Why Shannon Marinko adores… THAT TRACKING SHOT IN CASINO

23 Jul

Welcome back to this week’s WHY I ADORE…! Come on in, plonk yourself in your favourite chair and order your preferred beverage from our ever-lovely wait staff, as we unfurl another lovingly crafted ode to cinematic brilliance.

I should let you know, though, WHY I ADORE… will take a two week holiday after this issue. Here in the town of Batmania — otherwise known as Melbourne — where WHY I ADORE… HQ is located, ’tis the season for film adoration, as that Christmas for film lovers, the Melbourne International Film Festival, is upon us! So, between various life commitments and seeing a formidable swag of films at MIFF, time to put together the blog will be scarce. But don’t fret, for we will be back in all our loving glory on AUGUST 12TH!

But now, we have something really special. Today’s Adorer is writer/director/reviewer/movie fiend SHANNON MARINKO, who, with previous Adorer Lee Zachariah, co-hosted/co-created/co-directed the award-winning, mostly-fondly-remembered, cult movie TV show THE BAZURA PROJECT on Channel 31 here in Melbourne! Today, Shannon takes us through his delirious love for a tracking shot that hits harder than a repeated baseball bat to the head…

Okay, this is my favourite ever shot in the history of cinema.

Not an easy choice to make either; there’s quite a few to choose from.

And, actually, I suppose I should clarify – when I say “the history of cinema”, I mean “MY history of cinema”.

So that narrows it down a bit too.

But why this shot?

What makes it so special?

Why does this shot specifically make me tingle so?

Well, if you’ll let me stop asking rhetorical questions, I’ll answer. Jesus…

First, if you haven’t seen CASINO – what’s wrong with you (apart from the obvious)?

The ONLY excuse I will accept is if you’ve been blind for the past 15 years or more.

And even then, I still don’t think you’re trying hard enough.

CASINO is a masterpiece.

Two hours forty minutes of pure cinematic joy.

I do think it’s criminally neglected though, by both the big-knob critic set, and the humble film-fan rabble (which side are YOU on?).

Everyone instinctively focuses on the Holy Trinity of TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS – with good reason, of course.

But as John Lennon said: “All We Are Saying Is Give Other Scorsese Movies A Chance” (I think that was a B-side; you may not have heard that one).

Anyhoo , back to this tracking shot.

Ahhhh – Scorsese tracking shots.

They’re so identifiably HIS. Particularly their pace.

There’s that great one in TAXI DRIVER where Travis is talking to Betsy on the lobby phone.

There’s three great successive ones in his “Life Lessons” segment of NEW YORK STORIES, with each track a step closer to Nick Nolte’s canvas.

I remember going to see KUNDUN and thinking to myself, “How the hell is he gonna put a tracking shot in this film?”

Sure enough, there’s one in it, and it’s fucking gold.

He just has a way with the horizontal.

It’s such a hard shot to use well too.

It’s like a zoom; it’s not a natural movement for humans – to walk sideways but face straight on (all the crabs in the house say “HO!”).

It’s awkward, unnatural.

And you have to be a great director to be able to pull them off in a justifiable way.

Kubrick loves a good track. Wes Anderson too.

But Marty’s got the patent, as far as I’m concerned.

Kubrick can have the zooms, Wes can have The Kinks, Marty’s got the tracks.

So, what were we talking about?

CASINO, right.

I guess I should set the whole thing up somewhat.

CASINO is based on a true story (an ACTUAL true story, not like that HURRICANE rubbish) about the Las Vegas casino industry in the 1970s & 80s, when most of the casinos in Vegas were owned and run by the Chicago mafia.

De Niro plays a gambling doyen who’s been sent out to run the Tangiers casino (based on the Stardust casino).

And Pesci plays the muscle sent out to protect the Tangiers from other rival mob outfits looking to case the joint, shake ‘em down and other euphemisms for theft I have no right to use.

Eventually, Pesci gets banned from entering any Las Vegas casino, due to his… unorthodox work practices. De Niro and Pesci meet in a bar outside the Las Vegas city limits to talk about the ban.

