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Happy birthday, Martin Scorsese

“Goodfellas” changed my life.

No, I didn’t become a gangster after watching the movie four times one weekend.

I became a Martin Scorsese fan.

That’s fan, as in short for fanatic.

I would eventually name one of my cats in honor of the man, but I’m getting ahead of myself. In the early 1990s, I scoured video stores for his movies, which was no small task in eastern Kentucky. I found titles such as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” but ordered others including “The King of Comedy” and “After Hours.” Of course, I loved “Raging Bull” so much I bought it. Years later, a beau would give me a copy of “Taxi Driver” as a Valentine’s Day present. We were doomed from the beginning, but he had his moments.

In college, a group of friends and I made a pilgrimage to Lexington to watch “The Age of Innocence.” When one of the guys in the group started making fun of the movie, I contemplated going all Tommy DeVito on his ass. Months later, I ran into another college acquaintance and a fellow Scorsese fan who derided the master for making “Innocence,” which he disparaged as a Merchant-Ivory type period production. According to this guy, Scorsese should stick to making movies like “Mean Streets.”

“He’s already made ‘Mean Streets,’” I countered.

Lest you think these anecdotes illustrate my inability to remain objective when discussing Scorsese’s work, think again. “Casino,” or as I call it, “Goodfellas’ Vegas Vacation,” disappointed me, “Cape Fear” does not hold up on repeat viewings, and “Bringing Out the Dead” was unmemorable.

So, what? Even I don’t expect him to create masterpieces like “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas” every time he yells action. By the way, in “Raging Bull,” after the last fight with Sugar Ray Robinson, the camera pans to show blood dripping off the ropes. I lose my breath whenever I see that shot. I know it’s coming. I wait for it. I tell myself it won’t affect me so dramatically this time, and I prove myself a liar every freaking time.

And I cannot listen to the piano coda from “Layla” without thinking of “Goodfellas.” My mind associates the coda with the pink Cadillac, the Dumpster, the meat truck and all those dead bodies. I never appreciated “Layla’s” piano coda until “Goodfellas.” In fact, I usually quit listening to the song as soon as the guitar stopped and the piano started. That changed after “Goodfellas.” Now, I impatiently wait for the coda to transport me back to Henry Hill’s voiceover and those shocking images.

If “Layla” is the “Goodfellas” song, then “Gimme Shelter” is definitely “The Departed” song. Ah, “The Departed,” the movie that finally earned Scorsese an Oscar. I’m not sure Scorsese wanted to win an Oscar as much as I needed him to win one. I know it’s just a stupid award, but it angered me that lesser directors lined their walls with the statues while Scorsese’s mantle remained empty.

Martin Scorsese will turn 69 tomorrow. I know he will not read this, but I wanted to wish him happy birthday by thanking him for a filmography that has enriched my life, for introducing me to other filmmakers and for changing the way I watch movies.

I’ll never worship at the altar of John Ford, but after watching a documentary in which Scorsese commented on “The Searchers’” most meaningful shots, I realized Ford possessed more talent that I had previously believed. Scorsese also improves my appreciation for movies I actually like including “Vertigo” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” which he and I rank as one of Hollywood’s great musicals.

Speaking of musicals, Scorsese made his, “New York, New York,” back in 1977. I remind anyone in earshot that Liza Minnelli sang the theme song first – and best. Folks who don’t argue with me nod and slowly back away.

Scorsese’s known for making gangster pictures, which he describes as modern-day westerns, but he’s tackled other genres including drama, mystery, romance, biopic, documentary and comedy. Not only can the man do it all, he does it all so well.

Next week marks the release of his foray into 3D, “Hugo.” The film follows an orphan who lives in a train station and becomes caught up in a mystery involving his late father and a robot.

It looks like another superb Scorsese film, and I’ve invited my niece to attend a showing with me. She’s almost at the age I was when I first saw “Goodfellas,” and I’m slowly introducing her to Scorsese’s movies. She’s seen “Shutter Island” and I’ve suggested “The Departed” and broached the subject of “Goodfellas.”

Maybe “Goodfellas” – and Martin Scorsese – will change her life, too.

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