Twenty-Five Years of Goodfellas and the Joy of a Big Screen Revival

By  · Published on April 27th, 2015

Warner Bros.

On September 21 of this year, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas will turn twenty-five years old. The film will likely be the subject of all manner of essays and retrospectives and fun fact listicles, all meant to celebrate (while also capitalizing on) the birthday of Scorsese’s seminal gangster feature, plenty of which will probably be informative and clever and interesting (some, of course, won’t be, but that’s okay, too), but none of them will be able to match the power of the easiest method of celebrating a film: by watching it.

More specifically, by watching it as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen and in a packed theater. That’s how you do a birthday – with a party.

The Tribeca Film Festival closed out its fourteenth run this weekend, and instead of offering up a closing night film culled from the ranks of upcoming new releases, the festival opted instead for a retrospective of Goodfellas. It was a natural fit for the festival, really, not only because the film is a beloved classic, but because it’s such a New York film, such a Scorsese film, such a, oh, fine, such a Robert De Niro film, who just so happens to be a co-founder of the festival. (Still, who could possibly argue with the merits of Goodfellas, especially if the alternative was a new film that didn’t have twenty-five years of goodwill to recommend it?)

The film was followed by a mostly flaccid (and, really, bafflingly so) Q&A session led by Jon Stewart, who briefly chatted with Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, writer Nicholas Pileggi, and De Niro himself, most of whom seemed disinterested in chatting about the kind of stuff they’ve likely chatted about for entire decades now (how did you get cast? what inspired this one scene? something about ketchup?). And yet even that disappointing end couldn’t dilute the absolute pleasure of seeing the film on the big screen. Now that’s how you do an anniversary.

Tribeca has recently begun using the Beacon Theatre – notably, on the city’s Upper West Side, not Tribeca proper – for its biggest and splashiest premieres. Despite any quibbles about the location (or that it’s nearly impossible to enter or exit the building without wanting to actually scream, it’s just so crowded), the Beacon really is a beautiful location (and big! so big!), all soaring heights and gold inlay. De Niro himself thanked the theater gods for not transforming the space into a multiplex during his opening night remarks, when the Beacon also played home to Live From New York!, the festival’s opener.

It’s easy to see where he’s coming from and to agree with him, simply because the Beacon is the kind of location that’s conducive to a loving, respectful re-watch of a classic film like Goodfellas. Then again, there’s something to be said for the magic of any kind of big screen rewatch. Having never seen the film in theaters, I was ill prepared for the resulting rush of watching the whole thing fly right by (and, even though the film noses up against the two-and-a-half-hour mark, man, does this thing move). I’ve seen Goodfellas a hundred times – it’s one of those cable standards that seems to air at least once a week – but it’s been whole years since I’ve watched the film from start to finish (another benefit of ponying up to buy a ticket to watch a film in the theater). It’s better than I remembered, and that is putting it extremely mildly.

Part of that is surely do to the restoration – the version that played Tribeca was restored from the film’s original reels, and it looks as fresh as any new film out today – but mostly, it was simply the film itself. Goodfellas may be a quarter of a century old, but it’s still infused with such humor, speed, and craftsmanship that it feels mostly ageless. Seeing it on the big screen further removed any feelings of it being “dated,” and it was easy to imagine that we were all watching the film’s debut or something, not an anniversary screening. Sure, Goodfellas is a superior film, but the benefit of watching a film – any film — in that sort of environment is the way it feels immersive and fresh, in a way that’s hard to duplicate at home, or on a computer, or binge-watched from bed.

Movies are still meant to be seen on the big screen, to be savored and experienced and enjoyed, to be celebrated. Let’s not forget that.