Week 9

Using popular music in film requires precision and purpose. Songs have an innate ability to heighten the emotion of a scene but must be used in a way that serves story rather than merely fill a hole in the sound track. When the proper songs are selected for specific “emotional beats” in the film, the film is given a new and palpable energy. This is the case in Martin Scorsese’s 1990’s gangster masterpiece, Goodfellas. This film features a wide variety of interwoven popular music which is remarkably blended into the film. Scorsese has a tendency to make story developments that synchronize with the music being played. This can be demonstrated in the bar scene when Tommy (Joe Pesci) gets into a fight at a bar with a ‘made’ man. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pQ6fd6iO_c). As the scene and the setting are introduced a happy “pop” song is played which helps create a festive atmosphere before the scene turns sour. As the conversation between Tommy and the ‘made’ man heads south, the music begins to dim providing a correlation between the mood in the scene and the volume of the soundtrack. When the conversation explodes into a full blown screaming match, the music is completely cut helping to create the strong juxtaposition with the volume level of the music that existed at the introduction of the scene. This sound automation has a powerful effect on the viewer’s perception and helps to add dramatic tension. The sudden void in the soundtrack makes the silence speak louder than it would have had the song never been played. This sound synchronization with film truly adds another level of complexity to the movie.

Music is also used in this film to show the attitudes on different characters. This can be seen in the bar scene featuring an increasingly annoyed Robert DeNiro who is sick of Maury approaching him and asking for the money he feels entitled too. (https://youtu.be/FmF_Phk6eIE). In this scene, we see DeNiro take a drag of his cigarette and give Maury a look that summarizes the detest DeNiro’s character has for Maury. As the camera begins to push in on DeNiro, the infamous opening riff to Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” plays in the soundtrack indicating audibly exactly what DeNiro plans on doing to Maury. A popular rock song combined with DeNiro’s tough exterior and Scorsese’s masterful camera framing created one of the most menacing shots in the history of cinema. The reading Case Study Good Fellas says “the second level of musical allusionism […] highlights the authorial expressivity by commenting on characters rather than speaking from there point of view” (52). I believe this is especially evident in this shot because the music speaks to DeNiro’s characters tough personality by using a classic rock song to define his tough exterior rather a dark musical number that directly expresses his hatred towards Maury. I believe that Scorsese’s use of music in this film was impeccable and helped add another level of intricacy to the movie.

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