Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino (Joseph F. Alexandre, 2003)
Apart from the “mundane” setting of films such as Rounders, the silver screen glittered with a “million points of light” courtesy of Las Vegas. From Hard Eight to Swingers to “The Stand” to Las Vegas Vacation to Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas to the spate of Nicholas Cage “Vegas Movies,” the love of the glamour and filth of Las Vegas was never more apparent than the 1990s.
While Barry Levinson’s Bugsy provided a half-hearted attempt to examine the origins of the Nevada paradise, Martin Scorsese’s Casino endeavored to show the behind-the-scenes machinations of “sin city.” However, both films failed due to the presence of unbearable romantic subplots.
Not only was Casino a pale imitation of Scorsese’s masterpiece, Goodfellas, but my skin crawled whenever Sharon Stone and/or James Woods were on screen. Meanwhile, the rest of the narrative suffered from Joe Pesci playing another schizophrenic hoodlum prone to outbursts of intense violence without warning. The only thing I liked about that movie was the presence of John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs) but he wasn’t on screen nearly enough.
Joseph F. Alexandre is the ambitious force behind Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino. Herein, Alexandre examines the real people upon which the Casino characters were based. Travelling around Chicago, Alexandre visits the neighborhoods populated by “Outfit” guys, setting the stage for the stories of the mob.
The majority of this twenty-four minute video consists of interviews with two “connected” guys and the director himself. Alexandre’s segments prove particularly annoying as he directly addresses the audience, rattling off names without giving viewers a reason to care. The documentary is shot in a quasi-MTV style with two cameras: the main camera and a second shooting “behind the scenes” footage.
Initially comparing the quasi-fictional characters of Casino with their real life counterparts, the video relies too heavily upon footage culled from other works. Alexandre spotlights both Casino and Goodfellas, along with an episode of “The Charlie Rose Show” with Nicholas Pileggi (co-writer of the aforementioned Scorsese films). Personally, I’d rather have just watched that entire Charlie Rose episode.
By the time we reach mid-point in the video, the idea of telling the “real story of Casino” appears lost. The video degrades into two interview subjects telling personal stories about their involvement with the Outfit. These stories are often inter-cut, as if to imply that the subjects are relating the same tales from different perspectives. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. While the themes of their tales may be similar at times, this editing style confuses rather than explains.
A great idea for a documentary, Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino is limited by budget and undermined by a muddled vision. For more information visit www.jfafilms.com.