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June 13, 2012

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David Ehrenstein

Not quite sure hat you're getting at here, Glenn. Being a well-trained and skillful actor Liotta is obviously more interesting to watch than the "real" Henry Hill would have been. But there are other forces at play as well. While "Taxi Driver" is all about DFeNrio's Travis Bickle, Liott'as Hnery Hill is merely a focal point in "Goodfelllas" which deals with the entire world in which he operated. As a result DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Bracco (as Hill's wife) get more than ample screen time. The question of whether film "glamorizes" or "exposes" the world it examines remains open. I would say it's a bit of both.

I doubt the "real" Henry Hill could have played himself. He's not Ondine in "The Chelsea Girls" after all.

Petey

Glenn writes:

"They hold Scorsese specifically responsible for this. But is the fault (if it is in fact a "fault" in the first place) Scorsese's, or is it narrative fictional cinema's itself?"

and

"Which is, ultimately, necessary in some way to audience engagement"

One of the central tricks of the cinema, of course, is allowing the audience to project into a protagonist.

And that leads to choices in casting. Or put another way, folks always loved snickering about Keanu Reeves' "acting", while never understanding why he was such an EFFECTIVE lead in certain movies.

Glenn also writes:

"Henry Hill ... seemed a recognizable type"

Which is exactly why he wouldn't have had Liotta's power to allow the audience to project into him. Liotta, like most movie stars, has a lot more blankness than a recognizable type would. And beauty helps both ensures a certain genericness and makes for an easier portal for the audience.

Petey

"The question of whether film "glamorizes" or "exposes" the world it examines remains open. I would say it's a bit of both."

Of course, almost all movies with criminals at the center glamorize crime. It's part of the mechanism.

(Which is why the REAL ending of The Sopranos was so lovely. It came in the second to last episode, when Lorraine Bracco, (acting as surrogate for the audience), shuts the door on the criminal protagonist whose glamor she's felt compelled to watch. It's a nice way to implicate the audience in the moral wrongness of what they've been enjoying.)

Petey

And if I may be forgiven for going off on a tangent; my most vivid memory of watching Goodfellas opening night was when Donovan's Atlantis came on the jukebox. From my college days experimenting with blotter paper, I KNEW that song well. And I knew that it lulls for a long, long time, but then it kicks in, and when it does, it really kicks in. So my heart rate kept going up for a long time as I waited for the intensity I knew was coming...

Michael Sooriyakumaran

I don't agree that star charisma is "necessary" for audience engagement.

Godard's "Les Carabiniers" comes to mind as an example of a movie about unattractive, stupid, amoral schnooks played by unknowns without any star appeal whatsoever, and it's by no means a "stone drag" to sit through--although, that said, I get a different kind of pleasure from Godard's film than I do from Scorsese's.

And while I do think that "Goodfellas" is one of Scorsese's better films, it does seem to me something of an incoherent text in that it positions itself as demystifying organized crime at the same time that it makes Henry Hill seem very charismatic and exciting when he really wasn't (and I doubt the film would be as popular or as prestigious if it weren't for this underlying contradiction). In other words, like all Hollywood biopics, it prints the legend.

Petey

"I don't agree that star charisma is "necessary" for audience engagement."

I agree with you. There are many ways to skin a cat. And there are many potential tricks in the cinema bag.

But "necessary" or not, it's still one of the most fundamental tricks of the cinema.

Petey

"it does seem to me something of an incoherent text in that it positions itself as demystifying organized crime at the same time that it makes Henry Hill seem very charismatic and exciting "

Were that true, then the overwhelming majority of Easterners ever made have been "incoherent texts"...

bill

He looked like Ron Liebman.

Dave Wallfisch

No shit, Sherlock.

Partisan

And yet people are able to make (and see) World War 2 movies without being attracted to the Nazis. One could argue that GOODFELLAS purged the gangster genre of its romantic elements, only to ensure the attraction to raw power was even more powerful. Perhaps gangster movies should have starred Ralph Bellamy and be directed by Straub/Huillet.

"We call prostitution a victimless crime because we don't consider prostitutes people."--a line looking for a movie.

