"Reality distortion field", "Think Different", apple, Apple Inc., biography, Book Review, Dead Poet's Society, history, iMac, iPad, iPhone, ipod, John Keating, MacBook Pro, Mackintosh, mortality, Perception, Personal Computer Industry, Personal Computer Movement, Personal Computers, reflection, Science, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs was an Asshole...Let's be Real here, Steve Wozniak, technology, Walter Isaacson
Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?—John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society
This essay was written on a MacBook Pro, and that should hopefully speak to the quality of the book. Product endorsement really isn’t my strong suit, and so I suppose starting this essay off by noting my shift to Apple products might not be the best way to begin writing about Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs, and in fact if it were not for my grandfather I doubt I would have made the actual switch.
My grandfather, as long as I can remember of the man, was the sort of person who could not tolerate small talk. The annual birthday meetings between him and my parents were not the casual get togethers where people would talk about television shows and try to treat desperately about the weather. I never remember small talk because my grandfather couldn’t do small talk. Rather the conversations would be about the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the politics of the day, my grandfather’s thoughts about the history of the Catholic Church, his success with certain carpentry tools, and sometimes his early fascination with computers. I tend to recall more his conversations about Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic philosophers, which is somewhat amusing given the fact that the man was married three times putting him into something charmingly referred to as a lapsed Catholic. But I do remember on the few occasions he spoke about his preference of personal computers, a term I really wouldn’t appreciate until reading Steve Jobs, and I remember him talking in great esteem of something called a Macintosh.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the computer my grandfather was gushing about positively were the exact same computers I was using in my computer classes at school to paint pictures and play educational games. Apple products were apparently always around when I was young, but I couldn’t see the fruit for the trees. That’s a play on words you see because Apple’s logo is an actual apple. On an entirely separate not I’ve also ordered a white mug with the multicolored logo that bears the inscription “Think Different,” and since buying my MacBook Pro, I’ve looked into getting an iPad
and eventually a desktop iMac. My little sister has charmingly decided to call me an “Apple Whore” after she saw the Apple logo keychain I had printed up using the library’s 3-D Printer.
I suppose I am one now, and observing this metamorphosis I realize that, even after death, Jobs has managed to continue to inspire individual people using his awe and charisma that, some would argue, tended to overshadow the man’s faults.
Before I finally sat down to read Steve Jobs (listen is the more appropriate word since I’m slowly chugging through the audiobook) I was aware of the book because my grandfather had a copy. The book came out and became a sensation, and it seemed for a while that the proliferation of the book was akin to actual Apple Products, you just couldn’t get away from it. Somehow or another I avoided having to actually sit down and read it, largely because I discovered Christopher Hitchens about the time the book came out. It was thankfully then through Hitch that I determined the quality of Walter Isaacson as a biographer. I read his Benjamin Franklin , and I intend to sit down and read his Henry Kissinger and Einstein as soon as I get the chance. It was because of these connections that I knew enough about the book to know it was worth my time, and I borrowed it from my grandfather intending to read it.
It’s been within the last year or so that his dementia started, and so I’ve lost the grandfather who was such a powerful intellect. But I still had his copy of Steve Jobs, so I started it and have now become an Apple Whore.
Isaacson deserves every bit of credit he gets for Steve Jobs, because even during the most pedantic periods of the man’s life feels vital and important to understanding the qualities of Jobs as an individual man. Passages that describe board-room meetings and phone calls become part of the great drama that became Steve Jobs’s life, and even when discussing the jargon ladened aspects of computer design Isaacson’s books never loses its sense of pace or direction. The reader is constantly observing the man of Steve Jobs. They see his highs his lows, his individual strengths, and his faults that at time have left me both shocked and repulsed. Isaacson deserves credit for this previous point as well given the fact that the temptation of biography is at times to write about the idea of someone rather than the real actual meat and bone of a human being.
And the first impression from Isaacson’s book that really hits me is how much I relate to Jobs in a sense of impending doom. In one passage he cites Jobs’s notion of his own mortality:
Jobs confided in Sculley that he believed he would die young, and therefore he needed to accomplish things quickly so that he would make his mark on Silicon Valley history. “We all have a short period of time on this earth,” he told the Sculley’s as they sat around the table that morning. “We probably only have the opportunity to do a few things really great and do them well. None of us has any idea how long we’re going to be here, nor do I, but my feeling is I’ve got to accomplish a lot of these things while I’m young. (155).
Recognition is one of the most powerful feelings someone can experience. It was “recognizing” Bruce Bechdel on the cover of Fun Home that helped me realize that I was queer, and it was “recognizing” Brian’s confession to Stewie in Family Guy that I really saw my suicidal thoughts for what they were. Reading Steve Jobs, I recognized someone again, because I’ve recognized a similar trait in myself. It might just be my soul-crushing morbidity that I write off as it’s own form of practicality, but I’m always aware of some kind of feeling that my life is not going to be terribly long. Part of this is rational understanding of genetics, my family doesn’t have a great track record (unless you’re a woman on my mother’s side) of a long life. The other half of this is just some kind of irrational premonition.
A person’s perception of their own life and world can be a powerful thing, and not just because it can drive you to success overall. What is consistently remarkable about the man Steve Jobs is how much I find myself remarking that the man was an unconscionable prick. There are numerous passages in the book of Jobs being either purposefully spiteful to friends, employees, competitors, or even people he simply didn’t know. It’s a common occurrence in the book to hear the man speak of a person’s work as “shit” to their face, and this became part of the man’s personality to his friends and workers. This dramatic honesty could work in both ways and the reader is quick to learn of something called “the reality distortion field.”
If the reader has never watched Star Trek (don’t feel alone I’ve never watched it either) Isaacson explains it in chapter eleven.
Tribble said that Jobs would not accept any contrary facts. “The best way to describe the situation is a term from Star Trek,” Tribble explained. “Steve has a reality distortion field.” When Hertzfeld looked puzzled, Tribble Elaborated. “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules. (117-8).
