Goodfellas: The Title Credits

Features / 08 August 2005

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Like Casino after it, GoodFellas opens with a reminder that the story about to be told is true, followed by a brief scene of un-contextualized violence, followed by a Saul and Elaine Bass title sequence. Unlike Casino, with GoodFellas the Basses embrace the power of sparseness and horizontality in order to convey the docudrama tone of the narrative they are serving. One by one, grey titles and names whiz by over a black background, only to re-emerge for a moment, perfectly still. The film’s title is the only word to appear in red. This dance between speeding up and stopping altogether anticipates the trajectory of Henry Hill‘s life, in which a career as a mafia foot soldier saw him moving ever more quickly, completely losing perspective along the way, until one day he found himself in the FBI’s witness relocation program, his life of excitement grinded to a halt. As was pointed out to me by Chiranjit Goswami, the ceaseless lateral repetition of the title sequence also captures the inability of Hill and his Irish-blooded partner Jimmy Conway to move up through the ranks of the Mafia. Like these protagonists, words can move violently over the screen but must always remain along the plateau that’s been set for them.

The briefly frozen words in the credits anticipate the freeze frames to come. At various moments, Scorsese freezes Henry’s life in mid-action, usually so that Henry can narrate how significant the moment was to his life at the time. The influence of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows upon GoodFellas can be found in these frozen moments, as well as in the conclusion of the film. Freeze frames were necessary for Henry to slow his life down to the point that the viewer could be brought up to speed. Henry as he exits the film, in a bathrobe in the middle of an FBI-approved suburban sprawl, does not need a freeze frame to capture how he feels. His life has been slowed down enough. Whereas Doinel’s face is shocked into uncertainty by the life that lies ahead of him, Henry is captured as the ex-foot soldier he is, miserably trapped in time.

Jason Woloski | © 2005 notcoming.com

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Jason Woloski

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