2015 marks 25 years since Martin Scorsese‘s gangster phenomenon “Goodfellas” landed in theaters. It’s an endlessly rewatchable, wickedly funny, brutally violent and brilliantly incisive example of cinema at both its purest and most coolly, deliciously corrupt. At the time of its making, Scorsese was at exactly that point in his career which he could easily have started a gradual slide into stately irrelevance, having already earned his podium in the Hall Of Fame for his early masterpieces like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.”
His previous few films had seen him move away from his trademark fascination with the visceral and the criminal on the mean streets of New York, since after the box office disappointments of “The King of Comedy” and “After Hours,” he’d begun to explore his more spiritual side with “The Last Temptation of Christ” and the more refined if not necessarily gentler impulses in the short “Life Lessons” (by far the most successful segment of the triptych “New York Stories“). The stage seemed set for the second, mellower act in Scorsese’s career, and for cinephiles to start regarding his upcoming titles with less genuine excitement than dutiful reverence.
“Goodfellas” came out, and all that changed. An elegantly raucous, infectiously entertaining picture that wears its unimpeachable craft so lightly that the seams are absolutely invisible to the naked eye, the film not only made us think the ’90s were gonna be okay, but made us ashamed to have ever suspected that Scorsese might be even marginally slowing down. “Goodfellas” is a stone-cold classic piece of cinema, a wildly enjoyable ride and an untouchable benchmark in the gangster genre all at once.
A great deal of “Goodfellas“‘ greatness lies in how it is more or less the apotheosis of Martin Scorsese‘s unique flair for choosing the perfect music to complement (often through counterpoint) his breathlessly confident images, While various music supervisors he worked with deserve recognition, most frequently Robbie Robertson via “Casino,” “Raging Bull,” “The Departed,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and many more, “Goodfellas” music editor Chris Brook said it best: “Marty once told me that he knew what all of the songs were going to be three years before he shot the film. There was no music supervisor. Marty is the music supervisor.”
So with that in mind, we decided to mark this illustrious anniversary, which sees a special edition Blu-ray of the film released today, by running through, in no particular order, twenty of our favorite Scorsese music moments. And by that we mean not necessarily our favorite tracks that he has used, but the times that the alchemy between picture and track clicks and something transcendent happens in the synthesis. Some films crop up more than once, others not at all, but the only rule we set ourselves in advance was that they be from his narrative features, as opposed to his documentaries (which are often about musicians anyway). Read on and watch too and let us know your favorites in the comments section.
“Jumping Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones from “Mean Streets”
Imagine: at one time, no one knew who the hell this Robert Dinero or DiNiro or whoever was. Could any actor have been gifted a cooler, more insolently iconic introduction to the world than sloping in slo motion into that red-lit dive bar, arms around two chicks, while the irresistibly funky “Jumping Jack Flash” shimmies out of the speakers? “Mean Streets” wasn’t just Robert De Niro‘s breakout, but was Scorsese’s, and great as Harvey Keitel is, it feels like this jangly moment, unpolished as it is in comparison with Scorcese’s later films, is the crucible in which both their individual careers and an indelible cinematic partnership were instantly forged.
“Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon from “The Color of Money”
Somehow capturing the essence of Tom Cruise‘s shit-eating grin and cocky strut as he dances around the pool table in all his naive arrogance, the backing “ah-oooh”s and honky-tonk piano of what is essentially a novelty track from Warren Zevon feel like exactly what this insufferable little prick would peacock around to. This is a great example of using a track to convey character, as the camera circles deliriously around Cruise potting ball after ball, but it also feels like the perfect petty snub to Paul Newman‘s insistently low key, camel-coated Fast Eddie dripping with dismay and disdain.
“Smokestack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf from “The Wolf of Wall Street”
‘Wolf’ was rightly heralded as a return — not to form (he’s never been off form) but to Scorsese Scorsese. The drugs, the brutality, the excess and the voiceover are all back. But it was also the first time since “The Departed” that he used music in his trademark way, after the modern classical tracks of “Shutter Island” and the Howard Shore score for “Hugo.” Here longtime collaborator Robbie Robertson played a strong role, procuring various hard-edged mid-century blues tracks, including this song that rings out over the bacchanalian office party scene and lends an animalistic howl-at-the-moon vibe to the debauchery. It puts the wolf in Wall Street.