Exercise 5.1 – Setting the scene (P.109)

Watch this famous scene from Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese in 1990:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 [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.


The scene is a single shot of Henry Hill, the lead character, taking Karen Friedman to the Copacobana nightclub.

The scene tells us quite a lot about Henry:

  • He is literally and metaphorically a man who knows his way around.
  • He is determined to get what he wants and to get it quickly
  • He is well connected and respected
  • He is a man of the people
  • He is affluent and happy to use his wealth to get what he wants

The scene starts with Henry handing his car keys to a parking attendent and Karen expressing suprise and concern about this. Henry replies that it quicker and easier than leaving at a garage and waiting, thus high-lighting two things that are important to him.

Crossing the road, rather than joining the queue of people hoping to enter the club, Henry takes Karen down some stairs to a door which he opens, and hands the doorman a tip. As Herny and Karen walk along the corridor he greets several people, addressing some by name, before entering a kitchen. As Herny threads his way through the kitchen he greets a waiter and before entering the seating area in the club.  The greeting of the workers in the club signifies his man of the people credentials and his tipping of the doorman shows his wealth and his willingness to pay to get what he wants.

Once in the dining room rather than waiting in line to be offered a table, the maitre d’ beckons Henry forward and instructs one the the waiters, Anthony, to place a table ‘right at the front’. In the background we hear diners who had been waiting in line asking why they can’t get a table. This signifies that Henry is an important customer, someone who deserves the best seats in the house and someone who should not be kept waiting.

As he takes his seat Henry tips the waiters $20 each before greeting the guests at the table behind him. Once seated at his table Karen comments on the amount of the tips implying it was too much, Henry replies that it was ok and then receives a bottle of champagne from Mr Tony who is seated nearby. It’s not clear if Henry knows Mr Tony, but obviously Herny is someone important and to be feted.

Once they are seated Karen asks Henry what he does, initally he pretends not hear and when Karen asks again, he quickly responds that he is in construction. When challenged as his hands are too soft, he replies that he’s a union delegate. As soon as Henry has replied we hear a drum roll and cymbal crash, ostensably it is the band introducing a comedian, however, I think it is timed to indicate that Henry’s reply is a punchline, a bit of an in joke.

The plot of the film is the rise and subsequent fall of Henry Hill and the scene of his entry to the Copacobana club is a metaphor for his upslope of his career, entering at the bottom, using his contacts, and greasing people’s palms to get to the prime postition.

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