Crime Bosses and Made Men

The Daily — Sep 16, 2020
Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990)

The gangster movie is a staple of American cinema that’s given us James Cagney at the top of the world and a new Scarface every half-century or so—Luca Guadagnino is currently preparing to shoot one, working from a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen. Some gangster movies chase after lawbreakers on the lam, such as Bonnie and Clyde or Kit and Holly in Terrence Malick’s Badlands, while others map the sinister networks of organized crime. This latter subgenre was essentially reinvented in 1972 with The Godfather and again in 1990 with Goodfellas. Now the saga that Francis Ford Coppola has been tinkering with throughout most of his career and the movie that conjured a world Martin Scorsese elegized in last year’s The Irishman are both back in the news.

Like Goodfellas, The Godfather: Part III sees its thirtieth anniversary this year, and to mark the occasion, Coppola has been working with Paramount to release a new version in December under the title that he and his cowriter originally wanted, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. “For this version of the finale, I created a new beginning and ending, and rearranged some scenes, shots, and music cues,” he says. “With these changes and the restored footage and sound, to me, it is a more appropriate conclusion to The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II.

The Godfather trilogy has been streaming on CBS All Access, and now parent company ViacomCBS is working on a relaunch of the service under a new name, Paramount+. From Natalie Garvey in the Hollywood Reporter comes news of a Paramount+ project in the works, The Offer, a ten-episode limited series written and executive produced by Michael Tolkin (The Player) and focusing on Al Ruddy’s experience producing the original Godfather.

Talking to Larry Henry at the Mob Museum, film critic Glenn Kenny, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and RogerEbert.com, says, “I still think the first two Godfather movies hold up well enough that I’d have to say that Scorsese and Coppola are tied as the best Mob movie directors ever.” Kenny has a new book out this week, Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas, and in his review for WBUR, Sean Burns calls it “an exhaustive and essential companion piece to the picture that taught even this self-proclaimed expert a ton of new things about his favorite movie . . . Reading it is like watching the movie again while sitting next to the smartest person you know.”

While the Godfather movies proceed with an almost David Lean–like pageantry through the story of the rise of a Mafia family led by a man, Michael Corleone, who never wanted to be a gangster in the first place, Goodfellas was a shock to the system, shot through with the energy and yearning of a young outsider, Henry Hill, who most definitely wants in. For Burns, Goodfellas is “the most sustained act of showboating virtuosity in American cinema since Citizen Kane, or at least Touch of Evil.” Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker “set a dizzying array of whip pans, slow motion, Steadicam shots, and jump cuts to a nonstop soundtrack of jukebox oldies as if exulting in the sheer, delirious possibilities of what movies can do.”

Reviewing Made Men at Slant, Chuck Bowen notes that after a 150-page passage in which Kenny “takes Goodfellas apart scene by scene, breaking down its rhythms, revealing it to be simultaneously expressionist and objective in its approach, Kenny springs an analysis of every song used on the soundtrack, detailing which portions are heard and the histories of every one and what they reveal about a vast intersection between cultures. It’s a mind-blowing music seminar compressed to less than thirty pages . . . No one else has seen this magnificent, agonizing, unmooring movie with such piercing clarity.”

RogerEbert.com has posted an excerpt from Made Men that focuses on Scorsese’s work with Schoonmaker as well as an outstanding interview conducted by Matt Zoller Seitz. When asked if there’s anything he wishes he’d included in the book but didn’t, Kenny suggests that “the Bamboo Lounge meeting-the-gang sequence” is an overt homage to a shot in Fellini’s I vitelloni (1953). “It’s one of those cinephile things that is absolutely irrefutable,” says Kenny. “It’s not like a secret homage, it’s right there in your face. And somehow I didn’t put it in the goddamned book! So now someone else can!”

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