Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Goodfellas: An IM Conversation Betwixt Eric Berlin and Duke de Mondo

The following is the result of a Grand Experiment. Well known and loved Blogcritic and Filmic Wizard Aaron (AKA The Duke de Mondo) and I recently had a lengthy conversation via Instant Messenger on the following subject:

Goodfellas: The Perfect Gangster Film?

If there’s enough enthusiasm and interest, we may go onto such topics as PCU: The Perfect Campus Comedy or Reservoir Dogs: The Perfect Hipster Dialogue?

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. While we do get into the matter at hand, we sail off into many an exotic region of cinematic lore, from Casino to Swinger, from George Lucas to Goddard.

And Kirsten, of course.

I did a fair amount of editing, trying to make the look as clean as possible. It will be interesting to see if people not involved in an IM conversation can enjoy reading a transcript (cleaned up some) of such.

Or will it produce stark raving Madness?

I try to stave this impossible condition off by guiding through where I can.

Be warned: there is some small amount of cussing and swear word slinging ahead.



The Greetings & Salutations

Eric Berlin: Mr. McMullan (AKA The Duke)
Duke: Mr. DB (Dumpster Bust AKA himself!
Eric Berlin: I’m listening to Dylan’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid -- good good stuff
Duke: Brilliant. Great soundtrack
Eric Berlin: I didn't even realize I owned it! Popped up on the iTunes shuffle
Duke: Haha. Yeah, that can be dangerous
Eric Berlin: Truly
Duke: Next thing you know its GG Allen and the wife just walked in


A meandering discussion transpires – amongst other things – of podcasting, Kurt Cobain, The Libertines,, creative entrepreneurship (Duke advises the creation of a manifesto), EB warns of the onset of some “High Falutin’ Philosophy Talk), William Blake, the correlation of conversation and location…

Eric Berlin: I'm a huge talker anyway but in the car I'm a monster. The wife on the other hand likes to zone out and look out the window, which causes problems...
Duke: Yeah. You just got the point of it all, and she's just notin’ the funky cloud shapes.

…Australia’s spider problem, filmmaking in New Zealand versus Hollywood, Peter Jackson, and a terrorizing fear of mortgages.

Finally, we settle in.

