| July 26, 2020
When documentarian/director Joseph F. Alexandre watched Casino for the first time, his reaction was very different from that of the average filmgoer. Martin Scorsese‘s Casino felt personal to him as if he once lived in that world of Chicago crime. In reality, he did…only the names in the film had changed. So what does a filmmaker do upon this realization? Make a documentary and thus, Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino was born. Originally premiering in 2003, Alexandre went back and added footage and new archival photos for this special edition.
Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino features associates and family members of the Chicago “outfit,” and clips from a Charlie Rose interview with Casino author Nicholas Pileggi. Perhaps most notably is Alexandre’s friend Michael Guardino, a restaurant owner who refused to give in to extortion attempt by the mob, who fearlessly describes his experience with the “outfit.” Alexandre also manages to interview Casino crew members, who felt out-of-place and paranoid about just how accurate the film was to real events.
The documentary is different than most films about movies. It’s not a behind-the-scenes account of a film, but a behind-the-history take on the movie’s story. Alexandre opens by making the connections with the film’s stars and their real-life counterparts, such as Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal (Robert DeNiro), Tony Spilotro (Joe Pesci), and Alan Dorfman (Alan King). Through the doc’s interviews, we get a sense that as much as both Pileggi and Scorsese got it right, events may have been over-glamorized for the sake of the gritty narrative Scorsese is known. An entire segment is devoted to the accuracy of the memorable “pen scene” and the violent temper of Tony Spilotro.
“…a restaurant owner who refused to give into extortion attempt by the mob…”
Alexandre then describes what life in the Chicago suburbs was like under “outfit” rule. Here his friend Michael Guardino’s story is featured prominently. Guardino’s integrity would not allow himself ever to be involved nor associated with such people, so much so that his relentless rebuff of mob wishes, Guardino would, at one point, be falsely arrested and jailed for a day by corrupt undercover cops and a judge.
The small budget and videotape quality of Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino really shows. There is an 80s VHS quality to the documentary that might cause you to pre-judge the film. But once you get over the quality, Joseph F. Alexandre tells a compelling story that feeds into our mafia fascinations.
Alexandre himself appears in the film to explain the nostalgia he felt watching his personal connection to growing up in the Chicago presented on the big screen. It might feel self-serving at times, but he can show that life in Chicago under mafia-rule was real. People died for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and potential subjects refused to appear on camera or censor themselves in fear of retaliation. Ultimately, Back Home Years Ago: The Real Casino is a fascinating watch for anyone interested in the history of organized crime or, at minimum, fans of Casino.