Monday, April 22, 2013

The shame that prompted a Goodfellas revisit

You know those movies you love so much and know so well that you kind of take them for granted? And then one day you realize it's been a decade since you've seen them?

That's Goodfellas for me. Except a recent incident made me question how well I really know it.

Three Saturdays ago, five friends and I attended an event I meant to write about at the time, called Terminator Too: Judgment Play. The event is a live spoof of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which professional actors play most of the key roles -- please note I said "most." Arnold Schwarzenegger is played by someone from the audience, who auditions at the start for the right to spend his entire evening on stage, reading his lines from cue cars. One of the friends who factors into today's story actually auditioned, but he only got the third-most applause from the audience -- and was later relieved to see that he hadn't had to spend his entire evening under the heat of the spotlights. (The guy they chose, who ended up being quite funny, was dripping with sweat by the end.) Anyway, the show itself is a raucous, interactive affair that sticks more or less to the movie's storyline, and involves the audience by regularly spraying them with water and blood from squibs. (They actually sell disposable ponchos, and over half the room was wearing them.) Adding to the raucous environment is that this is an intimate space with a bar, which you are invited to frequent throughout the show. If any of this sounds familiar to you, the idea originated as a similar show called Point Break Live!, in which Johnny Utah was the non-professional pulled from the audience.

Anyway, I rode there and back with my one friend who had auditioned for the Ahhnuld role (let's call him "D") and another friend ("S"), who was the driver. S had been showing us his portable version of Spotify, which allows him to take his Spotify playlists on his mobile devices for a small monthly fee. The playlist that was currently fascinating him was a complete collection of the music from Goodfellas, which is not otherwise available in album format. Some Spotify user had gone through and recorded which songs played when, then listed them chronologically for all other Spotify users to enjoy.

Since Goodfellas is my #11 movie on Flickchart, I was all ready to chime in with general words of unbridled praise for the movie, with enough specific examples sprinkled in to clearly indicate I have mastery of this material. If you're a film person -- and if you're reading this, chances are you are -- you're probably familiar with this phenomenon. You're not trying to show off, exactly; you just want to convince the others around you you're a legit film fan with plenty of insight.

A minute or two later, I would realize how ridiculous the idea of me "showing off" actually was.

I didn't even have time to open my mouth before D and S were describing exactly what was happening on screen when each new song began, in the excited language of guys who've seen the movie 30 times. Adding to the frenzy was that S did not actually want to listen to each song all the way through -- he'd give a 15-second taste of some songs and then move on to the next. D, who was especially masterful in this exchange, didn't miss a beat, immediately jumping to the next scene and giving a full and accurate description of it.

I couldn't verify its accuracy, of course, but the knowing laughter of S said "Yep, you're right, and it's hilarious that you know it that well." Of course, he was one to talk -- he was doing almost as much as D to set the scene. (And it was he who had the playlist in the first place.)

I sat there mostly silently, contemplating the depth of my own Goodfellas ignorance. I'd chime in with words of awe or praise for their daunting levels of familiarity, but mostly just shook my head in disbelief. Not only could I not match much of the music to anything in the movie -- the notable exception being that song that begins "Everything, everything, everything's going to be all right" when a paranoid Henry Hill is checking the sky for helicopters -- but I wasn't even recognizing some of the scenes they were describing.

The shame. The shame.

I can tell myself that while they were watching Goodfellas 30 times, I was seeing Goodfellas once and expanding my film horizons by watching 29 other movies I'd never seen. (I've actually probably seen Goodfellas four our five times.) It's an approach to watching movies that I generally favor. 

But when my approach prevents me from remembering numerous details about what's supposed to be my 11th favorite movie of all time? A movie I included as one of the ten I'd submit if I were voting in the Sight & Sound poll of the best movies of all time (as discussed here)? That's a point of concern.

Exactly three weeks later, I finally made amends. I'm borrowing the projector from work again this weekend, and last night, I projected Goodfellas on a sheet hanging on the back of my garage door. Since I (obviously) don't own the movie, though I certainly should, this was a library rental. And for a minute I thought it wasn't going to happen, since I inserted the disc and found myself suddenly at that scene where Karen Hill is angrily ringing Janice Rossi's doorbell. I looked for a second disc in the container, but there wasn't one. I finally realized that this two-sided disc -- speaking of two-sided discs -- didn't have the full screen version on the other side, it had the first half of the movie. I'm glad to say that neither side was scuffed enough to endanger my viewing.

Since I've already gone on for awhile here, I won't go into the details of my latest viewing. I will say that I definitely still love it as much as I loved it ten years ago, or whenever my actual last viewing was. In situations like this, I also like to be reminded of some of the actors playing some of the secondary characters, actors I may not have realized were in the movie the last time I saw it, or may not have known well enough at the time to recognize them. Three in particular come to mind from Goodfellas: Mike Starr, Kevin Corrigan and Isiah Whitlock Jr. 

One thing is for sure: I will no longer take Goodfellas for granted.

And the next time D and S want to start up a Goodfellas discussion free-for-all, I'm all in.

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