3.09.2005

Let us rejoice & let us sing & dance & ring in the new, hail Atlantis!

One of my favorite parts of Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (1990) is the barroom scene in which Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) pummel Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) while Henry (Ray Liotta) looks on. As strange as it sounds, I think the scene is handled with a lot of sensitivity -- I mean, check out Henry's expression of angst as he rushes to lock the front door, and the way the three goodfellas, later in the scene, gingerly wrap Billy's twitching body in tablecloths.

But you know what really makes the scene come together for me? The music.

The song playing in the bar is "Atlantis" by Donovan, which is already great song by a great artist, but coupled with the onscreen action takes on a whole new meaning. The song is a psychedelic celebration of the once-bustling island which, after the flood, became submerged "way down below" the Atlantic Ocean. There's something about the way the song's volume increases at Donovan reaches the song's repetitive, but dramatic, climax, "Way down below the ocean, where I want to be, she may be, way down below the ocean, where I want to be, she may be..." that really makes this a really memorable film moment for me, a real classic.

It is strangely satisfying, ultimately, for such a delicate, contemplative song to be constrasted with such graphic, spontaneous, messy onscreen violence (the end of this scene is actually the first scene of the film, which accommodates a tantamount level of violence). The song's slow and dramatic build-up complements Billy's "Go home and get your shinebox" egging-on of Tommy, which is the spark that sets the wheels of violence in motion.

It was also Martin Scorsese's idea to use The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" in the opening scene of "Mean Streets." That genius!

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11 Comments:

Blogger JLM said...

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4:58 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger JLM said...

That is a great scene. And Scorsese is, of course, great at matching a song to a scene, especially in that way that takes you by surprise, that way that can redefine the song--- at least for as long as the scene lasts. A more obvious choice for the scene you're talking about would have been something like Frank Sinatra's "My Way," but instead he goes with this bubblegum poppy tune and because of the contrast of the song, with the content of the scene, the violence is much more striking.

Also gotta love his use of a love song like "Layla" during the montage where we see the discovery of all the dead bodies after DeNiro's character starts whacking everybody.

5:02 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Jenny said...

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9:12 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger Jenny said...

The "My Way" scene at the end of Goodfellas is definitely great! Ramen noodles and ketchup? Hilarious!

In one of the biographies I read about him, Scorsese says placing music in films comes easy for him: When he was younger, he was really sickly with different afflictions and, because he couldn't go outside, he would sit by his window and look out at the streets of Little Italy, and would see, for example, a couple of guys scuffling while he was listening to some song like Please Mr. Postman on the radio. And it rubbed off on his musical choices for his films.

And good call, I can't imagine a more fitting song for the bodies scene in Goodfellas than Layla. One of the coolest things about employing that song, I think, is the song has so many parallels to the film: Here you start out with this frenetic camerawork and non-stop action throughout the first half of the film, and at that point in the movie, the action comes grinding to a halt as the goodfellas begin reconsidering their lifestyles. Sort of like the song, which at first is full of screeching guitars and a wailing Eric Clapton, then tempo changes and the tune sounds like an entirely different song with that long piano outro.

I love at the end of "After Hours" when Paul Hackett takes a quarter, the only money to his name, and puts Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" on the jukebox in the biker bar. It's so great because the song's lyrics "Is that ALL there is? Why not just end it all? really suit Paul's situation, because the whole movie he's thinking, god, can this night get any worse? "Is that all there is?" Sidenote: PJ Harvey does a pretty good cover of the song.

9:14 PM, March 10, 2005  
Blogger george said...

I can't say much for Donovan, but I dig that song. It's way too repetitive for most people, but I love that about it. It was one of those songs that would come on the Oldies station and beguile me, much like "The Rain, The Park and Othe Things" by The Cowsills, which I ADORE.

12:56 AM, March 11, 2005  
Blogger george said...

I can't say much for Donovan, but I dig that song. It's way too repetitive for most people, but I love that about it. It was one of those songs that would come on the Oldies station and beguile me, much like "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" by The Cowsills, which I ADORE.

12:57 AM, March 11, 2005  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I love that song too (and Donovan for that matter), it just builds and builds and repeats itself over and over but somehow I don't get sick of it. Did anyone see the Simpsons' parody Atlanta? ("Ted Turner, and the magician..."

3:09 PM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I love that song too (and Donovan for that matter), it just builds and builds and repeats itself over and over but somehow I don't get sick of it. Did anyone see the Simpsons' parody Atlanta? ("Ted Turner, and the magician..."

3:09 PM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I love that song too (and Donovan for that matter), it just builds and builds and repeats itself over and over but somehow I don't get sick of it. Did anyone see the Simpsons' parody Atlanta? ("Ted Turner, and the magician..."

3:12 PM, March 12, 2005  
Blogger Jenny said...

Oh man, Jeremy, I had no idea you were a Donovan fan, too! Do you have Barabajagal and Hurdy Gurdy Man? Christ, dude put out some good albums. We should have a Donovan listening party.

6:48 PM, March 13, 2005  
Blogger Jenny said...

And I did not see the Simpsons Atlanta parody but it sounds hilarious! Did you see their "Rock Me Amadeus" spoof where they substituted "Hot potatoes hot potatoes" (or whatever it was) in the chorus? Ha! Ha!

6:50 PM, March 13, 2005  

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