Isaacson continues this character trait on the following page offering a more detailed analysis:
At the root of the reality distortion was Job’s belief that the rules didn’t apply to him. He had some evidence for this; in his childhood, he had often been able to bend reality to his desires. Rebelliousness and willfulness were ingrained into his character. He had the sense that he was special, a chosen one, an enlightened one. “He thinks there are a few people who are special—people like Einstein and Gandhi, and the gurus he met in India—and he’s one of them,” says Hertzfeld. “He hold Chrisann this. Once he even hinted to me that he was enlightened. It’s almost like Nietzsche.” Jobs never studied Nietzsche, but the Philosopher’s concept of the will to power and the special nature of the Überman came naturally to him. […]. If reality did not comport with his will, he would ignore it, as he had done with the birth of his daughter and would do years later, when first diagnosed with cancer. Even in small everyday rebellions, such as not putting a license plate on his car and parking it in handicapped spaces, he acted as if he were not subject to the strictures around him. (119).
The reader can surely find their own examples of Jobs’s prickishness, and I should address that before the reader raises concerns. Isaacson’s biography never sugar-coats Jobs’s behavior, and when they arrive at the conception and rejection of his first child during the early days of Apple they’re sure to consider putting the book down wondering why they would ever want to learn more about a man who accused his lover with sleeping half the population of the world. I don’t have any defenses for this behavior, nor do I offer any.
Jobs was a man who, obviously, lived life by his own rules and that at times created unnecessary conflict and behavior that is, to quote my little sister, “slap-worthy.” What then is the relevance of reading about the man’s life?
Jobs could be, to borrow one of Isaacson’s favorite adjectives, “Cold” and this behavior isn’t always excusable. But to neglect understanding of Jobs simply because he was an asshole is to ignore the man’s contribution. As I’m want to do in these circumstances I tend to return to the examples of two of my influences: John Wayne and Christopher Hitchens. In the case of Wayne the man was an asshole who said some truly heinous things concerning the issue of race equality and anyone who wants a more specific details can simply Google Search his May 1971 Playboy interview. I will never defend those positions and arguments, and I will always be the first person to remind people about his bullshit attitudes towards race. At the same time, John Wayne helped establish the idea of the “movie star” and in his time, he produced a wide bodies of films that, in my mind, are still some of the finest movies ever made. Likewise with Christopher Hitchens the man was an unfortunate chauvinist going so far as to write an article titled Women Aren’t Funny and then a subsequent article Why Women (Still) Don’t Get It to defend his original position. Hitchens was a brilliant man, but in this instance, he was still talking out of his ass. In spite of this the man wrote some of the most important works of Nonfiction on the twentieth century and contributed more to the form of the essay than any writer of his time.
I could go on and provide a list of authors and geniuses who were contemptible assholes, but hopefully these two personal ones provide enough of my point, which is, just because somebody was an asshole doesn’t mean they couldn’t change the world.
Reality really is one’s perception of the world. What is possible and what is impossible, and the stories of science fiction are enough to prove this. As long as people could imagine changing the world, there were people who could figure out how to.
One passage clearly demonstrates this, as Jobs explained a vision he had for the future of computers. He was addressing his MacIntosh division in 1982 about an idea he had, while also expressing his contempt for market research:
At the end of the presentation someone asked whether he thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “Because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.” Then he pulled out a device that was about the size of a desk diary. “Do you want to see something neat?” When he flipped it open, it turned out to be a mock-up of a computer that could fit on your lap, with a keyboard and screen hinged together like a notebook. “This is my dream of what we will be making in the mid- to late eighties,” he said. They were building a company that would invent the future. (143).
Now technically the very first “laptop” was not an Apple computer, but in fact something called an Osbourne 1. Just looking at a picture of it is enough to throw out the reader’s back, and the design concurs up images of the giant insect monster movies from the 50s. Even the first apple “laptop” was nowhere near the magnificent flat machines that help achieve Twitter greatness while checking out Instagram accounts and drafted infinite Pinterest pages. What’s important about this passage was, when I read I actually received a little moment of chills. This is not because of the content of the biography itself, but again because Isaacson manages constantly to write Jobs’s life into something meaningful and profoundly important for the future of human civilization.
Jobs imagined the laptop computer as something useful, but also important to people’s lives. He foresaw the opportunity to make the personal computer something that wasn’t just utilitarian for the individual consumer, but a way of enhancing and changing the market and lives of individual people. And the strength of the previous passage reveals that, even if Jobs suffered from his “reality distortion complex,” it worked. It’s impossible to picture a world without Apple or Apple products, whether it’s their software or else their actual physical products.
And Isaacson offers a key insight into one of the lasting legacies of Jobs:
Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anticorporate, creative, innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have—Porsche, Ferrari, Prius—because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.” (332).
I typically roll my eyes at the idea that one can express individuality through corporate products, largely because so many of the products being sold are ultimately the same. Drinking Coke or Pepsi, eating a Reese’s or a Snickers, or buying McDonalds or Burger King can never in my mind craft a rhetoric about the way I choose to live my life. These
products are designed to be consumed and then shit out, and at the end of the day shit is just shit. Yet all of these companies, in fact almost every company tries to generate advertisements that sell their products as means to express yourself. And all of this can be traced back to Apple because they succeeded.
I give Apple, and other computer companies to be fair, a pass on this rhetoric because the personal computer really can say something about the way you live your life. That’s largely because the personal computer is no longer a black screen requiring long complex code entries that are encased on monstrous floppy discs. The point-click interface altered the way computer users actually worked on computers, and from there innovation has steadily helped shape the lives of entire industries. The way an individual person approaches computers, or really, the way they use computers does shape their lives.
And again, as I noted at the start of this essay, this review was written on a MacBook Pro.
I try to wait until I have finished a book before I take the time to write a review of it. I need time to digest a book, figure out it’s place and space in my world, and then try to impart the significance of it to the reader. Steve Jobs was different because though I still have around 200 pages left, I recognize how important this work is.
Reading through my grandfather’s copy I regret terribly that it took me so long to read this book and discuss with him the life of Jobs and the history of the personal computer industry. It would have been an interesting conversation with a man who influenced me tremendously intellectually, and I might have invested earlier than I did in an Apple computer. But the cards fell where they did, and even though I’ve missed the chance to have that conversation, in his own way my grandfather succeeded. I own and will continue to own Apple products now, almost certainly till the day I die.
