For My Next Number, I’d Like To Return To The Classics.
Ever Since I Was A Kid, I Wanted To Be A..
I am a big fan of Gangster films, especially the classics and in my book they don’t come any more classic than Goodfellas; the original mob flick.
Being a father to a 9-month-old baby it is difficult to get the time to go to the cinema and although I always miss time with our little one when away from home an evening of Goodfellas combined with Italian food and Craft Beer proved too good an opportunity to miss. So I swapped the Tombliboos for Tommy guns for a couple of hours and headed off to immerse myself in the 80s New York Gangster landscape.
The screening was hosted at an excellent venue called The Institute of Light in Hackney. Tucked away under the railway arches of the Old Great Eastern Jazz line the venue provided the perfect setting with the occasional rumble of a train overhead giving it a gritty inner city feel that blended well with the mood of the film.
The evening started with some authentic Italian food and beers were provided by Brooklyn Brewery so we tucked into some meatballs that were ‘just like Nonna made’ washed down with a lager that was brewed in the Big Apple; what better way to get into the mood for Goodfellas?
To me the Mob film genre provides the perfect form of escapism; excellent soundtracks, epic tough guy characters, and in the case of Goodfellas a dose of dark humour.
The character of Tommy Devito played by Joe Pesci has some hilarious lines in the film. It is so long since I saw Goodfellas that I had forgotten just how much impact it has on you. There is a scene relatively near the start of the film in a club where Tommy is telling a story. Ray Liotta who plays Henry Hill (the lead role) comments how funny Tommy is and Tommy calls him out on it.
At this stage in the film there had been barely any violence but even so, the sheer air of menace gives you the feeling that it is about to kick off any minute; edge of your seat stuff.
The use of violence is not excessive; for me, the implication portrayed by the expert cast (particularly Pesci) that violence could erupt at any moment has far more impact than the actual scenes of violence themselves.
I have never witnessed someone apart from Pesci that has the art of using the F word down to such a tee. At the time of the film’s release the use of the F word at around 2 times per minute was the most use of profanity in movie history!
The film is so captivating. From the very first scene director Martin Scorcese uses some stunning cinematography including amazing still shots that underpin the deep, New York Mob accent of Ray Liotta who provides the narration throughout.
The way that the camera moves throughout some scenes in an almost home video-type motion gives an extreme sense of grit to the movie.
According to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the book and screenplay that the film is based on, some actual mobsters were hired as extras to lend an air of authenticity to scenes in the film and were given false social security numbers for the payment of their wages.
In addition, the character of Fat Andy was played by Louis Eppolito, a former NYPD Detective who’s father, uncle and cousin were all Mob members that were sentenced to 80 years in prison for racketeering, extortion and murder.
This incendiary blend of realism coupled with the refined attention to detail that Pesci, De Niro and Liotta applied to their roles makes the flick just so watchable.
I found myself liking Ray Liotta’s character. He charms you on screen as a loveable rogue, but that soon develops into a more sinister side when he slowly starts spinning out of control as the power of being part of a crime family goes to his head.
The icing on the cake for me in Goodfellas is the soundtrack. Comprising mostly of Motown and Soul the song choice is unreal and I am to this day listening to it on repeat in the car. The sweet-sounding vocals of Tony Bennett and The Chantels provide a stark juxtaposition to the drama that unfolds on screen and truly makes some scenes complete.
Finally, one aspect that I have huge respect for is the fact that a large proportion of the script was improvised by the leading roles. Whole scenes of the film including the dinner with Tommy’s mother were totally improvised.
If this review has not whet your appetite enough have a peak at this.
What do you think to Goodfellas? I would love to hear what your favourite line or scene in the film is. Leave a comment below or I’ll make sure you go home and get your fuckin’ shinebox….
Until next time it is down with the Tommy guns and back to the Tombliboos for me; I am off to switch that soundtrack back on!
Goodfellas is being re-released by the BFI as a beautiful 4k restoration at BFI Southbank, and into cinemas across the country, opening on 20th January.
All images courtesy of BFI.