This is a mushy response to Melissa, Melanie and Marty’s Marvelous Movie Magic from someone in the oh, five percent of the Western world who had never seen Martin Scorsese’s Mafia epic before two little words popped on the “Arts, Criticism and the City” class schedule: “See: Goodfellas.”
Perhaps another work of art will explain why I have lived 66 years without seeing this movie. When I was growing up in rural Alberta, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was published. The non-fiction book told of two convicts invading an isolated prairie farmhouse at night and killing four people. Living as I did in an isolated farmhouse with no lock on the door, the idea was so horrifying that I have not read it to this day. As an adult, I never got over that aversion to depictions of violence and blood. So, Goodfellas: Suspense, revenge, gruesome deaths, twisted remorseless people. In spite of the accolades, I avoided it.
But this GLS course, for me, was about exposure to unfamiliar territory, so I “watched” Goodfellas, skipping about 30 of its 145 minutes to avoid the worst of the bloody bits.
Even still, I loved it. The speed, the brashness, the exhilaration of swooping non-stop through a world that was deeply familiar and yet utterly foreign. Set in the late 1960s and into the ‘80s, this was the world of my young adulthood– the music, the fashions, the cars, the sexism, and everybody smoking everywhere. For me, placing that familiarity side by side with the vicious violence of the gangster world gave the movie a split-personality feel. I reveled in one side of it; I was appalled by the other.
Melissa, who obviously knows the movie well, helped me understand what got to me about it. Look behind Scorsese’s sleight of hand, she said, and notice the way the camerawork, shot composition and soundtrack help tell the story. The fact that the camera shifts viewpoint just before Ray Liotta opens the thumping trunk shows his unease just as much as his expression does, she noted. “Every shot, every sequence contributes to the overall narrative and taking us on the journey through it.” We’re enticed – certainly I was – by the excitement and energy, even as it was clear horrible things were on the way. Melissa analyzed how Scorsese makes us care about clearly awful people: Was it the way Henry was beaten by his father? The way Paulie sliced garlic? I cared because the people seemed real. I remember the glow on young Henry’s face as he showed his mother his first flashy suit, and his mother’s horror: “You look like a gangster!” she said. A small moment, but it revealed the irreparable split between mother and son. He was utterly committed to a criminal life and she was powerless.
To me, Scorsese has always just been a name, but Melanie Friesen’s first-hand description of working with him turned him into a real person. Now when I think of Scorsese and Goodfellas, I will think of a sickly kid at his window, watching gangsters across the street and absorbing every detail. One of Scorsese’s most powerful films came from real-life observation, his former head of development said in her talk, titled “Art: Do what you know.”
Between Friesen, Melissa, and the movie itself, I now have something new in my life: I will never be able to listen to a hovering helicopter in quite the same way again.
— Carol Volkart