Every time I’ve watched Martin Scorsese’s Goodefellas (1991) (which is more than a few) one of the things that always strikes me is how familiar I am with the built environment of the film. I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, Baldwin to be exact. So many of the scenes where Henry Hill is courting Karen at the beginning or when he’s is driving around like a paranoid maniac towards the end are landscapes that almost seem like polariods from my childhood.
But what I didn’t realize until reading Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, is just how much truth was behind that cinematic impression. The last place Henry Hill lived and dealt drugs from before he was “pinched” was in Rockville Centre, one town away from where I grew up. In fact, while reading the book I realized most of the film took place ehere I grew up, it was a bit crazy to come to that realization. I was the same age as Henry Hill’s kids. He was of my parents’ generation. He was South Shore trash, just like me Part of the joy of reading this book for me was Hill’s insistence on naming people and places so regualrly. While this might come with the territory of being an informat, it also effectively maps a whole universe of working class gangsters right in my boyhood backyard.
View Locations from “Wiseguy” and “Goodfellas” in a larger map
I’ve recently written about true crime on Google Maps, and while I was Google searhcing some of the addresses referenced in Pileggi’s book, I discovered that someone already created a Google map for the film and the book. The web is such an amazing place.
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.
We talked about nature vs. nurture with In Cold Blood. Thomas Firestone, in “Mafia Memoirs: What They Tell Us About Organize Crime” talks about the differential association theory, which “argues that people become criminals because they ‘learn’ criminal behavior from role models, usually friends or family members.” That seems like environment more than nature or nurture. It’s part of both but not really either. As I see it, nature is something inherent in the person, and nurture is something that is done to the person. What I get from the theory is that the nature of the environment nurtures criminality in the individual. The gangsters in Goodfellas were the neighborhood symbols of success, a thing to aspire to be.
This strikes me as similar to Monster Kody Scott’s situation. I’m not sure to what extent the Crips represented success in those days, but it was better to be part of a gang than to be independent (a victim). The gang offers a sense of community, a family, and gives direction and purpose, however senseless those might be. The life doesn’t end well, but does anyone else’s? It reminds me of William Fly – he had to have known that he would be killed at sea or hung on shore, since no one retired after a successful pirate career. It was just better to be able to do what he wanted, even if only for a few months, than to endure the life of a worker at sea.
Goodfellas also shows a different side of the Mafia from most gangster movies. They tend to focus on the top guy, the gangster royalty, the Little Caesar, the Scarface, the Al Capone, the Godfather. The characters in Goodfellas are the working class mafia. According to Firestone’s analysis, I should be classifying them in feudal rather than corporate terms, but serf doesn’t sound right. Henry appeared to be wealthy, but in the end he was just living from score to score. Jimmy made a lottery level score with the Lufthansa heist, but looked like he was working on skid row more than easy street afterwards. And Paulie, the closest thing to a boss man in the movie, was working a grill in a restaurant before he got picked up by the police. So it’s like the Fly life – it looks good when it’s going good, but it only ends up bad.
I’ve written before about love of Tumblr before on this blog, and one of the most consistently brilliant Tumblr blogs I follow is the all-things-film tumblr Cinephilia and Beyond. If you love movies, this is an amazing resource.
Anyway, over a year ago the Cinephilia blog, doing what it does so well, posted an all but comprehensive article filled with resources about the 1991 film Goodfellas. It has the original film script, images from set, a documentary about the making of the film, a documentary about Henry Hill, an article about Henry Hill’s experience in the Witness Protection Program, Scorsese and his mom on Letterman, and much more. It’s an example of just how amazing this blog is, it understands that at its best blogging is an aggregation of awesome resources that leads the visitor on to further explorations and discoveries.
At the time I filed this post away because I knew I was already thinking about teaching a course on true crime, and both Nicholas Pileggi‘s 1985 book Wiseguy and Scorsese’s film were strong candidates. Lo and behold, a year later I am happy to share this amazing post for the True Crime class (and anyone else that loves Goodfellas—who doesn’t?) so that you have no shortage of material to amuse yourself after watching the movie.
Now the Cinephilia and Beyond blog is an open educational repository I can get behind!
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” What a genius script looks like. Read, learn, and absorb: Goodfellas [the screenplay] by Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese [pdf1, pdf2]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
The 30-minute documentary Getting Made: The Making of Goodfellas, also included on the Blu-ray release, has recently been put online for your viewing pleasure. Going through the pre-production, shooting, release and more, a few of the film’s iconic scenes (including Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci‘s dinner exchange, as well as the extended steadicam shot) are discussed — all with the insight from editor Thelma Schoonmaker. It’s a fascinating inside look at the making of a masterpiece and one can check out the documentary below, then head over to Amazon to stream the film for free and pick it up for cheap on Blu-ray, if you don’t own it yet. [thanks to A Bittersweet Life & The Film Stage]
The legendary Steadicam shot in Goodfellas through the nightclub kitchen was a happy accident — Scorsese had been denied permission to go in the front way and had to improvise an alternative.
