Food Movies: Episode 1 - Goodfellas
At first glance it may seem like an uncommon cinematic choice in a subject like food, but that doesn't mean gangster or action movies can't deliver sizzling culinary thrills. What were you expecting? A romantic comedy perhaps? NO!
Let's see together how food is expressed, how it is represented and what the world of food conveys in masterpieces of cinema. First up: Goodfellas.
The film was born from the novel "Wiseguy", by the American writer Nicholas Pileggi: based on the history and life of Henry Hill, mafioso and member of the Lucchese family between 1955 and 1980.
The movie landed on the big screen in 1990 with the direction of the cinematic giant Martin Scorsese, helped by the creator of the novel itself.
Cocaine, sex, violence: all seasoned with a magnificent sprinkling of good old-fashioned blues.
We are going to see two scenes (plus one surprising one) in which the food not only has a task of background or enrichment of the scene, but where it is made the protagonist and even a determinant to the continuity of the film plot.
Obviously, being the representation of a novel on screen, we cannot define that even in the real unfolding of the historical facts, that food compromised or helped Henry Hill.
Prison Life at its Best
"Now take me to jail" is exclaimed to the taxi driver, while the intro to Frank Sinatra's masterpiece "Somewhere Beyond the Sea" plays in the background.
Thus begins one of the most iconic scenes of American cinema.
Henry Hill ends up in jail together with his boss Paul Vario and two other collaborators of the family.
The succession of delicacies, preparations and fine materials is the perfect representation of what "jail" means to the wise guys.
That's right, they experience it differently.
In the foreground you can see how the boss, head of the family, implements his own special technique for slicing garlic, with a razor.
According to the voiceover (Henry Hill himself), the slices were so thin that they "liquefied with just a drop of oil."
The tomato sauce with the meat and onions, which accompany and caress the meatballs, specifically prepared with "veal, beef and pork" by Vinnie.
Poor Vinnie, always scolded by his mates for being too generous with the onions in the sauce:
and justified himself with "three, just three little onions for two big cans of tomato sauce." In addition to Henry, Paul, and Vinnie in the cell, there was also Johnny Dio, the expert and the man in charge of the steaks in the pan.
"How do you want yours Henry?"
"Rare, medium rare"
"We have an aristocrat" Johnny will comment, representing a real cameo, being the actual father of the director.
And the supplies?
Perhaps the most comical but most telling part of the good guys' total control over justice.
We see guards carrying entire boxes with lobsters on ice to the jailed Lucchese.
Henry, through secrets and bribery, manages to deliver entire bags containing every delicacy to his colleagues: "salami, ham, lots of cheese, scotch, red wine and white wine.”
The Sauce Which Led to an Arrest
In the scenes preceding the film's conclusion, we see how Henry Hill is arrested for dealing and possessing cocaine; a succession of scenes charged with anxiety and agitation since the morning of the fateful day.
The plan was to be simple: prepare a traditional Italian lunch and then think about dealing.
The guards have been following him all day, and he knows it!
But that's not all that will give him boredom and torment that day.
What could be of such importance that would come to mind for someone who knows he's being followed by the FBI?
The sauce, the sauce for the ziti (a typical pasta of southern Italy).
That's right, because between one packet of “snow” and another, the terror of "making the sauce stick" keeps him constantly sweating.
And it was his brother, the guest of the day at the Hill house, who was given the task of keeping the sauce from sticking to the pan.
It was the classic Neapolitan ragout, a sauce made with various types of meat (pork and veal) and tomato puree.
As an appetizer, breaded and fried cutlets. To accompany everything, "green beans sautéed in a pan with garlic and oil".
In short, the Italian blood does not lie, business or not, crime or not, "you must keep stirring" the sauce.
A Little Extra: Dinner at Mom's
Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy, the three real protagonists of the film, end up at the latter's house after a wild, or rather, criminal night out.
It was supposed to be a simple stop to retrieve a kitchen knife: no, they weren't supposed to cut onions.
Instead, they are greeted by a sweet and welcoming old lady, Tommy's mother.
She invites them to stop, and after some hesitation on the part of the wise guys, they agree to stop for a warm and refreshing meal.
So far, nothing special.
Instead, the mother in the scene is actually not the mother of one of the protagonists of the film, but rather of the legend behind the camera.
Catherine Scorsese, Martin's mother, born in New York and with Sicilian origins.
The director's love for cooking, and especially home cooking, led him to include not only his mother in the scene: but most of the recipes and dishes featured in the film are originally from Mrs. Scorsese.
If that is not enough for you to understand how much food and its atmosphere is embedded in Scorsese's DNA, another key work of Scorsese’s career came out in 1996: "Italianamerican: The Scorsese Family Cookbook". Who knew masterful cinematography and masterful Italian cooking went so well together.