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How Goodfellas served as a bridge between The Godfather and The Sopranos

  • Martin Scorsese's epic mafia movie Goodfellas premiered 30 years ago this month, featuring 27 future Sopranos actors, including Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Vincent Pastore and Frank Vincent. David Chase credits Goodfellas for helping inspire him to create The Sopranos. While The Godfather revolutionized the movies and The Sopranos revolutionized TV, Goodfellas didn't revolutionize anything, says Brian Phillips. "Where The Sopranos one-upped Goodfellas was in a kind of materialist cynicism," says Phillips. "It portrays the 'fun' Tony and his gang pursue as mostly not even very fun; another generation forward in time, Tony and his crew aren’t even motivated by the kind of deeply rooted community ties that make the world of Goodfellas so vibrant. They just want the same capitalist bullsh*t, the big SUVs and soulless McMansions, as everyone else. What seemed sizzly and transgressive in Goodfellas looks, in The Sopranos, exhausted and trashy. If the characters in Goodfellas are like little boys with guns, they have something of the innocence of little boys, even in their adult vices. Wow! Cocaine is amazing! In The Sopranos, the protagonists have lost this innocence. They’re teenagers playing with toys because they can’t think of anything better to do, which makes the fun darker and the queasiness more constant. But the later work is still indebted to the theme of the earlier. Where The Godfather asked, 'Do you like watching this now that you know what you were watching?' and Goodfellas answered, 'You’ll like watching it even if you know from the beginning,' The Sopranos threw up its hands and said, 'Why the f*ck do you like watching this?' In a way, by structuring itself around the arc of psychotherapy, The Sopranos arguably represents a partial return toward the old moral grandeur of The Godfather. Chase raises huge questions about redemption and trauma that Scorsese’s characters would dismiss with a shrug. The stakes of humanism matter in The Sopranos, and Chase needs you to know it; Goodfellas, sticking closely to the perspectives of its protagonists, doesn’t bother with any of that fancy stuff, not when there are airports to rob and furs to swipe off trucks. And its very indifference to the big questions, its relentless focus on pettiness and pleasure, leads it someplace less theoretical and more devastating." ALSO: The Sopranos memes are having a moment in 2020.

    TOPICS: The Sopranos, HBO, David Chase, Martin Scorsese, The Godfather, Retro TV