Scheduled Discussion (Finally) Begins

Eric Berlin: Dispense with whining and cheese then. Okay... let's get our head's straight. Goodfellas.... I contend it’s the perfect gangster flick. I'm gonna throw on some Cream to get in the mood for this. "Sunshine of Your Love" -- one of the few songs I can still play on bass
Duke: I just ripped today’s CD purchase onto iTunes. Perfect soundtrack for our intellectual debate
Eric Berlin: And what purchase was that ?
Duke: Kirsty MacColl - From Croydon To Cuba. A 3 CD anthology. Fuckin’ glorious
Eric Berlin: Wow -- sounds intriguing
Duke: Tragic though. Anyway, you think Goodfellas is the best gangster movie ever?
Eric Berlin: Well, I would say it's the perfect gangster flick... I think saying "best" invites all the Are-you-Nuts-What-About-The Godfather crowd
Duke: It's certainly the one that makes it look the most fun
Eric Berlin: Yeah exactly -- the story arc is magnificent. It sucks you right in. Through the eyes of Ray Liotta’s character. You see how powerful the embrace of the mafia is, at least initially.
Duke: "Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a gangster"
Eric Berlin: Particularly at that time period where it was still "Family". You see how the kids give him juice... everyone gives him juice. He's 21 and takes his girl into the clubs and gets to sit in the front row. Perfect analogy for money and power in America. Well, maybe not analogy but you get the idea. Even Ms. Karen soon to be Hill is blown off her ass by the charisma, the charm of the mob. Before Henry Hill's an adult, he's a full blown criminal
Duke: The guys you hang with are gangsters, the folks you buy things from are in thrall to the gangsters... what you wanna be, the dick or the arse
Eric Berlin: Exactly -- people who play it straight are the suckers
Duke: Understandably, he chooses the dick
Eric Berlin: Reminds me of that film by the South Park guys... World Police, the marionettes
Duke: Haha yeah, Team America
Eric Berlin: So the setup is amazing: Hill is sucked in, and the audience is sucked in
Duke: Right from that freeze-frame
Eric Berlin: And the way the whole backstory is told, leading up to the scene where they're shooting / stabbing the dude in the car and stopping off at Mom's Place. So when you "catch up" you're in the surreal moment along with Hill's coke-addled head
Eric Berlin: A head trained from birth to not be a sucker, a schnook, a schmuck-on-wheels
Duke: And he ends up a schmuck
Duke: Stylistically it’s incredible. Hard to remember how fuckin fresh that shit was. now look - Soderberg, P.T Anderson, every sonnabitch just makes Goodfellas over and over
Eric Berlin: Right -- it's a Scorsese masterpiece. I love the way Ebert put it, I believe... "He was only sorry in the end that he had no more soul to sell"
Eric Berlin: But let's talk about style a little more
Duke: I dunno that its his best flick, but its certainly the most invigorating one, fuckin adrenaline hanging from it
Eric Berlin: I'd have a tough time between Mean Streets and Goodfellas myself
Duke: Mean Streets and Goodfellas are very similar
Eric Berlin: The tone of the movie is glorious... from the scene where we meet all the gangsters.... Tommy Two Times and so forth
Duke: Yeah. its glamorous as hell
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- probably why I love it
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas is also magnificent because of how funny it is
Duke: But same stunning use of song-based soundtrack, same joy with tryin new shit
Eric Berlin: That dark/funny tone is where a lot of The Sopranos comes from
Duke: yeah, definitely
Eric Berlin: Yep -- the music is amazing -- one of the best uses of music in film
Duke: It totally defined 90's soundtracks
Eric Berlin: I've said this before: the scene in the bar with DeNiro when "Sunshine of My Love" is playing is just about my favorite scene of all time
Eric Berlin: Probably based upon Lucas' work in American Graffiti, I'm guessing? Stretching myself to get to that one
Duke: Reservoir Dogs gets the credit - Goodfellas made soundtracks "cool" again
Eric Berlin: Yeah, Reservoir Dogs wouldn't exist without Goodfellas... a film I love, by the way
Duke: Me too, although a very learned pal of mine detests it.
Duke: but that’s neither here nor there
Eric Berlin: Some people hate it, which I kind of get: it's not for everyone
Duke: How many folks wanted to write a screenplay after seeing reservoir dogs or pulp fiction?
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- those films gave a huge boost to 90s cinema
Duke: For better or worse... we have them to thank for guy Richie!
Eric Berlin: Intellectually I prefer Dogs, but emotionally Pulp has a bigger payoff, I think
Duke: Nothin’ in dogs competes with that diner-conversation in the last act
Eric Berlin: Well, Goodfellas gets the "perfect" label because it works on so many levels
Eric Berlin: It's a fun ride, but it's also tragic and moving and wrenching
Eric Berlin: It's a perfect tragedy when it comes down to it
Duke: What’s really goin’ on, though, beyond the coolness and the slickness and the violence? I mean there could be an argument for "it's just an exercise in style and stylized mayhem"
Eric Berlin: Get this... you're rooting for a criminal... and you're crushed by his demolition
