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Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro have dinner with Catherine Scorsese right before burying a character they just beat almost to death in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas." Warner Bros.Pictures Photo: The combination of narration and speedy exposition with lots of pop songs has been endlessly copied now, but “Goodfellas” invented it.
We saw the first part of the movie as him as a kid, like a Mark Twain character growing up in the mob. And then the middle of the movie, where he gets caught and goes to prison, even that’s kind of fun — until he comes up to the drugs. Everyone else died in prison, or of cancer, or of heart attacks, though almost all of them died in prison.Once narcotics get into it, it kills that whole world they’re living in. There’s that one scene that Marty has of Ray Liotta snorting coke. I told you everything that’s in it.” That’s the mentality. The marshal service as worried for him, because these were very vicious guys. And yet the irony of ironies is he’s the one who outlasted them all.He raises his head and you see his eyes are pink and his flesh is a different color. That was a metaphor for organized crime in America. The cops were on the payroll, they opened nightclubs and speakeasies. That was basically the end of organized crime as we knew it. He loves getting on the street and shooting improv, and running from the cops. Hill used to actually go on Howard Stern and they’d have to bleep out him saying things that could have got him whacked.Henry Hill’s story basically told that in the life of one person. He wasn’t even in the mob; he was an associate who hung around and they liked him. Sometimes I say I didn’t write I, sometimes I just don’t say anything. Somewhere he saw a couple wiseguys do that to each other. He’s still an NYU film major trying to shoot a movie without permits in the subway system. There’s this thing where the actor playing the young Joe Pesci couldn’t say the word “Henry.” He said “Hendry.” Then I remembered when I was a kid in Bensonhurst there was a Henry that people called “Hendry.” I don’t know what it was. When the movie came out he was on Howard Stern all the time.Nicholas Pileggi had been a crime reporter for 30 years when his 1986 book “Wiseguy” — about a low-level mob associate-turned-informant named Henry Hill — came out. But Marty saw that in the book and saw that as a Steadicam shot taking the audience through the kitchen, up to the Copacabana. He said, “Take the book and structure it the way you see it as a movie.” So that’s what I did.It was so authentic and often disarmingly funny that it convinced Martin Scorsese to break his vow that, after “Mean Streets,” he would never make another crime movie again. He really was a teacher to me on writing the first draft. And he said, “I’ll do the same thing.” So we both did it.
Pileggi and Scorsese collaborated on the script, and the result was “Goodfellas.” (The name “Wiseguy” was already taken by a then-TV show.) Since its release in 1990 it’s gone from a surprise hit and Oscar contender to an even loftier rep as an endlessly rewatchable and quotable classic. And we both kicked out his stint in the military, we both kicked out almost the same stuff.
“Goodfellas” has recently been restored, heralding a Blu-ray reissue, and it plays for a week at Film Forum starting Friday. The storyline we came up with was come upon by the two us each independently.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary, Pileggi — who admits he almost accidentally didn’t return Scorsese’s calls, having thought they were a prank by his New Yorker colleague, film critic David Denby — spoke to Metro about its authenticity, why Joe Pesci’s Tommy pronounces Henry as “Hendry,” who came up with the iconic “You think I’m funny? We both sat down and looked at each other’s outlines and we realized we had come up with the same outline. Were there notable ways the structure changed over the many drafts you two wrote? It opens with him looking out the window at the cab stand. Once the structure was there Marty realized it was too slow. He came up with the notion of starting it with the body in the trunk.
An example: If you look at the book, or even the script, that scene where they go to the Copacabana, in the book it’s like two sentences, three sentences. You can’t write, “And then he saw another guy who’s eating a sandwich, and then they made a right turn, and the waiter nodded his head.” You can’t do that in a book. RELATED: Nicholas Pileggi comments on New York Post article claiming women don't get "Goodfellas"Seeing as you were new to this, how did Scorsese mentor you when you started working together?
Then you have the story take him up to the part where they kill Billy Batts, and the movie begins again from where it started.
This way you start with this extraordinary, insane moment.