Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990: [accessed 24/02/14]
Don’t read on until you’ve answered the following questions.
• What does this scene tell you about the main character?
• How does it do this? List the ‘clues’.
Make some notes in your learning log.


He hands his keys to a minder whose job is to watch his car – quicker than the garage, he says. So he can afford the help and values his time.

There’s quite a queue  waiting to get in to the club but he breezes through, handing a ‘bung’ to the doorman. He didn’t have to negotiate it, he has done it often, they greet each other as regular acquaintances. In fact he knows everyone and emphasises it by using their names when he can.

The chefs and kitchen staff seem familiar with him entering this way as he casts proprietorial glances at the food in preparation. It’s a long walk to the club through the kitchens but nothing, nobody gets in his way… he never breaks stride. Various other ‘green handshakes’ occur throughout the take, which he dispenses from a ready wedge in his inside jacket pocket. In his hands, the cash and his female companion are interchangeable.

His arrival has been keenly anticipated – the space by the stage is soon filled with table, fresh linen and a table lamp. A bottle of something more than acceptable makes an appearance, courtesy of an adjacent group – somebody wants to gain or retain his favour.

From a film making point of view this looks like a tricky setup but it’s actually not as hard as it seems. It’s almost certainly a Steadicam shot so camera support is straightforward. It’s far more difficult from a sound point of view so I’d say it was shot mute and the dialog re-recorded in post production, with the possible exception of the end section, seated round the table. Effects a-plenty added to taste. The background action would be rehearsed tightly without the main talent so they knew what to expect and how to stay out of the way. Then camera rehearsals, then the actual takes. That’s enough reminiscing.

I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know where this bit comes, but the purpose from a cinematic point of view is to establish a character for whom there are no obstacles; he expects nothing to get in his way. This is achieved through action, a technique unavailable to us stills photographers. The interactions with the other confidant and outgoing club-goers serve to emphasise his status in that particular sphere, which I think must be gangsterism. Props, which we do have at our disposal, speak very little in this clip.

I’m a bit unclear what the message is for us photographers, because Scorsese mainly relies on the devices of dialog and action, neither of which are available in stills.