There are a number of works created by a famous American film director Martin Scorsese which deserve recognition. Almost each movie is a unique attempt to describe human life as it is with its own pros and cons. It is not enough for Scorsese to make a movie; it is necessary to create a masterpiece where each angel, camera movement, and frame has its own purpose and place.
One of such movies is his Goodfellas directed in 1990. And though this movie did not get the Oscar as the best picture (Dances with Wolves won it that time), Goodfellas starring by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci is still considered to be an important work that makes Scorsese return to the world of gangster cinematography and take another important shift in career. In this paper, several cinematographic aspects like movie shots, optics, moves, compositions, and long takes in Goodfellas will be evaluated.
Goodfellas, as well as all other movies, consists of a number of shots those relationships aim at creating a complete and informative scene (Corrigan 66). The peculiar feature of frames and angles in Goodfellas is Scorsese’s desire to overwhelm the viewer with information, this is why each frame contains a number of details to be observed.
Certain attention should be paid to the frames used by the director to express “the freshness and energy of a real world” (Lopate 241). The point is that even the opening frames of the movie may easily destabilize audience (Nochimson 135).
For example, the frame when the three main characters, Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy are in the car (ELS): the director wants to say that they are connected by friendship, business, and trust, and even though audience is not aware of their relations, it is necessary to underline this connection at the very beginning (Goodfellas).
Another shot when Karen holds the gun and looks at it from above (MS): the director wants to introduce the idea of human choice when a young girl realizes what is waiting for her and that she has a choice and needs to decide. Her decision was based on emotions and feelings.
The two shots when Karen directs the gun to Henry to kill him because of betrayal (CU). The gun is not only a weapon; it is the symbol that should not be recognized still performs the leading role. The scene when the black man was shot by Tommy within several seconds (ELS). The chosen shot define the fugacity of life and human inabilities to control the event. And finally, the shot with the two dead bodies in the pink car (LS): it was a kind of message in the form of a murder, a cruel still expected murder.
Importance of angles in the movie should be also discussed. Camera angles are regarded as the main part of visual language of the movie. Even if a person fails to grasp the message or the tone of the character, director’s hints will help to define the essence.
For example, an eye-level angle when Henry cooks at home that makes the character ordinary with the demands inherent to people who have to live, work, communicate, and analyze their actions; a low angle when Henry stands close to the car with the dead Billy Batz is used by the director to underline that this character has something to tell to audience and his story will be certainly interesting to listen to; the high angle when Karen cries discovering that her husband is arrested and has to spend a couple of years in jail, such angle is used to describe hopelessness of the character.
The brightest example of mixed camera move and actor move is observed when Henry comes to Copacabana: everything has its place still continues moving, people have to hurry up in order to achieve their purposes, events are hard to control, this is why the director wanted to use as many moving subjects as possible to use running as the symbol of current changes and society’s needs.
Optics and camera’s focus
There are three optics techniques used in the movie: shallow focus that allows underlining the importance of one image, deep focus when all images are in focus, and perspective focus that provides a kind of equivalent to the required view camera movements (Mamer 23).
For example, deep focus is observed in the restaurant it is easy to recognize the main characters as well as those people on the background because the main characters are not enough powerful to be separated from the crowd. The director wants to show that though these three people perform the leading roles, there are still a number of people who perform the same roles in society.
The shallow focus is used when Karen directs the gun to Henry, and the image of the gun is not clear as the director makes a decision not to mention a true essence of the gun still underline its importance in the story. Perspective focuses are frequent in the movie as the director introduces the story and describes it from all aspects.
Composition of the movie
Film composition is all about the way of how the components are arranged so that audience is free to watch the movie. To succeed in composing a movie, the director should demonstrate his abilities to unite each piece of the work with the meaning, and Scorsese shows how a perfect composition should look like.
This story is not about gangsters only but the collection of such themes like friendship, partnership, business, love, sex, drugs, etc. Scorsese shows the shots, and even if not all shots are perfect and meaningful, the role of each detail is crucial indeed.
Necessity of long takes in Goodfellas
The main purpose of any long take is to develop the necessary dramatic or narrative effect, and in Goodfellas one of such remarkable shots is the walk of Karen and Henry through the Copacabana. By means of such long take, the director shows what Karen should be ready for because it is her boyfriend’s world: she is tempted with a desire to observe the gangster life, and Henry is fascinated with an idea that he is able to open this world to her girlfriend.
Film stock and the tonality of colors
Goodfellas is the movie where the colors were usually variable in their true saturation. For example, the darker scenes (when the characters are in the car after the murder of Billy Batz) seem to be more saturated in order to underline the dramatic aspect of the movie, however, under more appropriate lighting conditions the chosen color will be spot on.
Success of lighting in the movie
In the already discussed scene when Henry and Karen are walking through the nightclub, it is also possible to observe how successfully the director uses lighting by the extent of ultimate advantage. As a result of such choice, it seems like the interplay that takes place between light and shadow expresses the idea of duplicity that is inherent to human life. Henry is as quick as a butterfly who cannot define the danger of the darkness.
Of course, it is not the only example of how different keys of lighting are used in the movie. With the help of a properly chosen lighting, Scorsese shares what is in his characters’ minds. Talking about lighting in the movie, it is necessary to remember one of the first scenes. Overall redness in the shot is the sign of hope, mystery, and human destiny at the same time. The director admits that this story has its grounds, and the movies aims at disclosing a number of ideas which are connected to human life, emotions, and life purposes.
In general, the techniques used by Scorsese in his Goodfellas as well as the play of each actor in the movie are perfectly chosen so that the reader can grasp the main message of the story and enjoy the work itself.
The evaluation of perspectives, compositions, lighting, frames, angels, etc. helps to underline the main aspects of the movie and define a true purpose set by the director. Each scene is a unique combination of an idea and a technique that discloses the idea, this is why it is not a surprise that many people find this movie interesting and educative.
Corrigan, Timothy. A short guide to writing about film. London: Pearson, 2007.
Goodfellas. Dir. Scorsese, Martin, Perf. Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci. Warner Brothers, 1990. Film.
Lopate, Phillip. American movie critics: An anthology from the silents until now. New York: The Library of America, 2006.
Mamer, Bruce. Film production technique: Creating the accomplished image. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2008.
Nochimson, Martha. Dying to belong: Gangster movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2007.