Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Good Example - Dinner Done Right

We've been talking about routine tasks such as cooking and getting dressed. We started by looking at two ways these kinds of actions are misused in the narrative, with clues to diagnose and tips to repair them. Then yesterday, we looked at the first minute and a half of Lawrence Kasdan's film, The Big Chill, as an example of how routine tasks are manipulated to establish the dominant themes of the film. Today I thought we could take a look at another example from film, this time a classic dinner scene from Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.

First, take a look at the scene. Henry (Ray Liotta) and his partner have been sentenced to ten years for beating up a bookie. This scene takes places in prison.

It's a dinner scene, yes, and it goes into detail about a lot of mundane points: the thinness of the garlic slices, the number of onions, the need for pork in the sauce, the bread, the wine, and so on. But these details serve a deeper purpose by reinforcing the theme. This is a film that attempts to convince us that the mobster's life was glamorous and privileged even as it depicted the grittiness and tawdriness of it all. This scene hits that theme hard. They are in prison. It's not a pretty environment. Paulie wears a bathrobe, black socks, and sandals while he slices the garlic -- far from a glamorous look, and yet it shows us how relaxed his is, even in the cement-block prison environment. A single sheet hangs over the window in place of a curtain, and yet there is a linen tablecloth on the table. The gangsters have lobsters and steaks on ice in a makeshift cooler hidden behind an ugly oilcloth sheet. Everywhere you look, there are these pairings of something ugly with something that speaks to privilege and a better lifestyle.

What else do you notice in this scene that ties into the themes of the movie?


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