Saturday, July 21, 2012

MY MAFIA INTERVIEWS: DAYS 1 & 2 AT THE LAS VEGAS FILM FESTIVAL



NOTE: This article is written in a style intentionally meant to be similar to gonzo journalism, in the sense that I do my best to recount the events that occurred to me, as best I can recall them. I wasn't intoxicated by any means, but as I was taken aback and startled beyond belief, and my notes are as scribbled and scattered as my thoughts and emotions at the time, I feel that the best matter to convey these events is to you, the readers, is to take this style of writing.

How did I end up in this? Five movies into Day 2 of the Las Vegas Film Festival, and suddenly, I'm sitting at a table in the Tempo Bar at the Las Vegas Hotel, interviewing the Mafia.

It was the first break between movies that was longer than ten minutes, but I didn't realize that right, so I was hanging around the entrance and red carpet waiting around for Lea Thompson, who was accepting an award later, not realizing she wouldn't be there for another hour. That's when a women called to me, "Hey, you; come here. You want to talk to the real Tony Montana? Shocked by the question, I said "Sure?" Then she mentioned that Frank Culotta's coming by. "You want to talk to him too?" This woman was the manager of all these mobsters. "How did you know these people?" I sooned learned that she was Henry Hill's wife. "Henry Hill, as in "Goodfellas"" Yes, that Henry Hill. I tried to ask if she was the person Lorraine Braccho's character was based on, but the words couldn't slip by my tongue, but I wouldn't be surprised at all. As to her managing, she described herself as a "Pitbull with tits," and I can't come up with a more accurate description of her. At one point, and she could see that I was shy and nervous, I mentioned that I was afraid of people, in general, which is to some extent true. I had one instinct that told me to run away and hide from all these legendary people that I've heard so much about, growing up as a local Las Vegas Italian with a family all from Jersey. My heart's racing; my mind's racing! Tony Spilotro's driver is driver is being called over, to be interviewed, by ME!? Mrs. Hill feeds me some questions to ask him, and I think I did, but I don't remember doing it now, but according to my notes, that I can barely read, I did. Yes, I remember now. In Federal Prison for RICO, conspiracy, along with 36 other people, because his boss Spilotro, gave him a check that he gave to Benny Binion, and Binion cashed it, because it was from his friend, of course he'd cash, not aware that the money in the account was stolen, or something along those lines. The details are blurry, on my notepad, and in real life. And he talked about being in jail with Harry Claiborne, the first Federal Judge to ever be imprisoned while on the bench, and he was later impeached. He talked about an argument he had with him, over Claiborne wanted to be photographed in front of a tree, in prison, posing like he was still cloaked with the invincibility of a Federal Judge's Cloak. After a few moments, I sat at the bar with Mrs. Hill and Silent Willie, who was the name on all the checks and documents, (The Silent partner that handled the money) and they talk a little bit about old times, while  waited for Frank Cullato to arrive. Mrs. Hill talked a bit about her late husband, who had passed away a few weeks earlier. I remembered that in the pamphlet for the festival, their was an obituary on him, but it never occurred to me that he was meant to appear, or had appeared at the festival before. Cullota finally comes down the casino floor, and I've been told to act like a big shot reporter by Mrs. Hill, make him think I'm someone very important. He has a firm solid handshake, and a great sense of humor. I was a little more confident, and clear at this point, but I still struggled to get out my words. I asked him about the festival, where he's talking tomorrow about being a technical advisor to "Casino," a panel discussion that I'm hoping to attend, he talked about Vegas. His work at the Frontier, the Fremont, and Stardust, where he made sure nobody cheated the casinoes (and to catch those who do), and ran an Italian restaurant for awhile. We talked a little about celebrities. Sinatra, Martin, Elvis, etc. How Vegas was in the old days. That's a subject I can listen to all day, even at my most dazed and confused state, learning of the way the town once was from those who were there, is one of the most romantic things people can talk about today. Romantic in the literary sense. "It's not like it used to be; it was so much better back then." Culotta would say. I asked how he got to work on "Casino", and we talked a bit about Nicolas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese. It was around this time that the table got surrounded by Las Vegas Seven, a weekly alternative magazine that I used to hate for publishing Rex Reed movie reviews, and began taking photos. Photos that I'm in! Boy, I hope I never do anything illegal, 'cause next week, when they're published, Bam!  Corrobating with a known convicted mobster. I'm screwed if there's a RICO case brought against me. (CORRECTION! It wasn't the Las Vegas Seven, it was SpyOnVegas.com taking the photos) I ended the interview, as I could tell that others wanted to grab Frank's attention at the time, and he had been gracious. They were all nice and gracious, the friendliest murderers I've ever been in a hotel bar with in fact. I went on to leave peacefully, with notebooks filled with notes, and watched from a distance, and took a quick photo of all the mobsters, which may or may not have actually been shot, considering my camera skills are considerably weak, but it was worth it nonetheless.

One minute, I was minding my own business. Trying not to get noticed and caught up in the middle of the action in fact, and the next, I'm being asked to interview legendary mobsters. One second, my 1st sentence of my 1st Film Festival Blog was going to go like this: "Day 1 of the festival, I arrive early and head over to collect my VIP passes, before leaving the hotel to go home and watch my brother. Day 2..." It still goes like that, and I'll still talk about the six movies I saw today, and the many more I'll see tomorrow and Sunday, and after I escaped to the payphone to tell my Mother, to tell somebody what just happened, I talked to a guy from the Showtime show "Gigalos", who I didn't recognize, and yes, I eventually got my photo with the wonderful Lea Thompson, who so much prettier in real life than she is on screen, you have to see it to believe it. But I got to, for a brief moment in time, sit down with Mob, and there's no way I can really top that if I tried, and it's documented. A shy film blogger like me? This moment in time, that lasted, maybe an hour, is one of the strangest and most amazing moments of my life, and the Festival, is only half-over.
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