ego) De 1 ‘iro. is a former boy genius gambler. recruited by the Chicago Mafia to look after its casino concerns in Las Vegas. While the outfit contents itself by skimming millions of dollars off the gaming profits. Rothstein becomes a victim of ego and excess. marrying a beautiful alcoholic hustler (an unexpectedly brilliant performance by Sharon Stone). but coming head to head with his erstwhile friend. Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci in typically psychotic form as the mob‘s strong arm).
The seed for Casino lay in a newspaper article in the [as Vegas Sun about a domestic tiff between Rothstein and his wife that. through
journalistic investigation. unearthed the widescale corruption behind Las Vegas's
toytown facade. Pileggi. whose book ll’isegiiv and interviews with mobster llenry llill formed the basis of (inodFe/las. brought it to Scorsese’s attention and. unusually. they decided to complete the film before Pileggi put it all onto the printed page. The newly published book of Casino is filled with eye-witness accounts ofthe same events. but here everyone is allowed their real identity. whereas in the film. the names have been changed . . . ‘to protect the guilty.‘ finishes Scorsese. ‘l'ior some reason. we were under more constraints on the film than in the book. which has all the actual names and more detail. naturally.‘ l’ileggi‘s main source was Frank ‘Lefty‘ Rosenthal. the real life Rothstein. and his accounts of the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres are eye-opening to say the least. However. the world of high rollers was not one that instantly intrigued Scorsese. a confirmed non-gambler. whose sole foray to Vegas had been as a disinterested observer with friends in the 70s: ‘I began to understand that the shows and the food and everything were all designed for one thing — to keep you spending your money on the games.‘ he says. Growing up in New York’s Little Italy. the young Scorsese was familiar with the Mafia‘s comings and goings at a lowly street level. Today. the cinephile in him sees these men as universal archetypes.
‘I kinda understand them.’ he says candidly. ‘I think that the character Rothstein's based on is an extraordinary man. I don‘t think I would have liked working with him and I wouldn‘t like to have been around him that much. but I find him remarkable. Rothstein tried not to let his emotions get in the way: the colder he could be. the more he was able to properly test the temperature of the game as a handicapper. But the same man could work out a proposition for a marriage knowing that the woman doesn‘t love him. thinking that. entering into it with these emotions. it should work.
‘And Nicky — liking him is like liking a character out of Jacobean drama. l find his accumulation of power interesting. You begin to see him pushing. pushing. pushing. and he just goes with flags flying to total destruction and takes the whole empire down with him.’
Fiction is one thing; the fact that Gom/Fel/as and Casino closely follow true events is perhaps what gives them an extra edge. Examined from another angle. it also means that there are some very nasty guys out there who might feel Hollywood is treading on their toes.
‘I do get feedback. yeah.‘ Scorsese admits. giving the air of a man who doesn‘t think he‘s being measured up for a pair of concrete shoes. ‘Pauley Varrio. the real guy that Paul Sorvino’s character is based on [in GoodFe/las]. they forced him one night to come to a movie theatre. they actually kidnapped him to go and see Mean
Streets. and he liked it. They said it was really
the most accurate film based on that sort of
thing. So that. for me. is a compliment. because I'm trying to be as accurate as I can to the lifestyles and the characters. If those people really feel they know the people up on the screen. I feel l’ve succeeded in some way.‘
lt's not just the surface sophistication or the lure of the violence and its consequences that attract Scorsese to a drama like this; there‘s also
‘In the 903, people want to go to casinos for the lucky throw of the dice - all their problems are over in a second and they don’t have to work at it. It’s a miracle! But it also shows the desperation of the American public at this point.’
the wider implications of what Vegas represented then and. importantly. what it represents now. On the day that he and Pileggi started to write the script. Scorsese noticed a Time cover story titled ‘Vegas: The American
City‘. which extolled the visionary aspects of
the casino world‘s Mecca. once an adult playground. now a child-friendly theme park
MARTIN SCORSESE FEATURE
Martin Scorsese directing Joe Pesci
based on values that are dangerously suspect.
‘I thought it sounded like desperation.’ says Scorsese about the article’s tone. ‘After the 70s. in which there was so much excess. and then the 80s. when things were falling apart. came the 90s. with people wanting to go to casinos for the lucky throw of the dice — all their problems are over in a second and they don‘t have to work at it. It‘s a miracle! But it also shows the desperation of the American public at this point.’
Not just the American public: Vegas and the Mob might seem like they’re a million miles the frantic
away from Scottish shores. but queues stretching from National Lottery
machines each Saturday prove this get-rich- quick frame of mind has spread further than the red-carpeted foyers of Nevada. lt’s against this backdrop that Casino will hit UK cinema screens. ‘There’s a danger that. ifthe theme park mentality can get to Vegas. it can go around the world.‘ Scorsese adds. ‘lt‘s in Eastern Europe now. I mean. I like Mickey Mouse too . . . but to export values of a certain kind. one has to be very. very careful.‘
Casino opens on Friday 23 February. Nicholas Pi/eggi '5' book of the same title is published by Corgi, priced £5. 99.
The List 23 Feb-7 Mar 199011