By now you’ve heard the news that former gangster-turned-mob informant Henry Hill passed away last Tuesday, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of moviegoers who’ve watched Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (itself based on the life of Henry Hill) and often wondered just how the guy managed to survive long enough to die at the age of 69 without being whacked by those he turned against. Clues to that mystery may be found in this documentary, called The Real Goodfella, which is one of the more fascinating docs on the real-life man behind the character Ray Liotta so memorably portrayed on screen. Featuring in-depth interviews with Hill, FBI agents, Martin Scorsese and more, the 47-minute doc uses dramatized reenactments to piece together what really happened versus what Scorsese chose to use for his film. You can watch the entire doc below, which dates back to 2006. —Erik Davis
- Interview with the real gangster behind Goodfellas, Henry Hill [pdf]
- A recipe for the mouthwatering prison dinner from Goodfellas:
6 onions peeled and finely diced
75g Cotswold gold rapeseed oil or olive oil
A teaspoon of salt
300g minced beef
300g minced pork shoulder
300g diced English rose veal flank
30g Cotswold gold rapeseed oil or olive oil
250g beef or brown chicken stock
10 cloves garlic peeled
100ml white wine
150g tomato puree
750g ripe vine tomatoes (chopped) or equivalent weight of quality chopped tinned tomatoes
A pinch of salt
Good grind of black pepper
Just like the guys in Goodfellas, I like to serve this with a char grilled 34 day aged hanger steak cooked medium rare, a bottle of Chianti and good crunchy country bread (to soak up all those wonderful juices and flavours).
Yes, indeed, The Godfather is masterful. The Sopranos? We never missed an episode. But you want to talk about a movie that leaves a mark? Twenty years after the release of Goodfellas, the good people behind it—Scorsese, Liotta, De Niro!—re-create the making of the truest, bloodiest, greatest gangster film of all time. —Getting Made The Scorsese Way
I’m reading through Nicholas Pileggi’s 1986 non-fiction account of Henry Hill’s life Wiseguy, the basis for Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic Goodfellas. We’ll be talking about Goodfellas in the True Crime seminar next week, and I wanted to finally read the book that inspired the film. What I love about the film (and now the book) is how it chronciles the changing nature of the mob from the 1950s through the 1980s. When I first saw it as an undergraduate in Los Angeles in 1990, Goodfellas struck me as that more than a story about gangsters. It’s a tale about the changing nature of our crime-obsessed culture over the 30 year span of the characters’ lives: their relationships, their neighborhoods, their jobs, their clothes, their everything. It’s a cultural document that at once compells and repulses the viewer—the spiral of a lifestyle that becomes as all consuming as the ethos of the 1980s it ultimately chokes on!
Anyway, it’s remarkable how much the film follows Pileggi’s narrative arc as told by Henry Hill. Something the book adds that’s a bit harder to incorporate into the film is the broader historical context of organized crime in the neighborhood of Browsnville—East New York where Henry Hill came of age.
Brownsville-East New York was the kind of neighborhood that cheered successful mobsters the way West Point cheered victorious generals. It has been the birthplace of Murder Incorporated Midnight Rose’s candy store on the corner of Livonia and Saratoga avenues, where Murder Inc.’s hitmen used to wait for their assignments, was considered a historic landmark during Henry’s youth. Johnny Torrio and Al Capone grew up there before going west and taking their machine guns with them.
The long history of organized crime in this area of Brooklyn is fascinating, and doubly so when you start running into all the characters you’re watching develop during the 1920s in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. It’s interesting how much this area in Brooklyn was not only run by Italians (as mentioned in the passage with reference to Torrio and Capone), but by a number Jewish crime bosses as well. Gangsters like Meyer Lansky, Louis Buchalter, Bugsy Siegel, and Martin Goldstein, just to name a few, were part of the high profile Jewish Mafia that built Murder Inc. Ironically, this is a group often underrepresented in the pop culture vision of organized crime during the 1970s and 80s. The website Yidfellas: the Kosher Nostra is an excellent overview of the hostory of the Jewish mob who, like their Italian counterparts, played a key role in architecting the modern day model for organized crime in the U.S.
Anyway, the above passage lead me to Google maps because I want to start exploring this area of Brownsville-East New York. When I lived in Brooklyn I often traveled back and forth between Fort Green and Long Beach, Long Island. My route took me through East New York on a regular basis. Many of the streets Pileggi talks about in the book (Pitkin Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Saratoga and Livonia Avenues) are names I am familiar with from those trips. What’s more, I grew up on the other side of JFK Airport (which was called Idelwild Airport during the 1960s) and all these people and places are familiar. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t know any of these gangsters, but my father was born and raised in Cedarhurst and would tell stories of seeing local legends like Jimmy “the Gent” Burke in the local bars. This world was attached to the one I grew up in, not the same, but definitely close enough to see and hear of it regularly in the built environment.
And this built environment is only a click away on Google Maps. Below is a street view of the Murder Incorporated headquarters on the corner of Livonia and Saratoga Avenues. The spot seems almost unchanged, which is reminiscent of these NY Daily News “Then and Now” crimes scenes in NYC. Crazy thing about places like NYC is you are constantly passing locations with centuries of rich history, but the palce moves so fast there is often nothing to commemorate any of them.
View Larger Map
So that led me to the questions, has Google Maps actually captured majors crimes in action? The answer is yes, all kinds. But two cases that caught my eye when searching on Google, two possible grisly murders captured by Google’s satellite. The first was the capturing of a murder crime scene near train tracks in Northern California:
The other satellite image that is pretty disturbing is a bird’s-eye view of a jetty in an Amsterdam-area park that people suggest is a evidence of a body being dragged from the water. Take a look at these images:
Now there have been a wide range of theories on this, one positing that the figure on the ground is a dog that is trailing water on the jetty. Another, obviously, is that a bloody body was dragged from the water. Crazy, even if it isn;t true, the image alone is enough to scare you.
In the searching I also found the New York Times has mapped every murder in New York City from 2003 through 2011. There is also a Google Map that traces the locations where the bodies of the 30 children killed by the Atlanta Child Murderer where discovered. Macabre stuff, I know, but True Crime is all about scaring the hell out of all of us! Take heed!
View Atlanta child murders map in a larger map