Ellis & Barnes: Serious Mothers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"WHAT AM I, A MIRAGE?" - Why I Love Goodfellas So, So Very Much

Hi PPPA Believers! It's been a while and Biz and I have been away. Biz is currently in Paris, France (with Elephant Larry Super Pin-Up Stefan Lawrence!)taking in all the striped shirts, bike-baskets filled with baguettes and people playing accordions while saying: "Haugh! Haugh! Haugh!....Leee-oh-verrrs!" I've been getting ready to open a new show with the 3rd Floor ( so my time for checking in with all nine of you out there...(Jason Cupcake Keller!)...has been treated like the "Last in Line" (<--Dio anyone?)

My birthday movie for the past six years or so has been Goodfellas. I made the decision to only watch it once a year so I wouldn't watch it 365 days in a row. I'm doing everyone a favor by actively trying to avoid becoming some kind of Goodfellas Rain Man. I never want our celluloid relationship to get to the point of me falling asleep or getting bored, so Annual Goodfellas it is. Sometimes I'll throw North by Northwest on as well - another film which gets me cranked on scenery, colours, dialogue and all-around 'perfectness'. For a while they were both neck and neck, but Goodfellas just recently knocked North by Northwest to the number two slot. It had to be done.

I love a drunk Cary Grant, saucy Eve Marie Saint and a mistaken identity caper just like the next Joe, but you can't beat a film which makes you feel literally clammy, hungover, inebriated, high, starving, full, terrified, beat-up, pale, weak, angry, sexy and full of the following laughs: (manical, slight guffaw, evil, genuine) at once and after only ingesting a Pepsi while viewing.

To me, Goodfellas is a five senses adventure.

Let's get this out of the way: I mean no disrespect to The Godfather. I love The Godfather, but I'm never really in the mood to watch it. It's an absolute masterpiece but speaking in musical analogies, I consider The Godfather to be The Beatles while Goodfellas is The Rolling Stones.

September of 1990, I lived in Oakland, California when Goodfellas was released in theatres. Oakland is no Beach Boys California in Autumn. There's a hell of a lot of fog, shitty giant Cadillacs and Pintos and 1970's dive bar after dive bar on every block. 1990's Oakland was the perfect place to shoot 1960's-70's period pieces without renovating houses or storefronts...or even (at times) people. I loved living there because of this. Oakland was a beautiful untouched time-warp and even though it seemed to encapsulate everyone's very last pick on a Time Machine trip (no one is going to say: "1974 shitty neighborhood in Oakland - and step on it!") The beauty was all in the authenticity. There was nothing kitschy, just house after house of original frames and wallpaper - the kind of wallpaper that Young Retros would kill for these days, but at the time were laughable due to the fact that it didn't feature 'Rad!' purple geometric shapes.

After my very first encounter with Goodfellas, I exited the historical Lake Theatre (an Art Deco wonder), ran back to the box office and bought another ticket for the very next show. This is the only movie I've ever done this for.

There was something extremely cool about coming out of a movie and then strolling across the street to grab a drink in a bar where you swear Billy Batts just got (kind of ) whacked. The icing was that the jukebox had girl groups on it; The Ronettes and the Shangri-Las! 1960's girl groups was what I was listening to at the time. After seeing the movie a few more times, that's when I really started to notice Oakland as 'Goodfellas' New Jersey' - even though the furthest east I'd ever been at the time was Idaho.

I had to leave the apartment in the morning when it was dark to get to work, and every time I'd drag my clomping shoes toward my car, the most startling thing was the eerie silence underneath my footsteps, the pneumonia inducing fog, and the dank streets: this was bone chilling Whacking Weather. This was it. I'd asked too many times about where my money was, and now (while on the way to get a danish) they were going to give me a blanket party and toss me in the weeds. I was sure of it.

Taking the side streets toward the freeway, I "recognized" the many house-a-likes of Henry and Karen Hill, the Tiki bar Henry and Tommy burned down, Caddys, Caddys, Caddys! and about ten guys every morning who looked like Stacks Edwards all lined up waiting for various liquor stores to open. It was a real Goodfellas heaven.

After a while, I wouldn't listen to anything but "Layla" during this short drive. It just seemed so incredibly appropriate. Certainly not crazy. Or obsessive.

I can't imagine any other film affecting me this way - it seemed to creep into all of my senses, making me feel drunk and OD'ing on nicotine even if the only thing in my system was caffeine. Every time I watch the morning of the helicopters, I feel the Jedi mind trick of Goodfellas, making me feel literal physical symptoms of someone who feels extremely unwell. I'm telling you - no other film effects me this way and this is largely due to the incredible working 'marriage' of martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker - whom I believe to be is the best film editor in the Universe. His zooms and her cuts weave and bob about each other like a prize fighting dance worthy of Jake Lamotta's championship belt. Their shorthand with each other must be amazing.

I can't write a gooey love letter to Goodfellas without mentioning the little things near and dear that keep me crushing like a sixteen year-old on Davy Jones. Basically I'd like to share a malt with these things: Lorraine Bracco's goose-honk laugh, the first shot of grown-up Henry Hill - from his shoes to his ice blues leaning on the hood of his car, Catherine Scorsese as Tommy DeVito's mama, fixing the boys a full pasta meal at 3AM while Billy Batts clings to life in their trunk outside, the back way into the Copacabana while Henry gently guides Karen through the kitchen - sweetly making sure she doesn't run into any knives or trays of food, Debi Mazar's Priscilla Presley hair, the entertainment centre hidden behind a gaily coloured remote control rock wall in the new house, all of the clothes, all of the furniture, the way Henry says Karen's name, the way Karen lashes out at Henry the second time he stands her up, the freeze-frames during narration, the absolute, absolute attention to detail, a dream soundtrack ripped from my brain and the beautiful mess that starts out with Henry Nilssen's single bass line from "Into the Fire" punctuating a black title card that reads: "Sunday, May 11th 1980" and ends with what feels like a sucker punch to the gut.

Next week will be another Annual Goodfellas. I can't wait. I'm ready. I've waited. And I've been good. Coming across the occasional Channel 12 Sunday Afternoon Goodfellas I have resisted parking there as they replace every other word with 'friggin' or 'motherfather'. I'll be thirty-nine years old with a plate of penne and still just as excited about the Lufthansa heist as ever.

I guess could watch The Godfather trilogy to tie me over until next week. But I'm just not on the mood.



At 8:43 PM, Anonymous David Ray said...

The only movie I immediately paid to see a second time was "The Matrix", which isn't as cool as "Goodfellas".


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