“Jimmy was the kind of guy who rooted for bad guys in the movies.”
“No more shoe shines, Billy.”
and of course
“As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a gangster.”
Which is our point of entrance to Martin Scorsese’s 1990 movie, Goodfellas. It’s fair to say I’ve seen this film a few times. Smarter people than me have said smart and illuminating things about this film, so I won’t bother with any attempt at movie critique. Two points surrounding this movie live with me, however. First, it wasn’t seen as the finest picture of the year at The Oscars in the year it was released. That honour went to Kevin Costner’s white man guilt fest, Dances With Wolves. And I often think of this point, that being popularity doesn’t mean good, when I think my own work is ignored or being overlooked. It’s a story which brings cheer to my chippy and easily slighted soul.
The second point concerns the scene in a club between Tommy and Henry. There’s smoke and drink and music and wise guys, and then Henry makes a comment, and Tommy questions it. And then mood shifts and darkens. Is the psychotic Tommy serious? How does Henry play this situation? I read an interview with Martin Scorsese, and he talked about the importance of context when filming this situation. To understand exactly how scary Tommy was, the camera needs to pull back to show the faces and body language of the other wise guys around the table. By showing how nervous they are, our own inability to read Tommy is heightened. If Scorsese had chosen to use only close ups of Tommy and Henry, this wouldn’t have been felt.
So. Gangsters. Violence. Crime. Glamour. Exactly the same as photographing the 70th anniversary celebrations of the local theatre group. Perhaps that isn’t quite true, but Scorsese’s lessons in providing context are often key to me when photographing events. I do have great big clunking lenses because there is a time and a place, but as often as I can, I like to work with something smaller, generally a 50mm, and then make a frame which expresses more about an event than a close up would. So here’s a small selection of images where I had the big gun in my hand and then thought of Tommy and that momentarily terrifying moment Henry found himself in.