"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

The summer before my senior year in high school I got a job as a messenger in a post-production house in Manhattan. Martin Scorsese was editing “The Last Temptation of Christ” in the building. The movie was scheduled to debut at the New York Film Festival in September but there was so much controversy surrounding it, the date was pushed up. So Scorsese and his team of editors worked around the clock to mix the sound. One Saturday, I came into work to sit next to the projector in the machine room and watch. After an hour, Scorsese invited me inside. I was supposed to go visit my grandfather who was recovering from surgery at Lennox Hill, but I stayed in the dark mixing studio all afternoon. I watched and listened.

Scorsese was approachable that summer. He complimented me on my t-shirt collection, talked to me about movies, and one day when I brought my friends in, trying to show off, Scorsese spotted me and said hello,  a huge thrill.

The next summer, I’d graduated high school and Scorsese was shooting a gangster movie called “Wise Guy” (later changed to “Goodfellas). The Dailies–footage from the previous day’s shoot–were transfered to videotape for Robert DeNiro. Whenever I had down time between a run, I snuck into the transfer room and watched take after take of Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, DeNiro and the gang. I’d never been so anxious to see a movie in my life. A few months later, I was walking past a studio where they were mixing the sound and I heard “Monkey Man,” my favorite Stones song. I stopped dead in my tracks.

Are you kidding me? This is going to be the best movie ever.

I saw “Goodfellas” the day it opened, the first showing, high noon, over on the east side somewhere. Then, I saw it four more times in the theater.

That was 20 years ago. Check out the oral history of the movie featured over at GQ. It’s not great but it gives you some flavor behind the making of the movie that put Scorsese’s career back on the map and practically annoited him as the Dean of American Directors.


1 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:39 am

HA! ONe dog goes one way, the other dog's goin' the other way!


2 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:42 am

It is a pretty perfect film, no doubt.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:43 am

"The Hoof!"

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:49 am

"It's hard to explain why you end up in Eragon and not GoodFellas."

Thanks Malkovich, you just made my day.

5 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:52 am

Tom Cruise and Madonna? Can't believe it's already 20 years since the movie first came out. Goodfellas is really a classic in every sense of the word. The thing I like about it most is how the movie completely transitions from the glorified view of the mob to the nightmare it really is and eventually becomes for most of its participants. Somehow, the movie transfers the abrupt change in the story to the viewing experience. I can't explain it, but as soon as the helicopter starts following Hill, I get this uneasy feeling watching the movie.

Although I find the Godfather and Donnie Brasco to both be more entertaining mob movies, I think you can make the argument that Goodfellas is the best made of the genre.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 10:59 am

5) I don't agree. I think it's hard to compare. Goodfellas is like a great magazine profile, it really puts you in the life, makes you feel the highs and lows through Scorsese's virtuoso filmmaking. But I don't think it has the great characters like The Godfather, which is more like a novel. They are different, I don't know that you could say one is better.

I think Malk would have been great/weird/interesting as the DeNiro character. DeNiro was good but he was doing DeNiro and there wasn't much that was fresh about that performance although it was very solid.

The last part of that movie is really jittery but wonderfully crafted. I think the ending is flat, they needed an out, and having Liotta address the audience? Not sure that it worked, though the idea--he ends up as a schmuck in the middle of nowhere--is good.

The book WISE GUY is hugely entertaining.

7 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:06 am

I think Liotta deserved an Oscar nomination for this, but I can see how Hollywood dimwits could mistake his performance for non-acting. Scorsese should have been given a Best Casting Oscar for this picture. There's no such thing (a proposal to add the award was rejected in 1999) but I think there should be.

8 Matt Blankman   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:12 am

[6] I agree with you about the films being very difficult to compare. They're both masterpieces, in my opinion, and both strive for very different ends. I think they both succeed beautifully and are truly great films.

I disagree about the ending - I love it for how jarring it is and for the fact that, well, how else can you end the story of Henry Hill? He's not Edward G. Robinson, gunned down in the street. I love the tag of Pesci shooting at the camera and then the Sid Vicious' version of My Way.

I've never read Wise Guy, but I did read PIleggi's Casino and enjoyed it immensely. I know Alex won't agree, but I think Scorsese's film Casino is aging well. I think more and more of it when I stumble upon it on cable. What at first seemed to be just another dip into the gangster well now seems like a very distinct movie to me with a really interesting DeNiro performance.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:20 am

[6] I see where you're coming from, and agree they are hard to compare. One of the big differences between the Godfather and Goodfellas is the former has many more underlying themes that latter does not (like the notion of family). But, does that make it more or less real? I guess that's open to debate.

Also agree that DeNiro is DeNiro, but I really like DeNiro being DeNiro, so that's a good thing.

As for the end, I've also wondered if they couldn't have done something better, but I think the abruptness is true to the story.

10 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:27 am

8) I agree! I think Casino ages well too, but I think Pesci is terrible in it. Boring, unimaginative casting with no wink to self parody which is what Casino verged on at the time, Marty's Rat Pack movie.

11 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:44 am

[8] [9] I didn't like Casino at the time, and really don't care for it now. Pesci and DeNiro seem to be playing the same roles, but without the strength of the Goodfellas production. Also, Las Vegas overwhelms the movie and I find Sharon Stone's character to be annoying.

