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When you think of a “Goodfella”, an image of a kind, humble, and maybe even honorable man comes to mind. Maybe someone like your father or a mentor like a coach, or teacher. In the movie, directed by Martin Scorcese, Goodfellas may seem like all of these attributes or figures from the outside looking in. Ironically being a Goodfella (or wise guy) is more about greed, corruption, and cold hearted killing than being “humble” or “honorable”. Scorsese uses mise en scene, ediiting, and cinematography to introduce us to the gritty world of the Italian Mafia throughout the entire film. In the opening scene of the Sound design builds suspense as it also helps us understand how sickly and “comfortable” these characters have gotten with their mobster way of life.
The importance of sound often gets under played in the Cinema. It’s something that is so easy to look over, but also important to the overall success and perception of a film. Without proper sound effects, dialogue, and music, films would seem disconnected and boring. In almost any film, music can be used to build things like tension, suspense, and feelings that the audience can really connect too. The dialogue needs to be matched up perfectly with the moving lips of the characters, while also setting the tone of the film, and moving it along. Sound effects make the film more believable as a whole, and give you a sense of actually being in the scene.
The opening scene begins with the opening credits, with the sound of a car passing by repeatedly in the background. This implies immediately that they are driving steadily along a straight road, such as a highway. When the credits end, the backside of a car driving down the highway appears. It is totally alone on the road, and is in the middle of the night. This gives the scene an eerie, isolated feeling as they car continues to drive. We get an example of mise en scene, as the words “New York, 1970”, appears on the screen, giving the setting away immediately. The camera then cuts to 3 men sitting in the car (Henry Hill, Jimmy Conway, and Tommy Devito), with the camera focused on the driver, using a medium shot. They all look tired, and the car is silent. The scene is innocent enough at first, as they all seem laid back, with Jimmy Conway looking as if he might fall asleep in the passenger seat. Still the only sound from this scene is the car moving along the highway, with the only light coming from its head and back lights. The lightning adds a nice sense of mystery to the scene. The men continue to sit in silence until a very faint rustling can heard coming from the back of the car. The men look suprised by this, with Hill saying, “the fuck is that”. The rustling grows louder, as Tommy suggests that it could be a “flat”, finally saying the men should pull over and see. The tone used by the men suggests that they have no idea what is making the noise, implying that they have done nothing morally wrong.
The scene then cuts to the car in the woods, with all three men getting out to inspect the back of the car. The setting implies that they are all alone, with crickets being heard, with the sound of crunching leaves as they walk around the car. The scene begins to lose its innocence, as you see Jimmy and Tommy pull out weapons, as they decide to open the trunk. Jimmy is also holding a shovel implying that they plan to bury whatever is in that trunk. Henry then approaches the trunk to open it, as the faint sound of rustling and whimpering can be heard once again. The suspense and tension as Hill walks over to the trunk is unmatched by most films, as the audience still has no idea what the opening of the trunk will unveil. As he pops open the trunk, a bloody man (that the 3 had thought to be dead) is seen barely alive. He is faintly begging, saying, “No, no, no, no…”. Just as you think the man might be spared, Tommy runs up and brutally stabs the man with a large kitchen knife.
You can hear the knife enter, and re- enter the body as it slices through the dying man’s flesh. Tommy is barbacially muttering as he is committing the stabbing, showing you how he has no sympathy, and the inner rage he has built up inside of him. Just as you think the brutality is over, Jimmy walks up to the man, and shoots him 4 times. The gun shots ring out, as the body shakes with every impact of each bullet. The camera cuts to Hill for a millisecond, as he flinches after the second gun shot. This symbolizes that he may be a gangster, but he is not as brutal or cruel as Conway or Devito (there are many examples like this later in the film). As the killing has ended, the filter on the lens begins to show a red tint as the camera focuses on the body. This technique is known as film tinting. The red symbolizes murder and blood, and the rageful act that had just been carried out. The scene then cuts to Hill, as he walks towards the car. He can be heard narrating in the background, “As far back as I can remember I have always wanted to be a Gangster”. He then slams the trunk shut as the camera does a close up on his face. The frame freezes as the song “Rags to Riches” by Tony Bennett begins to play. This is an example of using popular music in a film, to connect with the audience. It perfectly suits the main character/narrator Henry Hill, as his story in the movie could be described as rags to riches. The scene then cuts to black and the title card comes into view.
The Opening Scene of the film does more than introduce characters or a certain plot. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It makes a statement that no matter how well put together and profesional someone seems, they can be a barbaric, cold blooded killers at the flip of a switch. The sound effects and music used throughout the film help carrie along this idea, with music choices. This really gives you an idea of the time period your in throughout the movie, and sort of glamorizes their gangster lifestyle. Without the superb sound design in Goodfellas, it wouldn’t be known as one of the great Mob/Crime dramas of the 20th century.
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