It’s a platitude, but it’s one that remains true. The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world tend to do so. It’s because they are people driven by their passion and conviction that life can be changed, and that reality is exactly what we make it to be. Sometimes this can manifest in manic and even wretched behavior, but there are positive stories. It’s because of Jobs that I learned as a child how to type and learn the basics of point-click interface. It’s because of Jobs that my mother is able to write up her reviews and musings on her own website. It’s because of Jobs that the smart-phone revolution started and the idea of what a computer actually is was changed forever.
Jobs’s reality was one where the computer wasn’t just a tool, it was part of your life. And that “distorted” reality eventually became the real thing.
All quotes taken from Steve Jobs were derived from the Simon & Schuster Hardback first edition copy.
If the reader is at all interested in Apple as a company, I’ve provided some links to articles about Apple and Apple Products and businesses. Some are positive, others negative, but it’s important to get a wide variety of outlooks.
I’ve also included an great article by Wired about the influence Jobs has had on tech company founders and employees aspiring to the emulate the man and his method of management. It feels not only important, but vital for any and all people who work for, or plan of founding computer companies:
I didn’t get a chance to include it in the essay, but if the reader is at all curious about the first laptop, the Osborne 1, they can follow a link to an article on Business Insider which describes it and it’s history. Enjoy:
On one final note, I probably am, most assuredly am, an Apple Whore as my little sister says, and my wife has begun to call me that as well. I asked her briefly when she knew I was one and she responded simply, “when you bought that mug.”
This is fair, though at the same time, I mean, look at the design. Simplicity really is the ultimate sophistication.
*****Writer’s FINAL NOTE*****
Because I have to, please enjoy this Robot Chicken sketch featuring a PRETTY ACCURATE presentation of Steve Jobs, as well as a fair, completely fair, critique of both CDs and the Zune.
"Greed is Good", American Landscape, B.J. Novak, Big M Burgers, Big Mac, biography, Biopic, Capitalism, Dick McDonald, Fast Food, Fastfood Nation, Film, film review, Gordon Gecko, Hamburger, history, Ice Cream that ISN'T Ice Cream, Jim Gaffigan McDonalds, John Carroll Lynch, John Lee Hancock, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Mac McDonald, McDonalds, McDonalds Brothers, Michael Keaton, Mr. Universe, Nick Offerman, Ray Kroc, Supersize Me, The Founder, There Will Be Blood, WallStreet
The Founder isn’t Supersize Me or Fast Food Nation because by the end of the film my heart went out to McDonalds, or really the two men who founded McDonalds and lost everything to one man’s greed and personal failings. This didn’t stop me however from going out to McDonalds the very next day to buy myself a big mac so I guess in a way the film succeeded and failed simultaneously.
Then again it’s hard to say no to a man like Ray Kroc who opens the film with a pitch, one the viewer is expected to hear again before the end of the film:
Ray Kroc: I know what you’re thinkin’… What the heck do I need a 5-spindle for… when I barely sell enough milkshakes to justify my single-spindle. Right? Wrong. Are you familiar with the notion of the chicken or the egg Mr. Griffith, I mentioned… that there’d be costs. Well, I think it applies here. Do you not need the multimixer because, well heck, you’re not selling enough milkshakes. Or are you not selling enough milkshakes because you don’t have a multimixer? I firmly believe it’s the latter. Because your customer comes in here and he knows if he orders a shake from your establishment… that well, he’s in for a terrific wait. He’s done it before and he thinks to himself, well by golly, I’m not gonna make that mistake again. But if ya had the Prince Castle, 5-spindle, multimixer… with patented direct-drive electric motor we’d greatly increase your ability to produce… delicious, frosty milkshakes, FAST. Mark my words. Dollars to donuts, you’ll be sellin’ more of those sons of bitches…then you can shake a stick at. You increase the supply, and the demand will follow… Increase supply, demand follows. Chicken, egg. Do you follow my logic?I know you do because you’re a bright, forward thinking guy who… knows a good idea when he hears one. So… What do you say
The answer to this long pitch is an immediate no, but hopefully the viewer, by the time Michael Keaton is done delivering this opening soliloquy, will say yes and then immediately ask themselves the same question I was asking throughout The Founder: Where the hell has Michael Keaton been for the last decade and why is he only just coming back?
I checked The Founder out more out of impulse than legitimate curiosity. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I work at a library, so much so that my regular reader has probably learned to skip these opening intros because they realize they’re usually now just I found DVD or Book X at the library. But in all seriousness though the fun part of my job is the day to day discovery of a book or film that I didn’t know I had access to. Now because it’s summer and families have more vacation time due to summer vacation I tend to have to leave my job at the desk and help the staff of circulation because their DVD rack gets filled at least three times a day. That isn’t hyperbole it literally fills up with DVDs, CDs, and audiobooks every day at least three times a day and of course every tenth DVD is missing from the case. While the Circ staff checks out patron’s items I’ll usually go over and check items in and one day a week or so back The Founder crossed my path. I’d seen previews for it on YouTube, and maybe it was those original previews, or perhaps the dynamic cover of Michael Keaton standing between those golden arches, or maybe it was my desire to start watching more films, but whatever the case I placed a hold on the DVD and as soon as it came in I watched it and was left amazed and left with a real sense of injustice.
The Founder is a biopic about Ray Kroc, a traveling milkshake-maker salesman who wants, to quote Belle from Beauty and the Beast, more than his provincial life. Ray is looking for something that will lift him into something larger than himself. While on his cross-country trip he discovers a restaurant called McDonalds run by two brothers who have started up a burger joint using something called Speedee system in which people are able to purchase burgers, fries, and a milkshake and get it the moment they place an order. Ray listens to the brothers tell their story, and after trying to return to his original life he decides he has to help the brother franchise their business. They resist but ray persists until they draw up a contract with him and he begins establishing McDonalds’s across the United States until he eventually becomes the de facto CEO of the company. The McDonalds brothers are eventually forced out of the company and Ray becomes the “founder” of the company running the brothers out of their business and leaving them little if any financial compensation.
