Study Guide

Goodfellas Director

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Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is the sole member of a very exclusive club. No, not the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts. We mean the fact that the Goodfellas director has churned out a classic movie every decade for the last 50 years. Check out this all-star lineup:

  • 1970s – Taxi Driver
  • 1980s – Raging Bull
  • 1990s – Goodfellas
  • 2000s – The Departed
  • 2010s – The Wolf of Wall Street

All five of these flicks received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture (and The Departed won), catapulting Scorsese into a class of his own. Now we know what we're doing this Saturday instead of mowing the lawn and picking up our little brother from that birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. Sorry, bro.

As a director, Scorsese follows a similar narrative and visual thread in his films. Film scholar Robert Casillo calls it the "festival gone wrong" (source)—and he's not talking about a Tilt-A-Whirl on fire or poisoned funnel cakes. But, how cool would that movie be, right?

In the case of Goodfellas, Scorsese's 14th film, Casillo explains that this idea "applies to Mafia festivities resulting in or leading unexpectedly to exclusionary social violence." Basically, in a textbook Scorsese movie, everybody gets so wrapped up in violence and ambition and personal rivalries that everything spins out of control and people get hurt. Or worse. So maybe it is like a Tilt-A-Whirl on fire. All of those classic movies we listed above? Festivals gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Editor Closer

Scorsese likes to work with the same trusted movie-making allies on many of his pictures, and Goodfellas is no exception. "There's always a danger that working with the same people over and over again can induce a kind of complacency," author Glenn Kenny said of the Goodfellas shoot, "but I think particularly here the insane nature of the material pushed everyone to really innovate and react with their most deft artistic muscle" (source). Given Goodfellas' frenetic pacing and quick cuts, editor Thelma Schoonmaker was Scorsese's secret weapon. Or perhaps not-so-secret weapon. The veteran celluloid chopper has been nominated for seven Oscars, six of them for collaborations with Scorsese, and she's won three. Not a bad batting average.

Makin' Movies With Marty: a Family Affair

But, Scorsese doesn't leave all of the heavy lifting to his creative team. "He was involved in every detail," second assistant director Deborah Lupard told GQ magazine of the Goodfellas shoot, "every ring that goes on a finger. If an actor needed money in their pocket it had to be real money. Marty always works the same: It's always about the actors and whatever they needed." Adds actor Ray Liotta (Henry Hill): "Marty would tie my tie every day. There was a certain way that he wanted it done." (Source)

Is Scorsese a control freak? Maybe. Or, maybe he just has an idea of how he wants things done. After all, that's the director's job.

Except for when it's the director's mom's job. According to Goodfellas production designer Kristi Zea, Scorsese enlisted his mom to cook all of the food for the scenes where the cast was scarfing down Italian food because he wanted his actors to feel, and digest, the authenticity of what they were doing. (Source)

For Scorsese, making Goodfellas was a family affair. Literally. The director also cast both of his parents in the film. His father plays one of the men who take Tommy to be killed, and his mother—when she wasn't making gravy—plays Tommy's naïve but well-intentioned mother. (Source) While it would be unfair to say outright that Scorsese is a control freak, we can all agree that he's a bit of a nepotist.

Your Go-To Guy for Gangsters

Scorsese has become synonymous with gangster flicks, and Goodfellas helped seal the deal. "Scorsese has more than any other director revamped the gangster genre through the example of Goodfellas, which has had wide influence," Casillo claims. "I know of no one who has yet matched Goodfellas for its inventiveness and originality." (Source) Scorsese earned a Best Director nomination for the film, and while the Academy didn't send him home with a little golden guy that night, decades later, Goodfellas retains a rabid fan following thanks to Scorsese's innovative directorial vision. And his mom's awesome spaghetti.

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