Although there were many exciting artistic voices during the New Hollywood period of cinema, very few filmmakers have been as influential as American auteur Martin Scorsese. Known for his definitive masterpieces like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Scorsese has maintained his momentum in the 21st century as well, plotting yet another new project titled Killers of the Flower Moon and shows no signs of stopping.
One of Scorsese’s most celebrated films is the 1990 gem Goodfellas, a sprawling epic about the morality of gangsters in the contextualised framework of modernity. Goodfellas is a striking analysis of the illusory glamour of the criminal lifestyle, showcasing how the very definition of the ‘American Dream’ has changed. The pioneering visual narrative and storytelling techniques of Goodfellas are dissected and studied to this day.
“I was interested in breaking up all the traditional ways of shooting the picture,” Scorsese explained. “A guy comes in, sits down, exposition is given. So the hell with the exposition — do it on the voiceover, if need be at all. And then just jump the scene together. Not by chance. The shots are designed so that I know where the cut’s going to be. The action is pulled out of the middle of the scene, but I know where I’m going to cut it so that it makes an interesting cut.”
While everyone agrees now that Goodfellas is one of the most iconic films from the ’90s, Scorsese faced some resistance when he shared his ideas about Goodfellas back when he was trying to get it made. He did not want to make another film about the mob but could not keep himself from doing it after reading Nicholas Pileggi’s famous book Wiseguy. When Scorsese called the writer, he told Pileggi that he had “been waiting for this book [his] entire life.”
One person who was definitely against the production of Goodfellas was none other than American legend Marlon Brando who tried to convince Scorsese not to do it. According to Brando, Scorsese was making a huge mistake by repeating the themes he had already tackled in his earlier masterpieces like Mean Streets and Raging Bull. Thankfully, Scorsese did not take Brando’s advice and went ahead with his satirical deconstruction of the genre.
In an interview, Scorsese explained the difference between his earlier projects and Goodfellas: “Mean Streets is much closer to home in terms of a real story, somewhat fictionalised, about events that occurred to me and some of my old friends. [Goodfellas] has really nothing to do with people I knew then. It doesn’t take place in Manhattan, it’s only in the boroughs, so it’s a very different world—although it’s all interrelated. But the spirit of it, again, the attitudes.”
Adding, “The morality—you know, there’s none, there’s none. Completely amoral. It’s just wonderful. If you’re a young person, 8 or 9, and these people treat you a certain way because you’re living around them, and then as you get to be a teenager and you get a little older, you begin to realise what they did and what they still do—you still have those first feelings for them as people, you know. So, it kind of raises a moral question and a kind of moral friction in me. That was what I wanted to get on the screen.”