The plot synopsis should hopefully explain why, at the end of the film, I was left with a real feeling of injustice. Michael Keaton shines as Ray Kroc, and his performance as this character has already garnered some critical observations that, apart from being screwed out of an Oscar nomination, he has established the Ray Kroc character into an icon of corporate corruption. Much like Gordon Gekko in WallStreet, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, or Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Ray Kroc is a man who rises to power not because he has any kind of special individual talent, but because he has more or less risen to power off of the sweat, labor, and inspiration of other people.
Ray isn’t even too proud to admit that’s more or less exactly what he did. In one of the closing scenes between Ray and Dick McDonald (played by the beardless but ever stern and uber-masculine Nick Offerman) he offers Dick his observation of why he ultimately took the company from them.
Dick McDonald: I just have to ask you one thing. Something I’ve never understood.
Ray Kroc: Alright.
Dick McDonald: That day we met, when we gave you the tour…
Ray Kroc: Uh huh. What about it?
Dick McDonald: We showed you everything. The whole system, all of our secrets. We were an open book. So why didn’t you just…
Ray Kroc: Steal it? Just, grab your ideas and run off, start my own business… using all those ideas of yours. It would have failed.
Dick McDonald: How do you know?
Ray Kroc: Am I the only one who got the kitchen tour? You must have invited lots of people back there, huh?
Dick McDonald: And?
Ray Kroc: How many of them succeeded?
Dick McDonald: Lots of people started restaurants.
Ray Kroc: As big as McDonald’s?
Dick McDonald: Of course not.
Ray Kroc: No one ever has and no one ever will because they all lacked that one thing… that makes McDonald’s special.
Dick McDonald: Which is?
Ray Kroc: Even you don’t know what it is.
Dick McDonald: Enlighten me.
Ray Kroc: It’s not just the system, Dick. It’s the name. That glorious name, McDonald’s. It could be, anything you want it to be… it’s limitless, it’s wide open… it sounds, uh… it sounds like… it sounds like America. That’s compared to Kroc. What a crock. What a load of crock. Would you eat at a place named Kroc’s? Kroc’s has that blunt, Slavic sound. Kroc’s. But McDonald’s, oh boy. That’s a beauty. A guy named McDonald? He’s never gonna get pushed around in life.
Dick McDonald: That’s clearly not the case.
Ray Kroc: So, you don’t have a check for 1.35 million dollars in your pocket? Bye Dick.
Dick McDonald: So if you can’t beat’em, buy’em.
Ray Kroc: I remember the first time I saw that name stretched across your stand out there. It was love at first sight. I knew right then and there… I had to have it. And now I do.
Dick McDonald: You don’t have it.
Ray Kroc: You sure about that? Bye Dick.
I’ll admit freely that I was just about screaming at my television set during this scene. I’m sure at this point in our marriage my wife is used to me talking during the movie, either my comments made towards characters or else just my examinations of the various shots and camera angles made by clever directors, still I should shut up more and just enjoy the movie. Apart from my rage at the character of Ray Kroc however was just a general sensation of being constantly amazed at all the excellent little details of the film. The Founder is a gorgeous movie for the way it presents the time period, the characters, the costumes, the landscapes, and if it hasn’t been addressed already virtually every actor in The Founder manages to give a career-defining performance. If it isn’t Keaton slinging his Midwest accent and giving us a man who’s constantly hungry for more it’s Nick Offerman winning every scene he’s in, and even John Carol Lynch who manages to be the most pitifully delightful human being in a movie since I can’t even remember.
But I want to return to an earlier point made which was that The Founder is yet another in a long line of American films which examines corporate greed and how ultimately kind people are screwed by the frenetic individuals who aren’t satisfied to break even. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc as a constantly moving man who isn’t satisfied to stand still in one place or space, he is constantly speaking about expansion and the possibility that is McDonalds. During one passage of the film the reader is able to watch Ray give more-or-less the same speech to a room full of Shriners, jewish council members, board-room executives, and casual people in a school gym and Ray’s dedication to expansion is presented in his rhetoric.
Ray Kroc: I’m looking for a few good men… and women. Who aren’t afraid of hard work. Aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves. I’m looking for scrappers, hustlers, guys that are willing to roll up their sleeves. They’re livin’ on drive, they got a little fire in their belly. I stand right here before you today, I’m gonna offer you something as precious as gold. And you know what that is? Anybody? Anybody? Opportunity. It’s opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity to advance, to move forward, to move up, to advance… To succeed. To win. To step up. The sky’s the limit. The sky is the limit. Grab the brass ring. To give yourself a shot at the American dream. Put your arms around the American dream. Opportunity. Cause I’ll tell ya somethin… At McDonald’s? It’s like this great nation of ours… Some of that elbow grease. I guarantee ya, if you got the guts… the gumption, the desire… I guarantee ya you can succeed. There’s gold to be had. At the end of… those Golden Arches… Golden Arches. Golden Arches. Now who’s with me? Who wants to jump on that ladder to success? Be part of the McDonald’s “mishpokhe”. Now who’s with me? Come on, lemme see some hands.
One of the greatest criticisms of The Founder is that is tries to tell the same story that There Will be Blood or Wall Street did only with less character development. Most of the reviews of this film have complained that Michael Keaton’s performance is one long series of fast-paced speeches, and the New York Times in their review more or less compared him to the Road-Runner. Obviously I have nowhere near the ethos that the New York Times has in terms of film criticism, but I would like to think that I have an ethos when it comes to Loony Tunes and I didn’t see Michael Keaton go “beep-beep” once in this movie. Keaton plays Kroc as a man who is never satisfied. Kroc is always moving from one scheme to the next because he’s always seeing or looking for something bigger than himself and so it makes sense why he eventually has philosophic differences with the McDonalds brothers. It makes sense why he leaves his wife who is always wanting him to just settle down and be happy with what he has. It’s easy to look at Keaton’s performance of Kroc and think that he’s playing him up as a kind of cartoony Gordon Gecko on speed, but if the reader really listens and pays attention to Kroc hopefully they’ll see that the reason there isn’t too much introspection of Kroc’s character is because the man isn’t the contemplative kind. He isn’t deep and he isn’t truly original.
Ray Kroc is a persistent man. That is his defining quality, and in this trait he is successful.
