How do you capture one of the most iconic scenes ever?
Goodfellas is one of the best (if not the best) mafia movies ever made. I love it so much because the whole movie has an energy to it. The camerawork is enthralling, steeping us in the underworld of organized crime...making us feel like we're right there filling The Bamboo Lounge with lifesaving laughter as Tommy "closes" his tab.
But if we're going to talk about Goodfellas and camerawork, obviously we have to completely explore the Steadicam long take leading Henry and Karen into the Copacabana. It's an iconic scene that not only tells us so much about the story but also gives the audience a connection to what it's like to be a gangster.
But shooting the scene was so hard, and you don't have to take our word for it. The Steadicam operator, Larry McConkey, will tell you so.
Check out this video showing how the epic cinematography was achieved behind the scenes.
I love listening to McConkey talk about the Copa shot. Hearing what it was like to work with Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta, and DP Michael Balhaus. Truly, the best part for me was hearing how Liotta (Henry Hill) improvised some of the most memorable moments in the whole movie.
And how they had to seamlessly shoot around lighting for the exterior, the kitchen interior, and then inside the club as well.
Here is an even more behind the scenes looks at the shot in question, as they block it out.
The whole idea behind this scene is seduction.
Henry is not only seducing Karen, but Scorsese is seducing the audience with the gangster lifestyle that is afforded to Henry. We're given an omniscient point of view, following Henry and Karen like voyeurs. We are getting the same treatment as she does within the scene.
To make a short like this work, it's all hands on deck. The set decorators had to make hallways look like different rooms, the actors had to stick to their blocking, and they had to run the whole thing many times to make sure it wound up perfect.
All of this is compounded with all the extras moving in and out with trays, dishes, drinks, and creating a chaotic environment that adds to the fun.
Finally, check out the finished product below.
For me, this is Scorsese at his peak. I love this movie so much and think we cannot possibly talk about it enough.
Do you love the scene or think it's overrated? Let me know in the comments.