Trying to write about Glenn Kenny‘s “Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas“, which put me into some kind of serious hog heaven…I don’t know where to start. Or end for that matter. Talk about a package stuffed with goodies and more goodies, and before you know it you can’t keep up and they’re falling off the conveyer belt and you’re Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory.
Please understand this is the most devotional and meticulous making-of-Goodfellas book that anyone could ever possibly write. I mean, Kenny burrowed and burrowed deep…talked to or library-researched every possible source, living or dead — director Martin Scorsese, producer Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, “Wiseguy” author Nick Pileggi, Robert De Niro (whose casting as Jimmy Conway happened at the last minute), editor Thelma Schoonmaker, crew guys, et. al. — and generally oil-drilled for a two-year period and then assessed this 1990 gangster classic from each and every imaginable angle.
But it’s so great to sink into this thing, which is like…I don’t know, a combination college course, shiatsu massage and mineral bath. At times it’s almost (and please don’t take this the wrong way) exhausting, and yet in the best possible way. It works you over, and at the same time delivers an amazing cumulative high. If you want to know, like, everything and I mean everything about this film, this is the well you need to jump into.
If Goodfellas means as much to you as it does to me…if you’re a Goodfellas junkie (which I’ve been for the last 30 years anyway) you don’t have much of a choice. You have to pick it up and keep this ultimate couch-potato companion on your coffee table and pick it up when the mood strikes.
That’s how I got through it, to be honest. After the first three or four chapters I decided it might be better to read it in short spurts, 10 or 15 pages at a time and then put it down and then come back. It felt better that way. Because otherwise it’s a big fat chocolate bear.
I’ve watched Goodfellas…I’d almost rather not say. At least 15 or 20 times, which isn’t as obsessive as it sounds. Not once a year since it opened, which would be 30 times, but a whole lot of times in my living room…VHS, cable, streaming, laser disc, DVD, Bluray (including the infamous 25th anniversary “Brownfellas” version, which definitely isn’t as pleasing as the 2007 and 2010 Bluray versions) and of course 4K streaming, which I’m cool with because the lentil soup and caramel have been removed.
It’s frankly gotten to the point that I can’t really get off on it like I used to…I know it too well…backwards, forwards and sideways. And yet I’ll never stop savoring and re-savoring all the great parts, which is pretty much every shot and scene.
Why, then, would I want to re-immerse all the more via Glenn’s book? But I wanted to without question. I had to. An uncorrected trade paperback proof is sitting right next to me, and I know that the next time I crack it open it’ll be good sailing.
If I’d written “Mad Men” I would have blended the history and facts and quotes with how this film has always made me feel about my suburban New Jersey past, and those aggressive Italian guys I used to run into from time to time, and particularly those black pegged pants, starched white shirts, pointy black lace-ups and black leather jackets they all wore. And how they’d taunt me from time to time (Them: “Are you a guinea? No? Then what good are ya?”) and how I’d scowl and mutter “aagghh, fuck those guys.”
And yet nothing in the history of cinema has ever made me feel so warm and comforted and at ease among friends as that tracking shot when the camera (assuming the POV of Ray Liotta‘s Henry Hill) strolls through the Bamboo Lounge, amber-lighted with tiki torches and packed with friendly wiseguys who say to him “hey, what’s up, guy?” and “I took care of that thing for ya” and “I wenna see that guy, wenna see him” and so on. Strange, isn’t it? I hated the guineas as a teenager but I’ve loved their company ever since.
What’s the single best passage? Hands down, a 34-page epilogue interview with Scorsese (pgs. 313 to 337), exactingly transcribed and just bursting at the seams with manic energy and spirit and whiplash associations from this amazing dynamo of a director. It’s wonderful — the next best thing to interviewing Scorsese yourself. And I love the four-page timeline (provided by De Fina) with all the significant dates…the completion of the first-draft screenplay (11.4.86), span of principal photography (5.1.89 to 8.4.89) and so on.
Before reading “Mad Men” it somehow never occured to me that not shooting the famous Lufthansa JFK heist (which happened on 12.11.78) was…I don’t know, curious? Yes, it doesn’t matter because what matters in the film is Conway/De Niro’s paranoid anger at the lack of discipline among the looters and then who winds up getting whacked, etc. But still, not even a fast-flash glimpse of the job itself? Just a quickie? Odd.
The full title is “Made Men: The Making of Goodfellas and the Reboot of the American Gangster Picture“. It popped yesterday.