Friday, June 6, 2014

CANON OF FILM: "THE GODFATHER"

THE GODFATHER (1972)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Screenplay: Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola based on the novel by Mario Puzo



I’ve noticed how, “The Godfather” doesn’t get the same appreciation outside of the U.S. as it does here, lately. People even start discussing the entire trilogy as one film sometimes to justify their ranking of it so high, an act which would’ve been unheard by most, as we typically never considered “…Part III” legitimate, despite it showing amazing moments of greatness. And you know, as an American, an Italian-American at that, it be can hard to defend “The Godfather” at times to people who confront it. Some say “Apocalypse Now” was better, of “…Part II” sometimes. I won’t even particularly disagree with those assessments. That said, we truly believe that “The Godfather,” is to the cinema what “Hamlet” is to plays. This film may be about the Italian mafia, (And on that note, there’s some accuracies to it) but what it’s really about is America. Power, corruption, revenge, and to some degree, about its destiny. Well, it has to be about those things, doesn’t it. It’s too powerful to simply be about the Mafia, or is it? Maybe it just gets so caught up in its insular world, that we must presume that it has to be greater than the sum of its parts? Maybe that’s the secret to “The Godfather”; it’s in its own world, and runs by its own rules.

The characters are as familiar to us as the characters in Hamlet. Vito Corleone (Oscar-winning Marlon Brando) is the aging Don. Sonny, his oldest son, (James Caan) is all temper. Fredo (John Cazale) is weak. Notice how he bobbles the gun when Vito is shot at the supermarket. Michael (Al Pacino), the youngest is not in the family business. A military hero during WWII, and is deeply in love with Kay (Diane Keaton), his WASP girlfriend. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall), an Irish friend of Sonny’s who as a kid the Corleone’s took in as their own brother, is the family’s consigliore, but isn’t told about most of the family’s inner workings because they’re afraid he’ll turn on them. (The way this double-back upon itself eventually, makes the Shakespearian comparison a must.) We know all the characters, even the other mob bosses by heart, the same way we know Hamlet, Horatio, Ophelia, Polonius… One doesn’t even have to describe what they mean, everybody just knows. I’ve seen “The Godfather,” at least thirty times. I know every scene by heart, and if I watch it now, I could tell you what happens next from the Undertaker’s plea for justice to Michael’s lie to Kay. Most everybody has. It climbed to 2nd, behind “Citizen Kane,” passing “Casablanca” on AFI’s great film list, and constantly will at least break the top 5 on most list it finds itself eligible for, especially in America.

The story is about how Michael ironically rose to power as head of the Corleone Crime Family, beginning shortly after his father’s attempted murder at a grocery store.  but one can get an inner viewing of the Mafia from watching the film. When Don Vito holds a meeting of the five families, this actually happened is real life, and what came about from it is arguably exactly what happened from it. Nothing is impossible, and nothing seems exaggerated. When Johnny Fontaine (Al Martino), a famous Italian crooner arrives at the wedding, everybody knows that really represents Frank Sinatra. Moe Greene (Alex Rocco) is obviously Bugsy Seagel. But all of this inside information is irrelevant because the story is about how people lives can change from one moment to the next and how Michael is cursed by family. In the legitimate world, he would be a CEO of a million-dollar corporation, and he probably could’ve done that if certain events hadn’t happened the way they did. This is a tragedy of about how one loses himself, and becomes the person he eventually becomes, the person he distinctly never wanted to be. By the end, we realize “The Godfather” isn’t referencing Vito, its referencing Michael, and do not ask him about his business. Actually, I’m wrong to reference Hamlet, because even Shakespeare didn’t have a character like Michael Corleone


It’s actually quite amazing how Coppola did this. We’ve all heard the stories about Robert Evans telling him to make it longer, (A request you’d never hear from a producer these days.) but what’s really special is how the movie is surrounded by the Mafia world. The only sequence that really spreads outside of it, is when it invades Hollywood so drastically, culminating in the infamous horse’s head sequence. The cops are either corrupt or not there at all. There’s a new country and an old country, and the ways of life aren’t that different, ’cause it’s all in its own world, not to be seen or even photographed like at the wedding where everyone’s introduced. The direction by Coppola is unusually skillful, allowing this story to slowly be told, the way the novel was. He actually pasted a paperback copy page-by-page of Puzo’s novel into his screenplay, few adaptations are ever this literal. The cinematography by Gordon Willis was revolutionary in its time, so low-lit, different. It gives almost a grainy feel to the film, a perfect touch to display characters who thrive in the underworld.  Underworld, New world, it’s own world. Perhaps it is America, and you never go against America? 
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