GOTTI: IN THE SHADOW OF MY FATHER
John Travolta and John Gotti – The Movie Star and the Mob Star
and it s a pretty good stunt
bill to have the heavy villain
a moor or a dago or a jew
“Pete the Parrot and Shakespeare”
Gangsters are hot.
Shakespeare understood . Educated in classic Greek and Roman literature, Shakespeare made himself a fortune writing plays that lured the penny-paying crowds away from bear baiting, dog baiting, criminal execution into his gallery. He knew that by taking his audience inside the heart of a monster where his deepest darkness resonated with their fantasies and fears, he had created a winner. Shakespeare ’s heroes were bigger than life and twice as sinister, and he’s immortal.
Shakespeare would have loved John Gotti. He’s better than Iago or Richard III or that Scottish king. Wealthy, powerful, sly, fearless, the Dapper Don did in the open what those guys had to do in the dark. No regrets for John Gotti over his “vaulting ambition” – this guy had no qualms. He was a bad ass. And like the bard’s best bad guys, he was admired as much as he was feared.
He still is. The world loves to watch him – whether he’s represented in news footage or in Armand Assante’s 1996 portrayal or in the eyes and sneers of his children Victoria and John Jr, he’s got more lives than Mehitable the Cat.
And now here comes John Travolta (That’s John “VinnieBarberinoDannyZukoTonyManero-Vincent Vega” Travolta to you.) to give him one more assurance that he will never ever get old, and he will never ever die. Travolta will play Gotti in a biopic slated to head into pre-production this summer.
Which seems to be okay with the Italian American community. If John Gotti is representing their ethnic persona out there in the world, they don’t seem to be bothered. After all, this is history. A richly-layered, deeply troubling Mob King, strutting and fretting his infinite hours upon life’s stage. The Italian American community will cheer the film, as they did Goodfellas and The Godfather and Mean Streets and all the other ways in which that part of Italian culture was represented on the silver screen. They’ll buy tickets, tweet their praises, laud Travolta as a brilliant actor who captures the multi-faceted sensibilities of our native son.
And that’s great. After all, Gotti has made huge contributions to of both the mob and the Italian American experience in America, especially in New York. Why wouldn’t they love this? But we are mystified. The Italian-American community is willing to have Gotti beatified by none the less than St. John the Divine of Englewood, while they defile our efforts to tell the truth on the Mob Tour. Go figure.
We don’t whitewash the history. We don’t glorify the violence. We don’t promote admiration. We tell it like it is. The mob was here, is here, will be here forever, and this is what made them famously infamous. You can’t extricate the history of New York City from the history of the mob, you wouldn’t have the city we know and love today without the mobs and gangs of New York who have been shooting, extorting, blackmailing, stealing, pushing and swaggerng like movie stars since that kind of activity was the only way out of the most notorious slum in the world from the 1810’s to the 1870’s.
It’s all part of the entertaining history that belongs to all of us. It’s what, truth be told, makes our tour so damned satisfying and disturbing at the same time.
Gangsters are hot.