In one of the closing scenes Ray is preparing a speech for a dinner he’s going to have with then governor of California Ronald Reagan, and speaking once again to the camera Keaton manages to once again win his viewer, not because he’s a decent man, but because his conviction is real.
Ray Kroc: Now, I know what you’re thinkin’. How the hell does a 52-year-old, over-the-hill milkshake machine salesman… build a fast-food empire with 16,000 restaurants, in 50 states, in 5 foreign countries… with an annual revenue of in the neighborhood of $700,000,000.00… One word… PERSISTENCE. Nothing in this world can take the place of good old persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing’s more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrecognized genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t. Why the world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all powerful.
The Founder as a film may be an opportunity to explore the downsides of capitalism and remind the viewer that there are always going to be sleazebags like Kroc who will steal someone else’s vision and manage to get away with it, but my final impression of the film is something entirely different. Regardless of the man’s personal character, and regardless of the fact that I would always end the film calling Kroc a contemptable prick, McDonalds as an idea does speak to something of the American vision. I wish I could find the quote specifically, but when Kroc sells his idea of the franchises to the McDonalds brother he compares the golden arches to the cross and the flag, the idea being that McDonalds can be a place where American people, break bread, find bodily sustenance, and share ideas. This seems like a ridiculous notion, until I remember my own upbringing.
I was a spoiled child, and as a kid I would often complain about food made at home. I complained because I wanted to go to McDonalds. I loved the playground, I loved the cheeseburgers, I loved the fries, and I loved meeting other kids and playing with them and making new memories. Kroc may have been a contemptable prick, but he was onto something when he realized that if you sell a company, not just as a burger joint, but as a space where people can find something, something like family, the American people would buy it and buy into it.
I went out and bought a big mac with fries the day after watching the movie, and in the store I saw a man writing on his laptop, a family eating and talking and laughing, and two friends eating cheeseburgers and laughing. McDonalds is still an American icon, and still an idea that people are buying.
Unlike a movie like Wall Street, where corporate executives dressed in ties and suspenders read The Art of War and buy up abstract stocks, The Founder digs into the meat and bone of the American landscape and the desire of those living within to be successful, not just at a local level but something more. The film is a chance to try and understand why Americans are so driven to push and drive into new territories and make something in that new space, or, at the very least, why they’re trying to make something new where you can buy a cheeseburger for under fifteen cents.
All quotes from The Founder were provided by IMBD.
While I ultimately disagree with their final summation of the film, I have included the New York Times review of The Founder here if the reader is interested in a second opinion. Enjoy:
There are many, many opinions about McDonalds, some fair, some unfair, some that are about lizards who dance the polka and buy Weird Al albums, but perhaps the best opinion I’ve heard expressed is the one by Jim Gaffigan in his Mr. Universe Special. It’s become something of a private joke between my friend Kevin and I, and I include it here in honor of our friendship. Love you bro.
"Maggot", Anita Pallenberg, biography, Blues, Book Review, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, Disasterpeice, Drugs, Folk Hero, Gimme Shelter, Guitar, history, Individual Will, Jumpin Jack Flash, Keith Richards, Keith Richards's Hands, Left Behind, Life, Mick Jagger, music, records, Rock and Roll, Rock Star Biographies, Rolling Stones, satisfaction, Slash, Slipknot, The Dirt
I’m a maggot. Immediately a handful of people will raise the devil horns, spit out a “stay sic fucker,” and hopefully crank up Left Behind and start headbanging. The rest of my regular readers will either shake their head or perform a Colbert, which, for the record, I could do before that guy became as famous as he did.
Being a “Maggot,” for the reader who’s waiting for me to clarify, means that I’m a fan of the band Slipknot, a heavy metal band (dare I call them Nu Metal?) based out of Des Moines, Iowa. They’re known for their masks and jumpsuits and song materials that range from obscene to downright horrifying. I usually cite the opening lines of the song Disasterpeice which begins, “I want to slit your throat, and fuck the wound, I want to push my face in and feel the swoon, I want to dig inside, find a little bit of me, ‘Cause the line gets crossed when you don’t come clean.” It’s lyrics like that remind me that I was an odd duck in high school, but despite the intensity I wouldn’t be alive right now if it wasn’t for Slipknot. I crawled up into the fetal goat and Clown kept me safe and alive.
This is why it’s so odd to me that Keith Richards seems to hold such a mythic place in my life. I was never a Stones fan growing up. My parents played lots of Aerosmith, AC DC, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and just about every pop-song ever recorded during the 1980s. To this day I have the Eurythmics as muscle memory thanks to my mother’s CD collection. But in this pile of Rock and Big Band there was a band called Guns N’ Roses which I gravitated to alongside Slipknot. The sound was like Aerosmith but it had more a rebellion and grimey feel to it. I started to read more and more about the band, and when Slash published his self-titled memoir in 2007 I bought up the book and started down a journey that wasn’t always pleasant.
I bought a guitar. Didn’t play it. I grew out my hair. Didn’t get laid. Wrote a bunch of songs. They were shit. Started to get depressed. But there was music, and that saved me from the darkness I was pushing myself to. I dug into Slash and through that book I started to memorize information and facts about rockstars and bands, and as Slash talked more and more about Keith Richards the myth began.
That’s why, just a month back, when I was looking for a new audiobook to listen to on the way to work, I selected Life by Keith Richards. I checked it out from the library, popped it in, and after just two discs I ran out and bought the actual book. I needed to own it.
Life isn’t written, or at least it doesn’t feel like it’s written, the way other Rockstar memoirs are. I know that because I ingested the genre in the timeline previous mentioned. I moved from Slash to The Dirt, the infamous Motley Crew biography, to White Line Fever about Lemmy Kilmister, and between these I sampled from biographies about Van Halen, AC DC, Iggy Pop, and Jim Morrison. The Rockstar biography tends to be a stale genre because almost all of it follows the same structure. Rockstar had a shit childhood, Rockstar had one good teacher who taught them about music, Rockstar ran away from home, Rockstar met the other rockstars they became famous with, Rockstar becomes famous, Rockstar discovers drugs, overdose, rehab, Rockstar is happy and healthy.
