GOODFELLAS Copacabana Tracking Shot
The famous tracking shot from GoodFellas may seem like a cliche choice to start off with but I wanted to pick something that would be well known and easy for readers to get right into/appreciate. This classic sequence (set to the song “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals) takes place when Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) brings his new girlfriend Karen (Lorraine Bracco) on a big date to the Copa which was a NYC nightclub where all the wiseguys would go see popular acts of the day like Bobby Vinton, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett etc. A young Martin Scorsese went to the club for his school graduation, so he knew it well. The shot is captivating as it feels like Henry is leading Karen not only into the club but down into the depths of his criminal world simultaneously. It also takes place at the height of his powers as a gangster in the early 60s. All the doors are open to his crew and everyone knows and fears him. The non-stop movement as Henry and Karen glide through the back passages and through the club’s kitchen also conveys the sense his life is flowing like a powerful river and nothing can stop him.
This is just one reason why I love watching Martin Scorsese’s movies because I always come up with different ideas of what the scenes might mean through the things that are shown but not stated outright.
Apparently this simple looking but incredibly timed shot took several tries to get right (about 8 times) and was only done because they couldn’t get permission to shoot coming in the front entrance. That silly restriction led to one of the most exciting single take shots in film history.