Duke: That's it, I think, too. Its got a tragedy, and its about corruption. talks about the corruption of the American dream and the like much better than ScarfaceEric Berlin: It's like an analogy for the American Dream really -- massive consumerism, how empty the Dream is... or something
Duke: Ha! Great minds think alike...
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- I agree, Scarface shoots for the moon but doesn't make it
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas gets it all -- hits its mark exactly
Duke: And no student on Earth is more annoying than the one who keeps goin on about "say heelllo to my leetle friend"
Eric Berlin: All the violence, all the action is exactly targeted
Eric Berlin: I only saw that movie [Scarface] for the first time a few months ago… And I was like, so that's what this is all about?
Eric Berlin: I found the second half of that film to be flat, empty
Eric Berlin: First half was a lot of fun -- tons of promise
Duke: Yeah. Those hip-hoppers, man, they need to get some decent flick on the tour-bus
Eric Berlin: It's the perfect bullshit tough guy movie when it comes down to it, isn't it?
Duke: I know
Duke: Perfect Oliver Stone in other words
Eric Berlin: Ha -- exactly, great
Duke: That’s why Goodfellas is so much better
Eric Berlin: So, here's my take on Goodfellas vs. The Godfather
Duke: Go for it
Eric Berlin: Can we agree that Godfather would be the only serious competitor?
Duke: I guess so. It’s the only one that has the epic sweep. Obviously, though, stuff like Howard Hawks' Scarface and so on should be given a nod. But I think Goodfellas et al go a bit deeper
Eric Berlin: Not being the filmic scholar I neglected to see the original... though a friend laid some Hawks stuff on my a few months ago
Eric Berlin: The Godfather is damned fine storytelling, good action, good writing, great acting.... but it never lands the emotional punch that Goodfellas delivers
Duke: And lets be honest... Goodfellas is a hella lot more fun
Eric Berlin: Exactly -- that's the magic of it
Duke: What you want, the big old wedding scene or Pesci stabbin a fucker in the back with a ball-point
Eric Berlin: My friends and I quoted that movie for years. It became part of our own bizarre subculture
Eric Berlin: Was the stabbing with the ballpoint Goodfellas ?
Duke: I think so. wasn't it? Or was it casino?
Eric Berlin: Can't remember... think it was Casino
Duke: Casino fuckin rules incidentally
Eric Berlin: Ahh..... that's where I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there (Office Space ref., by the way)
Duke: Pesci is incredible in that flick. Sinister as hell. Genuinely frightening
Eric Berlin: Yep -- amazingly original character -- funny, charming, murderous
Duke: You don’t dig casino?
Eric Berlin: I liked Casino but think it fell short in many ways
Eric Berlin: The editing was pretty bad whereas in Goodfellas it was perfect
Duke: I think it had too many "fucks". incredible, i know, but there you have it
Eric Berlin: hahahha -- that's funny
Eric Berlin: About 40 minutes could have been chopped
Duke: True, but its fun as hell in a trashy sorta soap-opera way
Eric Berlin: The second half of Casino is pretty boring
Duke: I can't get behind that, man. it has the big sweep-down! all those mafioso shittin it
Duke: Pesci gettin beat with baseball bats
Duke: And the funniest line in the flick.... "You made me pop your fuckin eyes outta your skull for that piece a shit?"
Duke: But yes, Goodfellas vs. Godfather
Duke: And I’ll add here: Godfather 2 is beyond overrated
Eric Berlin: Hmm.... yeah, it's overrated, but I like it
Eric Berlin: I could have had DeNiro / the backstory as it's own film – I really really liked that part of the story
Duke: Thats my favourite stuff in there
Eric Berlin: The “present day” part I found kind of icy, cold, distant
Duke: DeNiro is amazing in that flick
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- he's outstanding. Amazing what a shadow DeNiro's become with those Analyze My Bottom flicks and so forth
Duke: I know. Analyse This was good for thirty minutes
Eric Berlin: I'd put it about 14
Duke: Mind you, he was great in Meet the Parents and Rocky and Bullwinkle
Duke: "Fuckin greeks" thats a great line in analyse this
Eric Berlin: You're generous man, I'd say he was okay in Meet the Parents
Duke: I’m jokin about R&B – I ain’t that fucked in the mentals
Eric Berlin: hahah -- missed that
Duke: heh
Eric Berlin: He's been okay in some films, but I have to say he's been a bit downhill since about A Bronx Tale. He's got that Bruce Willis bug -- every movie he's the same kind of remote icy dude
Eric Berlin: It's like Lighten Up, Bro
Duke: I know. But with a good script a fella can work wonders
Eric Berlin: I guess everyone has that problem
Duke: Who the fuck could win with Godsend?
Eric Berlin: Yeah -- he and Pacino have had that problem
Duke: fuckin pacino – screw pacino
Eric Berlin: hahahaha -- hit a nerve there, I see?
Eric Berlin: Pacino I put in a spiral post-Scent of a Woman
Duke: Heh. I dig his shouting, and let me say his performance in Glengarry Glenn Ross is beyond anything he's ever done
Eric Berlin: Oh man -- talk about great minds
Eric Berlin: I LOVE Glengarry Glenn Ross
Eric Berlin: Best five minutes of acting EVER -- Baldwin in that flick
Duke: oh yeah, he’s brilliant