David Ehrenstein

I would sya it replaced the old romantic elements with new ones. Traditional gamngster films revlled in the rise and fall of charismatic mobsters. Look at Cagney in "The Roaring Twenties." He's a mobster who "has his reasons" and underneath it all a good heart. The look at Cagney in "White Heat." There he's a raving psychopath of almost Shakepearean grandeur (which is why that film was paid hommage to in the finale of the Ian McKellen "Richard III")

Nick Ramsey

I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup.

Kills me.

Jaime N. Christley

Whenever I watch GOODFELLAS, I never fail to notice how, regardless of how pathetic and vile Hill is depicted, the film is very careful to place him in a slightly higher plane of conduct/behavior than Jimmy, Tommy, and the rest. This doesn't mitigate my enjoyment of it, as a film - I'll never understand why Pauline Kael wasn't over the moon about Scorsese, if you assembled a program based on what seemed to turn her on, movie-wise, it would be a program to a movie like RAGING BULL or GOODFELLAS - but it's interesting nevertheless, as a choice made by the ensemble of storytelling.

I also think it has some small role in illustrating why CASINO is the superior picture.

colinr

That reminds me - if you ever way to see the real Jake LaMotta trying to act check out the 1968 film Confessions Of A Psycho Cat!

Paul Duane

"And yet people are able to make (and see) World War 2 movies without being attracted to the Nazis."

Well, THAT statement doesn't require any unpacking.

colinr

The comments about needing the natural charisma of an actor in a film role are interesting, although it makes me think that De Niro did the whole 'de-charismaisation' of leading actors with Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd. I thought it worked but then I suppose there is room for argument there!

Petey

"Whenever I watch GOODFELLAS, I never fail to notice how, regardless of how pathetic and vile Hill is depicted, the film is very careful to place him in a slightly higher plane of conduct/behavior than Jimmy, Tommy, and the rest."

As Flavius Josephus said, "History is written by the informers"

Everyone makes Daniel Ellsberg, John Dean, and Woodward & Bernstein the heroes. No one can make Nixon the hero. (Though Altman and Stone do their due diligence...)

Brandon

Scorsese does tend to ride/oscillate that line between distanced reverence and idolatry with his 'morally corrupted' characters, but it is, obviously, up to the viewer to buy into the generated charisma by him or the actors involved. Liotta has since played other vulgar characters without that type of charm, so I think it was clearly intentional to 'glamourize' the guy in order to then break him down harder....Wouldn't the real Hill have needed a bit of that early on to get away with all that he did....until he didn't?

In regard to TAXI DRIVER, Schrader is particularly adamant about Bickle clearly being a psychopath who is not intended as a hero or anti-hero of any sort, but that hasn't stopped a generation (or two) of viewer's from latching on to that reading. The character's ties to Vietnam are kept to a minimum to keep sympathy away from any perceived war trauma and Columbia kept all involved from intentionally making him more racist (i.e. killing only black people in the shootout). So, I guess, like with anyone, there are a complexity of factors that go into how charisma is perceived...

Petey

"In regard to TAXI DRIVER, Schrader is particularly adamant about..."

Schrader, (whose work I greatly admire), is a notoriously unreliable witness about his own work.

"The character's ties to Vietnam are kept to a minimum"

Say wha?

lipranzer

I sometimes have that thought about GOODFELLAS, but in a different way; I don't think it glamorizes Hill per se (although it does seem as if he's a little more repulsed by Tommy or Jimmy's actions than Pileggi described him in the book), but while I know everyone is the hero of their own story, it seems like the movie elevates his importance somewhat, compared to the book, where he's pretty much a mechanic.

Shawn Stone

"And yet people are able to make (and see) World War 2 movies without being attracted to the Nazis."

What was it Sylvia Miles said to Ralph Fiennes at that awards dinner?

Hill looks like Ned Glass to me.

James R.

For me it IS a stone drag to sit through. I'd rather have seen a film about De Niro's character rather than Henry Hill, who's a dull character that Liotta fails to make interesting.

Wallace Stroby

I remember that Alvin Karpis appearance as well. I think it was the ABC talk show "Man Trap" circa '71 or so. I recall he also said unflattering things about J. Edgar Hoover, and that the woman on the panel sort of ganged up to express their disapproval of his criminal life.

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