CAN 5 Exercise 1.1
What does this scene from Goodfellas tell you about the main character? How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.
From the very start of this scene it is clear that our main character is an insider at the Copacabana nightclub, and as the scene progresses we get a growing sense that he is actually someone very special in this swanky environment – a boss or bigshot of some kind. The scene climaxes as we realise that he is in fact a member of a mafia family, and is treated with great respect by other mafiosi.
The clues that provide us with this growing understanding of our character include:
– He doesn’t have to wait: someone else will park his car, and he enters the club through the kitchen instead of the main entrance. “Better than waiting in line,” he tells his companion.
– He passes the car valet a banknote in a casual manner that tells us he has done it many times before and that their relationship is well understood by both parties.
– The music places us in the early 1960s. Everyone queuing outside the club is in formal evening dress, indicating that our character inhabits a glamorous environment.
– He passes the doorman a banknote in the same casual manner. They are on first-name terms (“How you doing, Gino?”) and he is very much at home here (“Every time I come here, every time…”), with access to all areas.
– As he walks through the bustling kitchen, everyone gets out of his way to let him pass. No one is annoyed by his intrusion; they all know him and greet him or smile in a relaxed manner that tells us his detour is not an unusual or unexpected occurrence.
– Many people are working in the kitchen and they are all in bright, clean whites. This is not just some run-of-the-mill restaurant, it’s a place with class.
– When he reaches the clubroom he again walks right past the queue of people waiting for tables. “Anything you need, just let me know!” the front of house manager shouts after him.
– Instantly, waiters are on the scene with a table for him and a place appears in the crowded room for it to occupy. And while everyone else is crammed in, our character’s table has open space around it like an aura, setting him apart both physically and metaphorically from the other guests. We begin to realise that our character is more than ordinary special; he is special special!
– “Mr Tony” gifts our character a bottle, presented by the waiter with a reverence that seems to relate to both the wine and our character, who thanks Mr Tony with “Salud!”, a US Italian slang word with connotations of familial closeness (Vgutzeit, n.d.).
– Mr Tony’s white tie and tinted glasses mark him out as a stereotypical 1960s mafia gangster, literally a “shady” character, pretending to pass incognito and accompanied by his henchmen. He acknowledges our character’s thanks with a casual hand gesture, two fingers up, two down, that is familiar and understated, letting us know that these two people know each other extremely well.
– Our character’s companion knows that the treatment he is receiving is not normal, and is clearly unconvinced by his claim to be “in construction”. We see her trying to read the clues and we follow her lead in piecing them together,
References and resources
Vgutzeit (n.d.) ‘Dictionary Tour: Salud, chindon’, in Italian American Culture. Available at https://italianamericancultureblog.wordpress.com/2013/11/13/dictionary-tour-salud-chindon [accessed 21.09.18]