Eric Berlin: "Get them to sign on the line that is dotted"
Duke: hah yeah
Eric Berlin: Talk about how messed up the Soul of the U.S. can be – That movie says it all and a bag of chips
Duke: Even the fella out The Odd Couple is gonna end up weepin over a pint
Eric Berlin: hahahahahaha -- he's absolutely brilliant, heartbreaking in that film
Duke: for sure. brilliantly pathetic
Eric Berlin: They eat each others heart and then take the kids to McDonald's
Eric Berlin: And that's where our Mr. Hill comes in. Steal what you want -- it's easier and it's still the American Dream
Duke: Exactly – same idea casino explores, except more explicitly
Duke: In casino the gangsters become the establishment, which in its own way is just as subversive
Eric Berlin: Yeah... I think Casino goes a little bit too Big Picture... I liked the going on about gambling and Vegas but... I liked how Goodfellas focused on these people, these lives, and let the Big Picture be invoked by the audience
Duke: This is true. Goodfellas is a tad more subtle – although there aint much fuckin else subtle about it
Eric Berlin: Yeah, in the beginning of Casino the gangsters can't believe their good fortune: they can "steal" out in the open. And like Goodfellas, EVERYBODY has their hand out
Duke: exactly
Eric Berlin: Goodfellas is magnificent because it's really one of the first modern gangster films that takes you into authentic dialogue / lingo
Eric Berlin: "Did you take care of that thing?"
Eric Berlin: How Hill uses the voiceover to discuss how he's trying desperately to talk DeNiro out of whacking his friend
Duke: Yeah. and DeNiro’s shrug
Duke: "no big thing. forget about it"
Eric Berlin: And the editing -- brilliant
Duke: That scene in Casino where DeNiro explains how everyone's watchin everyone is as perfect as the steadycam Copacabana shot in goodfellas
Eric Berlin: Another interesting thought -- never thought about that
Duke: And then the fuckin heartbreakin moment when the guy comes in askin for money one too many times
Eric Berlin: By the way -- Swingers, one of my fave films ever -- love the way it self-consciously spoofs, among other things, the Copacabana scene
Duke: Swingers is fantastic. I ain’t seen Made, mind you
Eric Berlin: Oh: see Made. Actually, it gets better on second viewing, in my opinion, but it's great
Duke: Another thing - Goodfellas is so scary because its so fuckin real
Eric Berlin: YES -- thus the super dark, super funny, super reality of it
Duke: These folks aren’t nutcases in the traditional sense. They're the folks you drink with and cringe when someone says something cause its gonna start shit
Eric Berlin: Right -- I've hung out with guys like that -- maybe you're friendly with them... but the wrong word can start a riot
Eric Berlin: The Sopranos owes so much to Goodfellas and is really just about the best television series of all time, in my 'umble opinion. It’s such a oddball show, which I love -- it takes the time for truly strange asides, pauses, silences, is funny as hell, and has amazing music. David Chase is a genius
Duke: EVERYTHING owes a lot to Goodfellas. It laid the fuckin grammar for 90's American crime pictures. MTV meets Goddard
Eric Berlin: Nice -- I like that
Duke: It’s true, man. Goodfellas did for American cinema what Trainspotting did for British film
Eric Berlin: yeah -- great analogy
Eric Berlin: So I take it in closing that you agree Goodfellas is the perfect gangster flick ?
Duke: I dunno, but i certinaly think its amazing. That’s for damn sure.
Eric Berlin: Well, I was hoping for some controversy
Duke: It’s a perfect film, but the perfect "gangster" film, i dunno
Eric Berlin: But unfortunately great minds at least partially agree
Duke: Oh, and another contender should surely be Once Upon A Time In America
Duke: Which i detest
Eric Berlin: I saw a bit of that when I was a kid and hated it -- never watched it since
Eric Berlin: Just remember opium dens
Duke: It’s brilliant 90% of the time, but so horrifically misogynist i cant for a second accept it as great work. Epic and visually stunning, but truly detestable
Duke: Possibly goodfellas is the perfect gangster flick. I just dunno.
Eric Berlin: I kind of felt like Gangs of New York was about a 4 out of 10 – I was very disappointed with that one
Duke: It was abysmal
Eric Berlin: The visuals were great.... and not much else
Duke: Seems to be the longer a film rests in Scorsese’s gut, the more disappointing the result
Eric Berlin: You might be right
Eric Berlin: Give him a barebones budget and a tight schedule
Eric Berlin: And Liotta


Duke: And Kirsten
Eric Berlin: What was missing from Casino? Liotta
Eric Berlin: And Kirsten
Duke: and Kirsten
Duke: Kirsten playing Liotta would've done it
Eric Berlin: Dude -- if Kirsten plays everyone how is she going to have time for you?
Duke: I watch from the sidelines, making notes about poetry I’ll write for Her one day.

It’s A Wrap

Duke: Chicks dig computing
Eric Berlin: They totally dig experimental journalism via the IM and the Perfect Film series and so forth
Duke: Tell me bout Scorsese, they say
Eric Berlin: They want you to say, "Drinks on the house" EXACTLY like DeNiro says it at the bar
Eric Berlin: Okay man, really gotta go
Duke: laters
Eric Berlin: latest

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