Goodfellas: Rocking Up and Down

Spin magazine once came out with a list of Rock and Roll Directors. Among the list was Quentin Tarantino, Surf rock enthusiast/70’s soul classics, Wes Anderson, Indie/Kinks B-sides enthusiast, and Martin Scorsese Classic Rock enthusiast with a penchant for the Rolling Stones. In the film Goodfellas, there is music throughout the film. The music essentially tells the audience about the era that the film is representing, but also the songs add to the story/actions of the characters. Tony Bennet’s 1950’s Rags to Riches sets the tone for this gangster flick and tells the story of Henry Hill. The outro to Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla shows the death of the gang, and hides behind the most beautiful piano solo—just to show the audience the beauty in these deaths. In particular, there is one song that is beautifully added to this film that adds to the overall ambience of this film and almost foreshadows the plot of the film. These two songs definitely add to Martin Scorsese’s Rock and Roll trademark style.

In about every Martin Scorsese film, as well as Tarantino flick, there is a long one-shot take with a following camera. See also the trip to the Title fight in Raging Bull that follows Jake La Motta to the ring. See also, also the Count Room scene from Casino. What do these steadicam, following scenes do for the audience? It brings them into the film. It puts the audience right with Jake La Motta and it puts us right in the constant corruption of Sam Rothstein’s casino. Along brilliantly placed song, he first solo date between Henry and Karen utilizes this steadicam, following technique: a true Scorsese trademark.

With those first chords from the guitar, we see Henry’s keys (probably to a Cadillac) being placed in the hands of a guy to watch his car. The fact that Henry has a Cadillac and is paying somebody to watch his car shows that he has status. Karen, a middle class girl, even asks “What are you doing?” because she is unfamiliar with the process. The song tells the audience, “Well he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance.” This line of lyrics tells the audience that this is seemingly a young relationship that has just began to bloom into effect, which indeed it has. The camera goes right on and places the audience right behind Henry and Karen as they cross the street to the crowded Copacabana. Yet, the crowded line does not stop Henry from taking the backdoor into the club because, as Henry says, “It’s better than waiting in line.”

And then the money starts pouring out of Henry’s handshakes. This is clearly done by Henry to impress Karen, yet it is also done by Martin Scorsese to show how much money Henry has. Moving through the back way of the club, Henry greets Gino and confronts the two necking employees by saying, “Every time I come here, every time you two!” these two greetings show Karen that Henry knows people. By knowing people, you instantly have power: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As Karen sees Henry’s power, the song tells what is going through Karen’s mind. The lyrics tell the audience, “I wanted to let him know that I was more than a friend.” This is the crux of any relationship that is first starting out, for Karen, an average income young girl, she has found her Sugar Daddy. Then the song says, “He kissed me in a way that I’ve never been kissed before.” Karen has never, ever seen this kind of power in the hands of such a young guy. She is in an unfamiliar whirlwind and he is on an adventure with her man.

Then Henry and Karen enter the kitchen, and we are exposed to the clockwork employees of the Copacabana. Henry seemingly breezes by them like nothing, showing that he is above them and he can just waltz through the kitchen nobody stops him or questions his presence—they even know he has power. The two exit the kitchen, and they greet the host of the club, who immediately gets Henry and Karen a table. He literally GETS THEM A TABLE airlifted by a busboy to the front and center of the stage. The camera then follows the table being positioned as the beautifully-timed violin solo from “Then He Kissed Me” places the table at the designated spot. The violins from the song are synced perfectly with the movement of the table and the white table cloth that is almost levitating from the ground, like a magic carpet. The two sit down and the audience is exposed to Karen’s face who is still in an unfamiliar whirlwind of excitement. The song begins to fade out, Karen asks “What do you do?” like a pestering wife, and then the camera focuses on Henny Youngman. Now that’s a powerful first impression and a beautiful start to a relationship.

Now, where the lyrics to Then He Kissed Me leaves the relationship to the characters within the song, which is probably Phil and Ronnie Spector, is we have picture of the two getting married. Isn’t that sweet. Henry and Karen do get married, but that is when the trouble between the two of them start. Henry, the idiot: starts sleeping around with other women, he gets more and more involved with the mob, he ups the ante of stealing over to cocaine, and Tommy gets wacked. Because of Henry’s involvement in the gangster lifestyle, the Hill’s marriage is never on a sturdy foundation: Karen is Henry’s “prison mule”, Karen’s uses her parents’ house to bail Henry out, Henry still sleeves around, etc. The two have no choice, but go into witness protection, thus concluding the film and the lifestyle that is: the Goodfellas. Though Then He Kissed Me, may have started as a promise to a lovely relationship, it was merely the honeymoon phase for Henry and Karen. The two were faced with the grim realities of real marriage, real life, and real trouble.

Written by Julian Lopez


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