This is what I expected from Keith Richard’s Life, given the fact the man is famous for his drug use and being virtually unkillable. I hate the phrase “pleasantly surprised,” so instead I’ll go with surprised as fuck to find that Richards biography was not only well written, the man comes across a wise soul with a deep appreciation for life. Rather than set his narrative as a means of promoting his career, Life is exactly as the title suggests and works as Richards simply looks over the extent of his existence and the strange turns it has taken. Whether it was the tragedy at Altamont, his turbulent relationship with Anita Pallenberg, his struggle to manage his relationship with Mick Jagger, finding the woman who would bring real stability in his life, taking his son on tour with the Rolling Stones, falling out of a tree, almost having his skull imploded by the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, or simply making his bangers and potatoes, Richards manages to show his life simply and honestly.
For my own take though, reading this biography was fascinating for the way Richards manages reflect on the nature of music. In one early passage he describes learning music without the help of written pages:
I’ve learned everything I know off records. Being able to replay something immediately without all that terrible stricture of written music, the prison of those bars, those five lines. Being able to hear recorded music freed up loads of musicians that couldn’t necessarily afford to learn to read or write music, like me. Before 1900, you’ve got Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, the cancan. With recording it was emancipation of the people. As long as you or somebody around you could afford a machine, suddenly you could hear music made by people, not set up rigs and symphony orchestras. You could actually listen to what people were saying, almost off the cuff. […] It surely can’t be a coincidence that jazz and blues started to take over the world the minute recording started, within a few years, just like that. The blues is universal which is why it’s still around. (70-1).
This passage is difficult for me, because my wife can play and read music and I cannot. I never learned to play a musical instrument, and in fact the only instrument I can play with any degree of general confidence is the harmonica and I can’t play any songs on it. My wife, on the other hand, can just listen to a song and pick out the instruments being played, and whether or not the players are keeping tone, pace, and rhythm properly. I can achieve something similar when I listen to most rock music, but Richard’s brief philosophizing about music in general reminds me of many similar testimonies by musicians. Most of the ones I gravitated to, which tended to be the great ones, tended to follow this similar policy. A musician who can listen to a song and acquire it manages far more than professionals because it forces them to dig into the sound, rather than allow it to become an abstract concept.
But, again, I have no real background in music so what business do I have in this category? I like this passage however because it speaks to the kind of musicianship Richards tries to accomplishes, which is a simplified appreciation of music as a form. Something that’s approachable, and, more importantly, universal.
The Rockstar is a figure that, within the last decade, has become something of a straw-man. It’s not that the image doesn’t or can’t frighten from time to time, but looking at a figure like Keith Richards in comparison to the crop of rock stars in today’s market, nothing can really compare. At one time Richards and the Rolling Stones were the most dangerous group in the world, and in some parts of the territories there were some who honestly believed they were the devil. The Rockstar was a figure of controversy that could actually inspire fear and loathing from governments and parents’ groups, whereas today rock stars are becoming reality-show TV stars and performing for politicians. I suppose I’m sounding whiny as I write this, or else I have become that all-too-real cliché of a man who mourns this current age and wishes for a time when “the music was real man,” but all I’m trying to note is that as figure in the public consciousness rock stars have become parodies of themselves. Rock N’ Roll no longer seems to be able to inspire or enact any kind of awe, and the rock-star themselves are too predictable.
That’s why one passage stands out to me the most from Richard’s biography, as he observes his mythic status:
There’s something inside me that just wants to excite that thing in other people, because I know it’s there in everybody. There’s a demon in me, and there’s a demon in everybody else. I get a uniquely ridiculous response—the skulls flow in by the truckload, sent by well-wishers. People love that image. They imagined me, they made me, the folks out there create this folk-hero. Bless their hearts. And I’ll do the best I can to fulfill their needs. They’re wishing me to do things they can’t. They’ve got to do this job, they’ve got this life, they’re an insurance salesman…but at the same time, inside of them is a raging Keith Richards. When you talk of a folk hero, they’ve written the script for you and you better fulfill it. And I did my best. It’s no exaggeration that I was basically living like an outlaw. And I got into it! I knew that I was on everybody’s list. All I had to do was recant and I’d be alright. But that was something I just couldn’t do. (365).
It’s ridiculous this need to feel like someone is living the life we should or want to be living for us, and yet at the same time I completely understand this impulse. I’ve grown out of it now, but for many people the idea of a hero is still something they hold to. Heroes are the people who live the life we believe we want to live, they embody the virtues or strengths that we do not, and most importantly of all, they’re not human. I see this impulse most strongly in religious types who hold to the idea of the divine Christ who in no ways was human and therefore could never have felt anything like sexual desire, but I’ll keep god out of this.
I think probably the best example is John Wayne. For so many people, including myself, John Wayne was the man, the Man’s man. He was the man who could do anything and never let anything get in his way. The only problem of course is that, the actual John Wayne, was a flawed racist, alcoholic who had trouble with women. There’s some impulse to ignore all that because it’s inconvenient. The man who sells insurance, or works at the DMV, or works in a corporate building and does nothing but read and write emails all day needs the gung-ho cowboy John Wayne because he needs the idea of that man in his life. Like I said, I can’t pretend like I’ve never believed in this, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized more and more that this attitude can be corrupting rather than beneficial.
Heroes are over-rated because they keep us from recognizing our own strength and potential. Obviously, I will never be Keith Richards in terms of guitar playing, but if I hold to the myth that the man is perfect what point is there in picking up the guitar myself and trying to be different from Richards? It’s a simple question, but one that I asked a lot when it came to writing. I loved Stephen King, I loved Christopher Hitchens, I loved Jeffrey Eugenides…but I’m none of them and so I have to be my own creative voice.
And looking back to Life there’s one more passage that seems important and worth my reader’s time. Richards discusses the creative process and song-writing, specifically how it is an organic, rather than flat process:
But a song should come from the heart. I never has to think it. I’d pick up the guitar or go to the piano and let the stuff come to me. Something would arrive. Incoming. And if it didn’t, I’d play somebody else’s songs. And I’ve never really had to get to the point of saying, “I’m now going to write a song.” I’ve never ever done that. When I first knew I could do it, I wondered if I could do another one. Then I found they were rolling off my fingers like pearls. I never had any difficulty writing songs. It was a sheer pleasure. And a wonderful gift I didn’t know I had. It amazes me. (309-10).
