Saturday, February 12, 2005

“I’m funny, how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh?”

The movie: Goodfellas, 1990 (Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, screenwriters, Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Tommy Devito (Joey Pesci), one crazy gangster criminal whacko.
The context: During a raucous night out, Tommy suddenly turns this amusing query into an intimidating challenge to his friend Henry Hill (Ray Liotta.)
When to use it: to keep someone on their toes.

I’m reminded of this line—and movie since, last night, I read almost all of the new book On the Run by Gregg and Gina Hill—the children of Henry. (Goodfellas is based on his story.) I picked this book up once before and had trouble, since the first 30-40 pages read like a novelization of the movie Goodfellas. Having seen the movie once or twenty times, the book could never live up to the pictures in my head.

But then the kids start talking about what happens after the movie ends: how they tried to set up new lives in the witness protection program, but that in each place they went their past followed them. This was not simply a matter of the mobsters that Henry ratted out being so good at tracking them down. The book becomes compelling by showing how while everything changes nothing changes, that even after going into witness protection, Henry could not wash away his sins, could not rid himself of the violent, criminal, and dishonest ways. In several towns his behavior called such attention to the family that their cover was blown, or at least appeared to be. And so, to the kid’s dismay, the moment they felt that they at least blended into some foreign suburb they would have to leave, immediately.

Right now I’m at the point where they move to Redmond Washington around the early 90s. Here's a thought. There’s been more than a few movies about the witness protection program, none of which were particularly good, in my book. How about a movie in which a family gets moved to a town like Redmond, where the mom takes a job as a secretary in a 23-person company named Microsoft? Fast forward about 8 years (assuming of course that they haven’t blown their cover), and suddenly they got hundreds of millions of dollars—giving them the power to play straight, or to buy out their enemies, or what have you—the coins in their pocket to stop running, hiding, and needing the help of programs and such. And I like the idea of at least a few of the Microsoft millionaires having an interesting past.

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