12 Matt Blankman   ~  Sep 22, 2010 11:55 am

[10] If you watch DeNiro in Casino, he's doing a lot of Scorsese in his performance - the winces, the body language. I think he does a lot of interesting non-verbal acting in that picture. I also don't mind the casting of Pesci, as I think Scorsese wanted the audience to automatically sense that camaraderie between the two leads, to accentuate their eventual estrangement.

13 Sliced Bread   ~  Sep 22, 2010 12:28 pm

[12] I agree DeNiro did a great job in Casino but I think Goodfellas is a far better movie. Goodfellas is a such a more compelling and organic story, and had better performances all around. Nobody responded to my Oscar nomination for Liotta, but I thought that was an outstanding performance. I'd say even in Scorsese's hands, most actors would have fallen short of what Liotta accomplished. He made Hill a far more sympathetic character than he probably is, and I actually can't think of an actor who would have been as exciting, believable, and able to draw you into his messed up world.

[11] yeah, Sharon Stone's whole "look at me" shtick has always been annoying. But as far as casting goes, she nailed her character's desperation. Probably didn't have to dig too deep though.

14 The Hawk   ~  Sep 22, 2010 12:44 pm

Whatever their differences, it's hard not to compare - or at least contrast - Goodfellas and The Godfather. They are both very high-profile gangster movies, if nothing else.

15 Matt Blankman   ~  Sep 22, 2010 12:53 pm

[13] Oh, I am in no way saying Casino is as good as Goodfellas. And I totally agree with you about Liotta. It's a killer performance and the whole movie hangs on it. Goodfellas absolutely blew me to the back wall of the theater from the opening moments. It was one of the truly great 1st run movie-going experiences of my life.

16 seamus   ~  Sep 22, 2010 12:58 pm

I'm a bit surprised this conversation got this far with no mention of Boardwalk Empire, whatever folks may think of it.

17 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:11 pm

16) I thought the first episode was dull. But got to give it some time.

18 williamnyy23   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:15 pm

[13] I would have had no problem with Liotta winning the Oscar, but I have to admit I like the performances of a some of the supporting actors better.

[16] Haven't seen it yet...what did you think?

19 seamus   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:18 pm

[17] It was a little slow moving for sure.

[18] Overall I thouht it was good. Like most HBO programs, the quality of the sets and cast was very good. Like a lot of pilots they had to set up a lot of the plot and the large cast of characters - which I think slowed it down. But I definitely think it's worth a watch.

Allegedly, a writer at EW says that the action picks up in subsequent episodes. Hopefully that's true.

20 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:20 pm

I thought this was an interesting comment, from the Times' review:

"As is Mr. Scorsese’s wont, the attention to detail, like the cinematography, is lavish, exquisite and unswerving. It is also a little constricting. In the first few episodes, characters adhere so carefully to type they trip into caricature. Accuracy isn’t always the same as plausibility; imagined history can sometimes be more persuasive than fact. "

21 seamus   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:28 pm

[20] interesting. I could see where the literalism hurts the story telling.

22 Matt Blankman   ~  Sep 22, 2010 1:51 pm

I liked Boardwalk Empire. As has been pointed out, pilots tend to be a little overcrowded with information, but it left me looking forward to the next episode. It really is a gorgeous production.

I especially liked Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein.

23 The Hawk   ~  Sep 22, 2010 2:25 pm

Second half of Boardwalk Empire I found more entertaining than the first. Anyway I don't give too much weight to pilot episodes. As long as it wasn't awful, which it wasn't.

I thought Michael Pitt was like a slightly more believable Leonardo Dicaprio.

Sometimes I see Steve Buschemi around here. What a squirrelly little dude.

24 Alex Belth   ~  Sep 22, 2010 2:25 pm

22) Me too. But the kid who was supposed to "have seen things and done things" in the war was laughably bad. With those baby blue eyes he looks like he couldn't hurt a fly.

25 seamus   ~  Sep 22, 2010 2:42 pm

[24] Michael Pitt seems to have gotten the most mixed reviews on the cast.

26 The Hawk   ~  Sep 22, 2010 3:18 pm

[24] I disagree. The idea of a kid like that being, in his words, "a murderer" seems just right to me. I mean this is who is sent to war - young (relatively) innocents. The fact that he didn't look hardened doesn't ring false to me. Maybe it's the people I've known, but it seemed fine to me.

27 Matt Blankman   ~  Sep 22, 2010 3:34 pm

"He went to church on Sunday, he was a Boy Scout
For his friends he would turn his pockets inside out

He was a clean-cut kid
But they made a killer out of him
That’s what they did"
-Bob Dylan

28 YankeeAbby   ~  Sep 22, 2010 5:08 pm

[19] Allegedly, a writer at EW says that the action picks up in subsequent episodes. Hopefully that’s true.

Seamus - also heard on the radio this morning that their was such a large viewing audience for the premiere, that HBO has already signed off on production of Season 2!

29 The Hawk   ~  Sep 22, 2010 5:45 pm

I wonder if Terrence Winter feels like he has to compete with Mad Men, as two shows by former Sopranos writers. Oooh, also two period shows.

30 seamus   ~  Sep 22, 2010 9:57 pm

[28] yeah that's great news on the season 2 order! HBO is very good about making those decisions early.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver