Goodfellas Film Analysis

September 28, 2009

Goodfellas Club Scene


Camera and Editing

The scene opens with a close up of two character’s hands exchanging a set of car keys. Then the camera zooms out into a very brief establishing mid shot, showing three characters; two men and a woman. The main character, Henry Hill joins the woman (his date) and the camera starts to track them from behind. They go down into the club’s basement, skipping the queue and at which point the audience are taken through, what appears to be, a complex kind of maze through the club’s chaotic kitchen and hallways.

Already we can get a sense that the main character has something dark and very underground about him. This is because he somehow has the power over these people working at the club, to be privileged enough to skip the club’s queue. During the characters’ voyage through the kitchens, it is at this point the audience gets a real sense of the ‘buzz’ of the club and the importance the main character has. This is because some of the cooks are happily greeting him and making way for him and his girlfriend to pass. The camera still tracks them from behind and at one point Henry peers over to the side to look at something. The camera briefly follows this movement only to show another cook happily acknowledging him. Always keeping a few metres away from the main characters, the camera shows several extra actors walking past behind them. Though it is a simple technique, it adds to the buzzing, chaotic atmosphere and perhaps even makes the audience want to be amongst all this excitement.

Interestingly enough this whole scene is all one shot. I think this is very effective. If there had been any cuts during the characters’ voyage, the audience would not get the idea of this complex maze they must battle through to get to the main part of the club. Tracking characters’ progress from behind is almost creating the effect that something is chasing them, which perhaps adds to the suspense of this gangster mob film.


Sound and Editing


During the exchanging of the keys, there is non-diegitic sound of jazzy music in the background. This music begins quite loud at the opening of the scene. This is perhaps to greet or alert the audience that there is new and exciting scene about to begin. However the volume of the music soon decreases as the first few lines of dialogue are spoken. The music stays at this moderate volume until the characters reach the main area inside the club.  


When the characters are crossing the road at the beginning, the diegitic sounds (i.e. people chatting, the traffic on the road, the footsteps of the characters etc) are at a moderate level. However the volume of the dialogue has been increased at this moment, so it is not drowned out by all the diegitic sounds. Whereas in reality, the noise of traffic usually drowns out people’s conversations. Near the moment when the two characters walk down the stairs, some rhythmical percussion enters into the music, which builds up more excitement to the scene. This is effective because the film has entered a new phase in the scene. The characters were outside, but now they are inside, so the music compliments this change of setting.


Through the maze of the hallway, the occasional dialogue is spoken. The main character, Henry greets people in quite a loud, chirpy voice showing that he is comfortable in this club and the people there seem to respect him. His loud talking perhaps adds to his power he has over these people as well. However this gets the audience asking questions; “Why is this character so important? Why is being treated like a King at this club?” 


Henry enters the kitchens with his date and at this point, the diegitic sounds of the kitchen raises to quite loud level almost draining out the non-diegitic music. Henry greets some people even louder than before to show that he is struggling to be heard in this loud area. Once they leave the kitchen and into the main area of the club, the diegitic sounds gently fade out and even the music has slightly quietened. This is perhaps to create the effect of a much calmer atmosphere. Though the club is still full of people and noise, in my opinion it is no way near as chaotic as the kitchens.


At this point, Henry and is date are greeted by another, and what appears to be, a very powerful man. This man orders to get a table ‘down in front’ for the couple and then the camera pans off to the side to show a waiter carrying this table. Though the camera is now not focusing on Henry and this other man, we still hear their voices loud and clear as if they were up close to the camera. This perhaps makes the audience keep their focus on Henry because as we can still hear his voice, we know that he will appear on the camera once again soon. When the table is placed down at the front very close to the stage, Henry and his girl take their seats. Once they are settled, the girl asks ‘What exactly do you do?’ and he replies, ‘I’m in construction.’ We know very well that Henry is not in construction, as people would not care to treat an ordinary construction worker like some God in a club. This highlights how effective this scene is. The audience has not been told directly what Henry does for a living, but what they do know it must be something quite secretive, dark, dangerous and underground.




There were lots of characters and objects in this one shot scene and I suppose it made it easier for the director in some cases. This is because if there were any cuts, then the mis-en scene would always have to be correct in every cut, which would be very difficult in this busy scene. However as it was only one shot this was not of concern.


There are many extras in this scene perhaps to show the popularity of this club. Also the other characters’ reactions to Henry and his date are quite important. Especially the moment they enter the main area of the club, as they casually walk past the queue to get a table. Not only are these people queuing annoyed but slightly questioning to why this mysterious character has such privilege over them.


In conclusion, I think this scene is very effective at how it portrays this character to be very powerful with minimum dialogue and the use of setting. It also is very effective at showing how this club is the club to go in town with the use of the non-diegitic music and the mis-en scene. It is obvious to see that Henry is a main character as well, as he is the subject on camera. In this one shot scene, it is only very few times the camera pans off to the side away from Henry. However, although very powerful the main character may be, the audience cannot help get a little suspicious of him and this is one of the reasons why people enjoy films. Films can make events very realistic, encouraging the audience to get attached to the story and characters. In my opinion this scene in Goodfellas has done exactly that. I have taken a great interest in this character, Henry and after watching this, I am now considering watching the whole film.


One comment

  1. Excellent, Sally. I really enjoyed reading this very perceptive analysis. You clearly understand the techniques the director is using to present the character to the audience and you use technical terms with confidence. One small point: please note the spelling of DIEGETIC and NON-DIEGETIC. You are getting them wrong at the moment and it’s important you spell these correctly as you’ll be using them a lot!!

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