Martin Scorsese had a couple of rules to follow when it was time to choose the songs that would be included in Goodfellas, and it definitely shows.
Goodfellas is one of Martin Scorsese’s most memorable works for many reasons, including its soundtrack, which was carefully curated by him. Although Martin Scorsese has explored various genres throughout his career, he continues to be best known for his gangster movies, which explore themes like guilt, redemption, and the Italian-American identity. Out of all his gangster movies, the one often regarded as his best is Goodfellas, released in 1990.
Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas tells the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), from his days as a teenager fascinated by the mafia presence in his neighborhood, to his involvement with the crime family of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and his decision to become an FBI informant. Goodfellas is regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made and has been praised for its performances, direction, and story, earning various awards including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor thanks to Joe Pesci’s performance as Tommy DeVito. Another widely praised element from Goodfellas is its soundtrack, which went through a special process so it would fit the narrative as Scorsese wanted.
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Goodfellas used popular music for its soundtrack and had no incidental score, and Scorsese had some rules when it came to picking the songs that would make it to the movie. First off, the songs had to be contemporary to or older than the scene’s setting – for example, if the scene was set in 1970, the songs playing had to be either from that year or older. Another rule for choosing the songs was that they had to comment on the scene or the characters “in an oblique way”, which helps elevate the viewing experience. There are some scenes where the lyrics of the songs were put between lines of dialogue to comment on what’s happening on the screen, and in other cases, the song represents the emotional and mental state of the characters, as happens when The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” plays during the scene where Henry is cutting cocaine at his mistress’ place.
Another notable example of Scorsese’s close attention to detail when it came to the soundtrack of Goodfellas is the “Sunshine of Your Love” scene. In it, Morrie returns to the bar after having a conversation with Henry in a separate room, and the camera turns its attention to Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” starts playing as the camera gets closer to Jimmy. This is the moment where Jimmy begins to contemplate how and when to kill Morrie, enhanced by the song’s line “it’s getting near dawn, when lights close their tired eyes”, representing that Morrie’s end is near. In addition to that, after Henry is arrested in his driveway by the DEA, before he becomes an informant, there’s no more music until the end credits.
Martin Scorsese had some of the music from Goodfellas written into the script and other songs were added during the editing phase, depending on the rhythm and the actions of each scene. The soundtrack of Goodfellas is another example of Martin Scorsese’s attention to detail, and an excellent example of how the right songs can enhance a story, sometimes in very subtle ways that viewers subconsciously catch during their first viewings.
Next: Goodfellas: The Biggest Things The Movie Leaves Out About Henry Hill
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