Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Joey, He's a Wild One.
Much has been written of our collective fascination with the gangster, especially as he appears in cinema. We forget, comfortably ensconced in our middle class malaise, that these scourges of humanity are the very leeches around our necks. In certain places and periods throughout history, the gangster has effectively taken over the city in which he lives--Prohibition-era Chicago, for example. In every case, his is a siphon on the productivity of the populace.
And yet, we love him because he represents the drive to live free of the constraints of the nine to five. He is a self-made man, usually rising up from immigrant poverty because he has the guts to risk jail and death. There's a little Stockholm syndrome in there was well, certainly.
Watching Goodfellas over the last few nights, for the zillionth time, is to admire again the way Scorcese overlays both these aspects. We are simultaneously horrified and amused by the homicidal antics of Joey (Joe Pesci), the pint-sized gangster with a psychopathic personality that makes the Napoleanic chip on his shoulder progressively more dangerous. The thing we understand in this film, as in many gangster epics, is that we are going to see nearly ALL the violence in the real life story of Henry Hill, the wiseguy played by Ray Liotta, who narrates. Scorcese does take time to wallow in the hideous decor and clothing choices of the gangsters and their wives... but it seems that if a few years in Hill's life are violence-free, we won't see them. The result is a portrayal of the addiction of killing, a subject which links the films with Shakesepearean works like Macbeth and Richard III, where once you "break the seal" and get away with it, murder becomes a habit.