This quote seems particularly important because I’m a writer. I find myself often discussing to no-one in the room how much I hate listening or reading other writers discuss motivations or spiritual exercises, and it might be my working-class background, but I’ve approaching writing much the same way Richards seems to with song-writing: I sit at my keyboard and start writing. If I don’t know what to write, I’ll simply write that and that in itself frees me up to be honest. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad days, and sometimes sitting down to write these essays will take an hour or several and feel like pulling teeth. But writing, creating, should never be about the drama of the act. Creation should always just be about letting go and doing the work.
Life then, apart from providing the reader with plenty of fun stories about the Rolling Stones and Richard’s use of drugs (the very first chapter is a long story about Richards and Ronnie wood being busted in the American south in a car that was literally filled with coke, heroin, and assorted pills) but sitting down to work on this review I wanted to focus on Richards as a figure and as an artist because the man has often been lost beneath the haze of cigarette smoke and cocaine powder. Richards was a drug-addict, and remains a self-described junkie, but the man has contributed more to music than most people have or ever will. His guitar licks in Gimme Shelter, Jumping Jack Flash, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, and Satisfaction remain iconic Rock N’ Roll sounds that inspired generations to pick up the guitar.
Keith Richards is a sound unto himself, and reading Life is akin to hearing that sound melted into the written word. The book sits on my shelf giving my other biographies contact highs, and from time to time I’ll hear the sound what I’m sure is the devil’s own guitar strumming lightly those blues that use to make rock-gods and titans.
All quotes taken from Life were cited from the Little, Brown & Company Hardback First Edition copy.
"Go Get Your Fuckin' Shinebox", "wiseguys", Anti-Hero, biography, Catherine Scorsese, Corruption, Crime, Film, film review, Gangsters, Goodfellas, Hastings, Henry Hill, history, Individual Will, Jimmy Conway, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, lufthansa heist, Martin Scorsese, masculinity, Masculinity Studies, morality, Pulp Fiction, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, violence, Working Class Men
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self. –Ernest Hemingway
As far back as I can remember, personally, I always wanted to be Chewbacca from STAR WARS. The reason for that was largely simple, nobody ever really fucked with Chewie. Han Solo was the guy all the boys on the playground wanted to be, and I was often regulated to playing Chewie. I didn’t mind this so much because Chewbacca was tall like I was, covered in hair which became more and more true with each passing year, and nobody in the movies ever beat Chewie in a one on one fight. He pretty much just walked around doing whatever he wanted to because who’s going to tell a Wookie what he can and can’t do?
I suppose in this way Ray Liotta and I have something in common, because his character Henry Hill (based upon an actual person) from Martin Scorsese’s opus Goodfellas, expresses more-or-less the same sentiment about being a gangster. The film opens with these lines after Joe Pesci has stabbed a mobster a dozen times with a butcher knife in Henry’s trunk and Robert de Niro has shot the man four times (I counted):
Henry Hill: [narrating] For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me that was better than being president of the United States. To be a gangster was to own the world.
There was a time in my life when I could watch the movie Goodfellas over and over again and never seem to get bored or bothered by it. Part of this was the fact that I was a teenage boy and a high school loser to boot. When you’re the weird kid, and your perceive yourself as the weird kid, and that perception only further influences your dress, behavior, and attitude, and people around you perceive it, and puberty is happening to you like a sledgehammer to the scrotum, darkness tends to be something you gravitate towards you. Then again, I’ve always found morbid topics interesting. Being a kid I would look at horror movie covers and memorize the names of killers because there was something cool about being close to that darkness. I think this is the best explanation of why Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction before it, appealed so much to me.
On one side note I find it bothersome that Pulp Fiction is one of the films that changed my life and I still haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet.
Goodfellas didn’t stumble into my life, it was handed to me by my tenth-grade English teacher. She and I would usually talk before class because she was funny, she had great insight, and I guess she saw something in me. She originally introduced me to Stephen King, giving me her water-damaged copy of The Green Mile, which lead me to other works by King and secured my desire to become a writer. But at some other point she told me to find a copy of a movie called Pulp Fiction. I rented a copy of the movie from Hastings (#restinpeace) and watching Tarantino movies I started also trying to find interviews with the man and a name kept popping up: Martin Scorsese.
Goodfellas wasn’t the first Scorsese film I saw, I believe the first one I watched was either Mean Streets or Taxi Driver. But Goodfellas kept popping up, usually alongside Raging Bull as Marin Scorsese’s supreme cinematic achievement. Not long thereafter my parents gave me a copy of Goodfellas and Braveheart for Easter and I watched it and disappeared.
I have yet to watch a Scorsese film that is not good. Even his first major film Mean Streets, which is obviously rough since it’s his first full movie, is extraordinarily good. Scorsese as a director was brought up under a documentarian tradition and so whenever he makes his films he tries to simply capture the human being’s honest behavior. Rather than tell a narrative emotionally or personally, he allows the characters and people to perform their own arcs, and Goodfellas is probably his best demonstration of this outside Raging Bull. The story is about a man named Henry Hill, the child of an Irish/Italian marriage and that lineage is important. He grows up in a poor neighborhood watching the cab-stand across the street where the “wiseguys” or gangsters hang out wanting to join their world. He eventually makes his way into the organization and the rest of the film follows him living the life of a gangster until he eventually has to leave the life for the sake of his survival.
The movie, while it follows multiple characters, centers on Henry and he narrates his life and thoughts first person as if analyzing his behavior for the audience. Part of the miracle of the film is that this structure could feel obvious or overdone, but it never does. The film sucks you in and holds you close to the material while Henry observes the realities of Gangster life. He notes early in the film about the benefits of such a system:
Henry Hill: [narrating] For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.
In an earlier scene he mentions something similar:
Henry Hill: [narrating] One day some of the kids from the neighborhood carried my mother’s groceries all the way home. You know why? It was outta respect.
