goodfellasColor, R, 145 min. plus supplements, Dolby Digital, widescreen, Street: Aug. 17, $26.99; First Run: W, Sept. 1990, $47 mil.

Back in the days when an audio commentary track was a novel concept, Martin Scorsese was one of its foremost practitioners. In recent years, he has declined the opportunity to narrate some of his pictures for DVD release, but he did consent to participate in the commentary tracks for the five films included in Warners’ Martin Scorsese Collection. Goodfellas is the most eagerly awaited entry in the set, as the film trails only The Godfather and Scarface as the best-loved gangster movie of the modern era. The movie also can be viewed as a blueprint for The Sopranos, as evidenced by the fact that more than a half-dozen featured performers in the movie wound up in seminal roles on the cable series. The movie’s fans will delight in the anecdote-filled supplements, but Scorsese devotees doubtless will be disappointed at his very limited participation in the commentary. His rather short remarks about the preproduction process and the film’s central set-pieces are interspersed with those of the cast and crew. Worse yet, he didn’t consent to appear on camera for the featurettes, so he’s present only as a chuckling disembodied voice. The folks at Warner have done an excellent job of working around Scorsese, though, assembling all the major crew members as well as all the key performers save Robert De Niro and Oscar winner Joe Pesci, who are present only by virtue of archival footage and very brief audio clips. The featurettes explore the movie from inception (Nicholas Pileggi discusses how he and Scorsese adapted his book Wise Guy) to cult status (a group of younger filmmakers, including the Hughes Brothers and Frank Darabont, testify to its greatness–and its status as one of the greatest “coke movies” of all time). Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and others reflect on the way innovations worked out in rehearsals turned into precisely timed “routines” in the finished film, most notably Pesci’s memorable, “How the f*ck am I funny?” interrogation of Liotta. (Ballhaus supplies the single best bit of trivia when he notes that the virtuoso one-take Copacabana scene was perfected in only eight takes–and a few of those were required simply because Henny Youngman kept forgetting his lines.) The real surprise in the package, though, is the alternate “cop and crook” commentary track supplied by the film’s subject, Henry Hill, and Edward McDonald, the FBI agent who helped him enter the Witness Protection Program. The conversation between the two is wonderfully candid, to the extent that one name (that of the individual who inspired the “wig-king Morrie” character in the movie) is repeatedly bleeped out. Thankfully, there are no bleeps to cover up Hill’s vigorously profane language. He uses the f-word liberally and supplies pithy descriptions of the real-life figures who are being portrayed, as when he describes a certain Mob boss as “one vicious, vicious bastid.” —Ed Grant