The 2015 Tribeca Film Festival closed Saturday night with a 25th anniversary gala screening of Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” held within the gold-spun rococo of the Upper West Side’s Beacon Theater. The screening was followed by a panel with stars Paul Sorvino, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, “Wiseguy” journalist and writer Nicholas Pileggi, and (inevitably) Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro, moderated by “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart. (The comedian sometimes slipped into a slightly Pesci-esque accent, conceding that if anybody from the production met him right around the time “Goodfellas” came out, he would have been annoying as hell.)
De Niro and Tribeca’s other co-founder Jane Rosenthal introduced the film, with the movie icon offering that this year’s 14th iteration of the festival marked “13 more than we intended, and tomorrow we start work on the 15th.” He then went on to read a email from Joe Pesci (the arguable true star of “Goodfellas”) that was nothing more than a string of f-words, which De Niro duly translated: “Dear Bob /Sorry I can’t be there /Love to all /Best, Joe.”
Next, Scorsese and producer Irwin Winkler appeared in a brief video taken from the set of Scorsese’s upcoming period epic “Silence,” filming presently in Taipei — “which is in Taiwan,” he clarified, getting a huge laugh from the audience. Ever the woebegone auteur, Scorsese deadpanned about his decades-in-the-making shoot: “It’s… hot. And… Well, we’re shooting.” Moving on to “Goodfellas” with visible relief, Scorsese alluded to widespread controversy following its release. Citing his co-writer Pileggi from the audience, Scorsese described a nice Italian restaurant in Tribeca where the two would eat — only to be barred after the movie came out, because “we apparently denigrated a certain ethnic group in the picture.”
The crowd went wild when Scorsese mentioned the infamous midnight snacking scene, wherein Henry (Liotta), Tommy (Pesci) and Jimmy (De Niro) take a break from burying a body in the backyard of Tommy’s mother (Scorsese’s own mother, Catherine) to sit and eat at the dining room table. “There was only one or two written lines, about showing (her) paintings. The rest was pretty much what it was like to be around my mother, Joe, Bob, Ray… Her son was just coming home to say hello to her with his friends. He didn’t tell her about…. the body.”
Despite the heavy hitters on the panel, Scorsese may have received the most applause in total. The film (projected in a new digital remaster) was punctuated with shrieks of delight and rolling ovations from the audience, especially during the vaunted Steadicam shot as Henry and Karen enter the Copacabana floor through the restaurant kitchen, Pesci’s legendary “Funny how?” monologue, even at the cue of an in-prison closeup on a pair of hands slicing garlic knobs with a razor blade. Some attendees even saw fit to yell out dialogue before it was said onscreen, imbuing the event with midnight-movie moxie despite its ritzy trappings.
Stewart worked overtime to try keeping the panel lively; some members had clearly not been together in years if not decades. When asked how he became Paulie Cicero, Sorvino said, “A lot of actors talk about choices, but the fact of the matter is when you find the spine of the character, it’s kind of like an inhabitation, from which you might need an exorcism. And it makes all the decisions for you.” Toggling between an almost academic timbre and the slurred, husky Italian brogue he has in the film, Sorvino then clarified that he nearly left the production until he found Paulie’s inner life — which he found when he caught a glimpse of himself fixing his tie and said, “Oh, that’s the guy!”
On commingling real-life murderers with Hollywood actors, Pileggi said: “If that wiseguy has a very powerful character and is going in a different direction than the actor, that’s best. You don’t wanna confuse the situation.” Liotta said that he didn’t meet Henry Hill until after the picture had been shot, as Scorsese didn’t want him to get confused about his performance — but that he then ran into Hill in varying states of dereliction in later life. “After the movie, I got a call to meet him at a bowling alley in the Valley, in California, with his brother. So I went, and…. There’s Henry, I knew him from pictures, and uh, the first thing he said was: ‘Thanks for not making me look like a scumbag.’ I’m like, ‘Did you see the movie?!’”
De Niro offered that he was, by the time “Goodfellas” was in production, too old to play Hill but asked Scorsese to cast him as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway. Stewart asked De Niro if the filmmaker would, had he been in attendance, have still wanted to tweak the film — to which the tight-lipped star replied, “I can’t answer that.” Stewart then fired back: “No, but I want you to.” In fact, Pileggi described Stewart’s exact scenario taking place at the premiere in 1990, wherein Scorsese elbowed him and moaned in pain from audience about a shot that needed to be trimmed. “‘Marty,’ I said, ‘You’re in a tuxedo. It’s the opening of the movie. We’re in the Ziegfeld. Editing is over!’”
Following a D.O.A. quip from Stewart in admiration that they never greenlit the sequel “Greatfellas” and a standing ovation for the many cast members and extras from the film in attendance, the talent decamped to Central Park’s Tavern on the Green for the festival’s closing night party. Over butternut squash ravioli and tuna tartare, ever-emerging independent filmmakers sipped drinks with neon straws and rubbed elbows with industry vets, against a glistening — but hardly Scorsese-worthy — background of ’80s pop hits.
(Pictured: Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino and moderator Jon Stewart at the Tribeca Film Festival closing night screening of “Goodfellas”)