PESCI: Let’s say, for instance, I wanna go into a restaurant which happens to be in a casino, to get one of those sandwiches I like.

DE NIRO: Forget it. You can’t even set foot in the parking lot. That’s how serious it is.

PESCI: (PAUSE) In other words I’m fucked.

DE NIRO: In so many words, yes.

Pesci is unperturbed.

PESCI: Well I gotta do something. I gotta do something. They ain’t getting rid of me. They’re not getting rid of me. I’m staying here. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em.

Then BAM.  Very hard cut. Almost stepping on the end of that “’em”, with Pesci in mid-skol, and we’re into this tracking shot.

Wow – that cut accentuates Pesci’s “Fuck ‘em” so perfectly too.

Fuck you – I’m not even gonna finish my syllable.

What the fuck are you gonna do about it?

Nothing – that’s what.

And with that cut, The Rolling Stones (of course) kick in with “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?”

What a perfect riff to further emphasise that “Fuck ‘em”.

Less bombastic than something by, say, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin.

It’s got more style to it.

‘Cause Pesci’s got style, motherfucker.

You want to tell him he doesn’t?

And what’s in the frame? What’s the first thing you see?

A cattle skull.

Beautiful.

It’s such bravado. The arrogance of Pesci’s character. Such an ultimatum. A gauntlet being thrown down.

“They ain’t getting rid of me.”

Charlie Watts’ drums kick in. Jagger’s “Hey!” in the background. The tracking continues. We go past a cigar store Indian.

Wait a minute – cattle skull, cigar store Indian, untreated wooden walls. Have we suddenly gone back in time eighty-odd years?

Is this the Old West?

Damn right it is.

Shoot first, then shoot the guy who asks the questions later.

Pesci’s voiceover tells us that he since he can’t go back into casinos, he’s started to do some things of his own, things that nobody else thought of doing.

That is – stealing from all the rich PEOPLE in Vegas, instead of trying to steal from the all the rich places in Vegas.

“So I brought in my kid brother Dominic…”

And there’s Dominic in the frame. The exact centre of the frame as he says that.

We see Dominic through a window – he’s standing inside a building – but there’s reflection coming from outside.

It’s daylight, and you can’t see in too well.

But there’s a shard of shadow shooting diagonally across that window.

And that shadow allows us to see Dominic’s face clearly, and precisely in time with the voiceover.

That’s not an accident. None of it is.

That’s fucking filmmaking.

How do you light that, by the way?

How do you get such perfect exposure inside and out in the same shot, but it’s not over lit?

Ah, Bob Richardson – God bless you and your love of overblown, overhead lights.

Beautiful focus pulling in this shot too.

From the skull and the Indian to Dominic and Frank Vincent (again with that perfect shadow).

And then… we finish on Pesci.

So tight on his face, such perfect balance in that right half of the screen (how can something so unbalanced still feel so completely balanced?).

What a look on his face too.

It’s the look that comes right after that “Fuck ‘em” in the previous scene.

When you know you actually CAN and ARE gonna fuck ‘em.

And that’s it. That’s the whole shot.

I see this shot and every time I giggle like a schoolgirl. Every time.

It truly is the shot of a storyteller.

It’s incredibly economical, supremely stylised and yet absolutely essential.

How does he do that?

How can he do all those things at once?

Ah. Scorsese FOUND a way.

Now go and watch the whole film again.

It’s filled with moments as genius as this (I was very close to writing about the “Ain’t Superstitious” cheating sequence. What a masterclass of filmmaking that is).

And if you still think it’s “GOODFELLAS Lite”, we’re gonna take you out back, put your fucking head in a vice and… well, you know.

“Charlie M!”

– Shannon Marinko

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2 Responses to “Why Shannon Marinko adores… THAT TRACKING SHOT IN CASINO”

  1. alena marie July 23, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Ahh, Shannon.
    Could feel your school girl crush blushing to the cheeks throughout this piece.
    Nicely impregnate with adore.

  2. explorer 9 April 18, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

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