At the 25th anniversary celebration of “Goodfellas” that closed out the Tribeca Film Festival, the timeless classic received exactly the kind of response one would expect.
The audience cheered every time a major character first popped up on screen. You could hear other people shouting famous lines (“go home and get your f—ing shinebox!”) out as well.
But apparently, not everybody was as enamoured with “Goodfellas” at the beginning.
Director Martin Scorsese says that audiences hated what they first saw.
“I remember the previews were one of the worst experiences of my life — we had three of them and they were all in California,” Scorsese told the crowd in a pre-taped video.
“Goodfellas” is a violent, profanity-laced film that also breaks a lot of conventional cinematic storytelling rules. Perhaps viewers weren’t ready for that.
“It seemed that the audience had to be prepared for what it was, but there was a lot of controversy,” said Scorsese.
The controversy he refers to is the portrayal of Italian-Americans in the film as gangsters. Apparently, this angered the owner of an Italian restaurant Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (author of “Wiseguy,” of which the film is based) used to frequent.
“When the film came out, the owner of the restaurant said we’re not allowed in anymore because we apparently denigrated a certain ethnic group for the picture …” Scorsese said.
Scorsese himself is Italian-American and grew up in New York’s Little Italy. He has dealt with Italian-American identity in several of his other films, including “Mean Streets” and “Raging Bull.”
Scorsese isn’t the first Italian-American director to receive blowback for portraying the mob on film.
“The Sopranos,” created by David Chase, was sued by an Italian-American group for portraying Italians as “born criminals.”
Meanwhile, the Italian-American Civil Rights League (run by notorious mobster Joseph Colombo)successfully lobbied to prevent“The Godfather,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, from using the word “mafia.”
While this controversy never circulated to that level (“Goodfellas” also has Irish and Jewish-Americans as major characters), “Goodfellas” at least showed that Scorsese was aware of prejudice against Italians:
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