Our journey into the Scorsese experience continues with Will Hubbard on Mean Streets tomorrow.
Molly Lambert on The King of Comedy
Molly Young on The Age of Innocence
Benjamin Mercer on Bringing Out the Dead
Jacob Sugarman on The Color of Money
Scorsese on L’Avventura
“Let’s Spend the Night Together” – The Rolling Stones (mp3)
“Lady Jane” – The Rolling Stones (mp3)
What’s the Matter With You?
by Alex Carnevale
1995, 178 min
dir. Martin Scorsese
full Casino screenplay
Some movies become famous for being unwieldy, long and unclassifiable. (I still have no idea what Brazil is about, nor do I really care to find out.) Other movies disappear into the ether for that very reason. And since Scorcese’s 1995 effort, Casino, was widely viewed as a spiritual sequel to a classic, Goodfellas, it was dismissed out of hand.
This makes sense – after all, many elements of Casino made sure we would have no idea how good or bad this film was until a long time had passed, probably until someone uttering “Sharon Stone” meant no more to the people that heard it than, “what the fuck, Sharon’s stoned again you guys?”
At over three hours, and chronicling a time and place in history that has been utterly erased by the people who participated in it, Casino is about the old Vegas. Since the new Vegas may be one of the most important cities in the world, and because it bears many more resemblances to the old version of Las Vegas than it is willing to admit, for all these reasons, Casino is of interest.
Back home, they put me in jail for what I’m doing. Here, they give me awards.
It shouldn’t be. It’s one of Scorcese’s most watchable films, it has the best performance of Sharon Stone’s entire career, although admittedly that is not saying much, and it has a lot to say about a work of art it exerted considerable influence on: that being the greatest thing ever done in the medium of television, David Chase’s mob epic, The Sopranos.
What makes Casino all the more relevant (I know, this movie is like a skeleton key) is that its central figure, played by Robert De Niro, is a Jew.
The film’s classic, austere, title sequence:
Ace Rothstein, in a narrative loosely based on Nora Ephron’s husband Nicholas Pileggi’s nonfiction book of the same name, is the best gambler in the world, and his handicapping skills even lead him to run one of the biggest hotels in Las Vegas for the mob.
Having Obama prince Bobby De Niro playing Ace was a particular master stroke, one that further conflated Jewish and Italian ethnic identity – a major theme of Chase’s show – and transparently conveying that the Jewish story is the american story. As the most moral and sympathetic character in the twisted universe of Casino, Rothstein rising above racial and class barriers only to be targeted by the government is basically the heeb Fountainhead.
Come to think of it though, Howard Roark probably hung out with Al Qaeda when he wasn’t blowing up apartment buildings. He’s like the original suicide bomber.
When you love someone, you’ve gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You’ve got to give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And, for a while, I believed that’s the kind of love I had.
Scorsese has moved away from using Joe Pesci (who has laid low for many years) in anything out of fear he continue to become a caricature of himself. The deeply religious Pesci has the role of a lifetime, or the second role of a lifetime here – he is basically vamping in stasis as the same character in Goodfellas.
Had Scorsese gone away from Pesci and tried out someone like Daniel Day Lewis or Ryan Seacrest in the role, this film might have been more warmly received.
“Without You” – Nilsson (mp3)
“I’m Sorry” – Brenda Lee (mp3)
“How High the Moon” – Les Paul & Mary Ford (mp3)
Like many Scorsese pictures, Casino is filled with a litany of small characters who through superior stanislavskyship force themselves upon our memory. Here I think of James Woods’ skeezy boyfriend character, the early template for Rita’s ex-boyfriend in Dexter.
You hear a little girl, Frankie? Is that a little girl, Ace? Is that a little fuckin’ girl? What happened to the fuckin’ tough guy who told my friend to stick it up his fuckin’ ass?
Part of Scorsese’s success as a director is due to the things he always gets right. Even in the rambling and largely silly Jay Cocks script for Gangs of New York, Scorsese gets the performances, and music, and mood so right, you can almost ignore the script’s flaws. The only contemporary director equally good at working on other people’s material is Steven Spielberg.
Casino is also informed by the decade of filmmaking that followed it. The larger-than-life figure, along with a desperate desire to be rewarded by Oscar, drove Scorsese through the nineties. He never made a small film during this period, or went back to some of the intimacy and smaller-than-life people that informed his productions of Paul Schrader scripts like Taxi Driver.
You fucking mo-mo, what’s the matter with you?
This was probably inevitable. Since his coked out Easy Riders, Raging Bulls days, Marty was Ace Rothstein – an outsider wanting to prove he belonged. The critics missed a deeply personal film, about what happens when you surrender to something you don’t fully understand.
Now a legend as a director, Marty doesn’t have much to prove; he has yet to find a screenwriter who can consistently give him something with enough depth to deserve the Marty treatment. Literature is unlikely to step up here – gentiles are the eternal protagonists of the written word, and Marty never cared much for the washed masses.
Get up… be a fucking mother. Be the mother… get the fuck up and get in the fucking car. I WILL kill you right fucking here and now! Get up and go, now.
The film, which briefly set a big-screen record for the number of times it used the fuck word, is violent. Unredemptive. It’s fun! The music rocks!
The performances are wild! Kevin Pollak with a sweet cameo! The FBI! The life! The babes! ‘The spread’ takes on three meanings! Jealousy! I bought the screenplay! Ice picks in testicles! The skim! Marital disempowerment! The bosses! The Tangiers! Open graves in the desert! Shit-kicking, stinky, horse-manure-smellin’ motherfuckers! Erotic transference! Dealing checks with your right hand until it’s beaten by hammers! Black books! Thanks for not calling me a liar! Vegas, baby.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
Look who got a trust fund.
Harry Potter‘s lonely road.
From Cherry Hill to Dublin and back again.
What are you staring at you bald-headed Jew prick?