Exercise: Goodfellas


We are asked to watch this famous scene from the film Goodfellas (1990) by Martin Scorsese.

What does this scene tell me about the main character?
From the outset I see that he is a formidable man, renowned – but for what is unknown in this clip. He comes across as a bit of a James Bond, a Jack the Lad, keen to impress the lady! He appears easy-going and friendly to all. He gives the impression of being a wealthy businessman. The music accompanying the clip is upbeat and cheery. Yet all the time I watch the scene I have doubts as to how genuine this man is and anticipate something bad is about to happen.

List the ‘clues’ within the scene which point to the above information.

  • Expensive car.
  • Generous with tips.
  • Doesn’t queue for club entry, uses side door.
  • Familiar with behind the scenes layout of club – walks through corridors and the kitchen with confidence and ease.
  • Knows and acknowledges everyone en route.
  • Table is set up specially for him in a prominent position.
  • Champagne is bought for him by another guest.
  • Music is engaging and connects to the unfolding story (narrative).
  • Fast paced filming holds viewers attention.
  • Dark corridors, red club room, shots of faces and expressions suggest a sense of wariness or trouble ahead.

The film clip is constructed to hint at the narrative. This tells us that the viewer relies on what is in front of the camera – props, clothes, location and setting, also colour and sound (in film). So to tell a story in a single photograph is a complex process. In film this is known as ‘mise-en-scene’ literally ‘to put in the scene’.