James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Director Raymond De Felitta took time off his schedule to talk with Emertanment Monthly about his latest film, Rob The Mob.
De Felitta especially stresses the meaning of the more personal stories he has been known for dramatizing to get the world to care about the underdogs that inhabit his films. He goes on to talk about the Bonnie and Clyde of Queens, his Academy Award nominated short film, and the gentrification of New York City.
Being from New York City, did you follow the story of Tommy and Rosie at the time of the crime spree?
I never heard of it, until I read the script. Which I kind of liked that fact, because I always liked the movie Dog Day Afternoon a lot with Al Pacino and what I always thought was great about that was that, that’s a true crime story that you wouldn’t have known about at all had it not been for that movie. That for me gave the crime more … I guess ‘poignancy’ I would say, that it’s not famous. So, no I didn’t know the story of Tommy and Rosie at all, by the end of reading the script I said ‘Well I bet nobody does, or a very few people do. If we make this movie you’re never going to forget it”.
Flower shops seemed to play a huge aspect of Tommy’s life, in terms of past, present and hopefully future, was that inserted in the film or did florists have that big of a role?
That was the business that his father was in. We wanted to show that he had this unsettled business with his family, his father’s death obviously provoked all of his actions and caused him to become who he was and do what he did. So it was important for us to go there and see the remaining that is still alive.
Growing up in New York City, did you know and encounter characters like the ones portrayed in Rob The Mob?
No, I didn’t really grow up in that New York. Those weren’t the kind of people I knew until I was making films. When I started films a large part of the Italian American community started becoming actors thanks to The Sopranos basically. And it’s great cause when you meet them and they like you, then you’re best buddies and they start telling you the stories. In my twenties I started meeting these kinds of street characters, the guys from that hood, the homicide detectives, but that all happened later in my life.
Most of your work has revolved around more intimate stories like this, what draws you to these types of films?
It’s funny, if you looked in my closet of scripts, I’ve written several different kinds of movies. These are the ones that have gotten made though, it’s not that I’m only drawn to this. But I guess there’s a reason these are the ones that have gotten made, maybe it’s just that I like finding the scenes in smaller stories. I find that more effective then trying to tell a story of the whole nation, try to tell the story of small individual having a realization in their own lives and dealings. I also like looking into parts of life that is not really seen, in mostly working class New Yorkers, it’s not something that’s usually depicted much in movies.
Tommy reminded me a bit of Walter from Bronx Cheers, do you ever see these kind of connections between your characters and if so how do you go about giving them a much more unique voice?
It’s so funny because that movie was just forgotten, it was sitting in a vault and I put it on Youtube and it really works, people find this shit eventually. It’s a short film that I didn’t think was going to have more life in it. Anyway, they’re neighborhood types both are from the Bronx, both sort of thugs, neither of them are educated. I think the difference is that I was 25 years old when I created Walter in Bronx Cheers and I was 48 when I made Rob The Mob. Walter’s a fun character but there’s not much depth to him and the movies not supposed to be that way it’s like a cartoon from the period. But when you get older you can look at people and say “Let me dig in to find out who this guy is and where he’s from and how all these things effect him”. That’s something I wasn’t able to do twenty years ago. Fortunately, I got the chance to do a similar kind of character with Tommy and hopefully bring more depth to the portrayal.
While Rob The Mob takes place in a brief period of time, it feels like a period piece capturing a seedier moment in New York’s history. Was there something about this time period that caught your attention?
I was living in New York in the late 80s early 90s, what I enjoyed about doing it is that it is as far away from the current New York as it can be. People who don’t know it, didn’t experience that New York first hand, find it impossible to realize that New York wasn’t always a place of baby strollers and steaming lattes and the lowest murder rate in the country it was entirely different. I loved the idea of bringing back a little view on what that New York looked like and smelled like and felt life.
After Spike Lee’s rant of gentrification in the city, do you also prefer that kind of New York?
Yeah, I heard about his rant. Yeah well I think that’s a lot of crap, you know look, New York is about change and nobody really wants to live in a city that’s desperate and broke and filled with crime, so I just think that that’s romanticizing something that doesn’t need to be romanticized. Yes, things are lost when change occurs and sure there are less interesting people living in the neighborhoods, and artists have been forced to other areas but New York has always been in that state. So I can’t honestly say that i wish it were that city. But I do remember it fondly as long as it’s just in my memory and not in front of me when I leave the house.
Do you see yourself making more fictionalized films in the future or more films based on true stories?
Yeah I’d love to. I mean when you do find the right subject that can be dramatized. I’ve also made some documentaries and some things are better told in a non-fiction form. I guess you could make a documentary on Tommy and Rosie, but I’m not sure you would go deep enough given the basic materials by simply telling the straight up narrative truth. Again I go back to Dog Day Afternoon which is the model to this, there’s a two minute clip I found on the ABC news report of the bank robbery. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, you look at that story and Sonny (Pacino) looks like a crazy person. But by dramatizing that story you got to kind of know and love and feel bad for Sonny and his friends and his plight and why he had to do this. That’s something I don’t know you would get if you just did a nonfiction version of that story. I feel the same with Rob The Mob, you get to know Tommy and Rosie and get to reinvent them and get to express who they were in morbid terms.