small blue flowers


I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

This blog being divided up across the ‘pond’ as it is, I don’t know how much, if it all, my British counterparts follow the Academy Awards, or as they are casually known, the Oscars. But here in the States, to be a film fan of any degree involves some sort of relationship with the Academy Awards, whether it is trying to see all the Oscar-nominated films (like I do, but also for the Golden Globes and Independent Spirits), or simply participating in an Oscar-pool (like the one at, in which I came in 2nd place last year), everyone over here at least casually follows the festivities.

And sometimes, there are water-cooler moments determined by the wins, or more often, the snubs. How many people actually thought that after winning Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, Brokeback Mountain wouldn’t take home the coveted Best Picture? Or how many people, myself included, wanted to puke when Liz Taylor stumbled through the word Gladiator?

However, the most egregious snub in recent Academy Awards history is the loss of Goodfellas to Dances With Wolves at the 1991 Oscars. For those who haven’t seen either, Dances With Wolves was an overblown Kevin Costner directing/starring double whammy about an American getting in touch with Native Americans. Goodfellas was quite possibly the best film of the past 25 years, directed by perennial Oscar-snub Martin Scorsese, who last year’s host Jon Stewart pointed out, does not have an Oscar, but rap producers The Three 6 Mafia do. It is a dark and violent tale of being a gangster in New York spanning from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Star making performances by Lorraine Bracco, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci (to a lesser degree, he was already known for Raging Bull) anchor this sad, funny, and thoroughly entertaining film.

I could talk for hours about the intricate shots, the perfect casting, the cameos of at least 3 future stars of The Sopranos, or the glamorization of organized crime, but because there is a theme to follow here, I’ll focus instead on the music.

This is one of the many Scorsese films to not have a traditional score. All the music you hear throughout the film is catalog music – that is, older songs, not written for the film. And no one uses catalog music quite like Marty. But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The first scene I’d like to talk about is significant because of the lack of music. Scorsese also does this quite a bit – he fills up his films with music, and then when the need arrives, drops all music so that nothing is front and center except for the dialogue. The film features such a rich database of music, that when it drops out, your attention is focused from and center. Watch this scene, featuring a partly improvised rant from Pesci, and notice how the lack of music really adds tension.

Only in a film so inundated with music would a silent scene stand out so much. That is the beauty of good music in a film - it matters just as much when it is not there.

Not long after this scene, we are introduced to Karen (Bracco), and a truly magical scene unfolds. On their second date, the first one where Henry (Liotta) actually cares, they go to the world famous Copacabana to see the "King of the One Liners" Henny Youngman. Henry shows off his connections in a very subtle way - leaving his car on the street, going in through the employee entrance, having a table put in front for the best view in the house. We can see Karen becoming intrigued and drawn into Henry's world - she's falling for him. And who could capture the sound of new love better than Phil Spector?

"Then He Kissed Me" by the Crystals is regarded as the real start to Spector's echo-laden Wall of Sound, the sound that would inspire Brian Wilson to keep layering, and then in turn, what inspired the Beatles to have to one up Pet Sounds and create Revolver, which would in turn influence all of popular music to follow. By using this pivotal piece of music in the scene where Karen's life undergoes a drastic change, coupled with the perfect 2 1/2 minute love symphony and the epic tracking shot (which apparently took over 3 days to get right, partly because at its conclusion, Youngman would keep forgetting his lines) makes for one of, if not the, greatest film/music combinations of all time.

That being said, later in the film the Copa scene is given a run for its money.

There are few songs as well known from the classic rock era as "Layla." Eric Clapton (with his then band, Derek and the Dominos)'s not so subtle song of lust for his best friend's wife (Patti Boyd, the former Mrs. George Harrison) is known to my parents' generation as the song where Duane Allman and Eric Clapton got to trade licks; my generation knows it in its utterly boring acoustic rendition from MTV's Unplugged. But it is the original's piano coda, written by Dominos' drummer Jim Gordon, that Scorsese uses here to create mood.

Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) has been killing off everyone that connects him to the Lufthansa heist - at the time, the largest robbery in American history. We are shown a montage of the bodies being found - Carbone in the meat truck, the newlyweds in their pink Cadillac, Frenchy in the dumpster. And all the time, the mellow, piano and slide guitar outro is sharing its melancholy with us. This scene, despite its choreographed grace is where we see what a monster Jimmy really is. His friends, the people who actually did all the work in the heist, are all killed for two reasons: to keep Jimmy out of jail, and to keep his wallet stocked.

To call this the greatest mafia movie of all time raises feathers because of the fantastic first two installments of The Godfather. However, those movies show a glossy, Hollywood mafia from the top down. Goodfellas shows it from the perspective of a mid-level mafiosa and does a fantastic job of showing regular joes like you and I why people enter into that sort of life. may be not only the best mafia movie of all time, but it deserves a spot, to me, in the Top 10 films of the 1990s, and perhaps, of all time.


"Then He Kissed Me" - The Crystals

"Layla (Piano Exit)" - Derek and the Dominos


Purchase the Goodfellas Special Edition DVD

For "Then He Kissed Me," purchase The Crystals - Greatest Hits.

For the special, abridged version of "Layla,"purchase the Goodfellas Soundtrack


Blogger Dean said...

Oh please, we all know you were responsible for Godfather 3.

12:11 am  
Blogger erin said...

Hello???? How can you leave out your theory about the music being a decade older then the scene theory????

1:31 am  

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