Henry eventually is caught for drug trafficking and has to sell out his friends Paulie and Jimmy Conway, and the final scene offers Henry’s summation of everything he learned from the experience, and the final conclusion is as revealing as it is disturbing:
Henry Hill: [narrating] Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I’d either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies.
[Henry leaves the witness stand and speaks directly to the camera]
Henry Hill: Didn’t matter. It didn’t mean anything. When I was broke, I’d go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over.
Henry Hill: And that’s the hardest part. Today everything is different; there’s no action… have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food – right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup. I’m an average nobody… get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.
Henry’s final speech reveals a bit of Scorsese’s ultimate aesthetic goal which is to get the viewer to observe how the Goodfella lifestyle has infected Henry and how, even after everything he’s seen and done, he still longs for a life of crime because the benefits of such a life seem far better than the average day-to-day lifestyle of real people. Now this isn’t a novel observation, dozens of critics have noted that part of the success of the movie is this very realization about Henry, and many have noted that the appeal of the film is the way the characters suck you into the reality and world almost making you want to stay inside that world yourself. Almost every person would love to live a life where they don’t have to work, they can take anything they want, and just generally live and behave without worrying about reprisal.
With this being the case there doesn’t appear to be much room for me to come in and offer up any new material, my reader would note, but as always I have to disagree.
The reason I must contest my reader is because there was a time when Goodfellas was a movie I loved to watch, but over the last few years I’ve stopped watching it as much. It’s not that I no longer love the film, I still consider it one my favorite movies of all time, and, to be honest, I’d watch it before just about most of the films currently being released. But since I’ve started maturing emotionally, and puberty no longer holds my gonads like a vice, the appeal of that world and reality has dimmed.
I lead a very privileged life, but the desire to work and contribute something to my world and community is what drives me more than anything, and watching Goodfellas again recently I was struck by how narcissistic each of the characters was. Whether it was Mauri always bitching about nobody paying him, or Henry as a kid noting that he didn’t want to go to school because the Gangster life was far more lucrative. Even Karen observes how this selfishness comes to become, in her own words, normal:
Karen: [narrating] After awhile, it got to be all normal. None of it seemed like crime. It was more like Henry was enterprising, and that he and the guys were making a few bucks hustling, while all the other guys were sitting on their asses, waiting for handouts. Our husbands weren’t brain surgeons, they were blue-collar guys. The only way they could make extra money, real extra money, was to go out and cut a few corners.
[Cuts to Henry and Tommy hijacking a truck]
Goodfellas is a wonderful film about the real gangster lifestyle, and throughout the movie there are plenty of opportunities for Martin Scorsese to bring in his brilliance for making iconic shots and scenes, and also remind the viewer that he owns virtually every Rolling Stone record. On a side note, Scorsese is the only director I know who can ever effectively use the song Gimme Shelter in a film and make it sound even more amazing than it already does. But I think if you push deeper into the film the entire movie becomes one long documentary and meditation on the impulse of selfishness.
Every character wants to enjoy the riches and agency that being a mobster, or being related to a mobster, brings them. While the characters like Jimmy, Tommy, Henry, Paulie, Karen, and Maurie are driven by their selfishness, Scorsese demonstrates that they live in a system which perpetuates that selfishness and thus reinforces it into a sick kind of normality. It becomes okay to steal, murder, and beat-up innocent people because you have a license to do it.
As Tommy is being led to the house to become a Made man Henry notes this subtly:
Henry Hill: [narrating] You know, we always called each other good fellas. Like you said to, uh, somebody, “You’re gonna like this guy. He’s all right. He’s a good fella. He’s one of us.” You understand? We were good fellas. Wiseguys. But Jimmy and I could never be made because we had Irish blood. It didn’t even matter that my mother was Sicilian. To become a member of a crew you’ve got to be one hundred per cent Italian so they can trace all your relatives back to the old country. See, it’s the highest honor they can give you. It means you belong to a family and crew. It means that nobody can fuck around with you. It also means you could fuck around with anybody just as long as they aren’t also a member. It’s like a license to steal. It’s a license to do anything. As far as Jimmy was concerned with Tommy being made, it was like we were all being made. We would now have one of our own as a member.
People crave to be part of a system or tribe by nature, and if one exists that can benefit them dramatically then they’ll react violently. If I can offer one last quote as justification, Henry observes in the film, shortly after Tommy kills the Made-man Billy Batts (with his infamous “Shine-box” line), that this is the case:
Henry Hill: [narrating] If you’re part of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill you, doesn’t happen that way. There weren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. See, your murderers come with smiles, they come as your friends, the people who’ve cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time that you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.
The easiest attack made against Goodfellas as a work of art is the fact that there is so much violence in the movie, but that violence has tended to obscure the real art that is behind it. The same goes for the first-hand narrative structure of the movie which has been reproduced ad nauseum in far too many movies that are trying to be clever or else just bad rip-offs of Scorsese’s work. Goodfellas, as it exists, tries to show how the gangster lifestyle can infect people and lead them down a path of self destruction. Henry, from the time he’s thirteen, sees the gangsters and their “freedom” as more of an opportunity than participation in society. Instead of trying to find a job, work hard, and make something of himself, he chooses crime, and while he succeeds for a while, it’s ultimately his undoing and he almost winds up whacked because of it.
Scorsese’s genius is showing these people, these characters, and getting the viewer to ask themselves are we really seduced by this freedom, or after watching this film do we stop and realize that there’s nothing truly glamourous about it. It’s a violent, narcissistic society that feigns community for the sake of personal gain. And apart from the great music, it almost always ends in disaster.
I still love Goodfellas, and I still love watching Goodfellas. What’s changed is that I no longer see these characters as any kind of anti-heroes. They’re just selfish-bastards dressed up in nice suits. Though this last point does make me reconsider being a gangster only because it’s hard as fuck to find a decent tailor.
I didn’t get a chance to mention it in the essay, but part of the appeal of Goodfellas for me is seeing Martin Scorsese’s mother play Tommy’s mother. It’s impressive to watch the woman not only handle her own alongside actors like Pesci, De Niro, and Liotta and not even bat an eye, but also, if you watch the scene carefully, steal the entire scene.
And if you don’t believe me here’s the actual scene:
And Scorsese himself talking about it:
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