This is going to be another short post since I’m planning on soon making a video essay on this masterpiece as well. Again, I’m going to look at just one aspect of ‘Goodfellas’.
Every time I talk about this film with fellow cinephiles, it turns into an argument because I declare Goodfellas (usually after a few drinks) as the best Hollywood gangster film ever made (It’s stupid to compare but then again, why not?). The usual reply is “What about The Godfather?”. To me ‘The Godfather’ is a brilliant family drama set within a gangster setting. Goodfellas, on the other hand, takes you, often literally with the long, slow moving takes, right through the mob life. This is why I love the film. The Godfather was through the eyes of the boss. Goodfellas gives the perspective of the man working for the boss, which, to me, is way more interesting.
As I mentioned in my post on ‘Taxi Driver’, I could go into any sort of details where this film shines. The cinematography, The Music, The Performances and especially the mind numbing editing which is so unique to Thelma Schoonmaker. But if I start writing about this film in its entirety, I’ll really never finish.
So I’m not going to take a lot of your time. I am going to talk about just one frame. The frame attached with this post.
That is one of the many freeze frames that occur in this film. I have seen this film so many times that I can’t even begin to count. But the importance of this particular frame only recently occurred to me. And that’s all I’m going to address. This is my opinion and I may be completely wrong.
This frame is one of the few moments in this film where Scorsese has used silence. According to me, this frame foreshadows the whole film, especially the speech Ray Liotta’s character, Henry Hill gives in the court room while facing the camera.
First of all, this frame illustrates why Henry Hill has taken to crime. Most obviously because of the narration attached with it, which is:
“One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect.”
Clearly, this dialogue shows that young Henry is attracted to the mob life because of the importance it gives you. You’re not a random kid from the neighborhood, you’re no schmuck, you’re the kid who works with ‘Paulie’.
But it’s the striking image that’s the most important part about this particular freeze frame. Henry’s arms are stretched wide like a bird, one leg bent up as if he’s about to take flight and the big burning blast in the background that is propelling him to take that flight. Now I might be digging a little too deep but I think this was absolutely intentional. It shows us not just Henry’s story, but of that large portion of the working class youth who take to crime because that’s the only way out of a paycheck to paycheck life. To solidify my point, if you watch the film again, the very next shot is:
In the image above you can see young Henry Hill, arms still stretched out wide, standing in front of his mother wearing slick shoes, an expensive suit and well made hair, hardly the appearance of a working class schnook (as they call it in the film). His mother says, “My god! You look like a gangster”.
This shows Henry’s situation towards the end of the film when he’s talking to the camera in the courthouse. He’s saying things like “We had it all, etc. etc.” but he still hasn’t realized the ultimate truth which his mother told him when he was a kid, he’s a gangster. He can claim to be respected as much as he wants, but the kids who carried his mother’s groceries home did not do it outta respect, they did it out of fear. The same fear he felt from Tommy (Joe Pesci) or Jimmy (Robert DeNiro). So really, he always was just a schnook.
In addition, that frame also foreshadows the excitement of that kind of life and the heavy ‘kick’ that it gives Henry which is also shown towards the very end of the film, where Henry looks towards the camera and sees Joe Pesci’s character shooting directly at him (I know this is a reference to Edwin S. Porter’s ‘The Great Train Robbery’, this is just an alternate theory).
P.S – This is an alternate theory to the film. And it’s my personal opinion. Discussions are most welcome since I can never get tired of talking about Goodfellas.