streets, this was a very good film nonetheless and deserved every bit of praise it earned. Filled with a terrific soundtrack that does a great job in defining the zeitgeist, the movie delivers because it never attempts to be a Godfather, more so thanks to its anti-climactic finish.

    And boy, Joe Pesci was incredible in the movie. Undoubtedly one of the most volatile and unforgettable turns by an actor ever. The scene where he transforms from a goofy joker to a manic sociopath and back to his jocular self, at the bar while telling ‘funny’ stories, could easily count among the greatest scenes (in terms of acting) in movie history.

  2. I love Goodfeathers! And also, have you seen the popularity of my Liotta-in-Goodfellas Facebook group?

  3. Shubhajit: I 2/3 agree with you, since Raging Bull is on the aforementioned list of embarrassing films I haven’t seen. (That one is really embarrassing.) I should have commented on the soundtrack. Scorsese is typically good at this. The Jumpin’ Jack Flash slow-mo sequence in Mean Streets to the second (piano) half of Layla in Goodfellas – that man knows how to use rock music cinematically. Figures he’s the man behind The Last Waltz. I appreciate your summation of the Pesci character. His goofy joking (“What are you saying?…”) recalls the hypothetical interrogation in Taxi Driver (“You talkin’ to me?…”).

    A: I had NOT seen the popularity of that group…until now. I love it. I would join it shamelessly, except that in those closeup shots of Liotta, I felt squeamish for some reason. The way his eyes narrowed was discomforting. I admit the possibility that this has to do with the most disturbing scene I’ve ever witnessed in a movie: when Liotta’s character in Hannibal is fed his own brains. Too much. Yech.

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