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Having been blown up by a car bomb, Sam Rothstein finds himself falling through a hyperbolized fireball as Bach‘s “Matthaus Passion” plays elegiac over the soundtrack. Rothstein is either in hell, or well on his way to it. Fire transitions into the crimson lights of the Las Vegas Strip, and Rothstein keeps falling. Flames shoot up from the bottom of the frame, engulfing a screen covered with abstractionist shots of Las Vegas signage and illumination. Rothstein descends quickly over the superimpositions, then disappears entirely.
The Bass‘ vision of hell accurately summarizes the narrative ahead, without ruining any of the narrative surprises Scorsese has in store for the viewer. “Ace” Rothstein’s rise and fall was conducted in grand fashion, and while his journey hardly reflects the re-birthing themes introduced by Bach’s Easter piece, Rothstein nevertheless emerged as the sole survivor to his own story. Like many a great Bass sequence, the combination of image and sound urges the viewer to consider theme: Las Vegas as the most tempting hell on Earth,
Rothstein’s desperate fear of losing control as reflected through his out of control freefall, and his increasing inability to maintain perspective on what is going on around him - see the size of his eyeglasses at the end of the film - even as his world becomes more hectic and bizarre. For someone who obsessively managed his surroundings and fought off chaos through a talent for prediction, numbers, and logic, the increasingly disarrayed and nonsensical imagery provided by the Bass’ is an underworld tailored to Rothstein’s particular weaknesses. Rothstein spent most of his Vegas days restraining unruliness, both in and out of the Tangiers’s pits. The Bass’ opening montage sets Rothstein well on his way to the calamitous life beyond repair Scorsese has in store for him.