Tuesday, September 8, 2020
CANON OF FILM: "THE GODFATHER PART II"
THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo based on the novel “The Godfather” by Mario Puzo
There's seems to be two distinct camps regarding "The Godfather Part II". One is that it's greater and better then the original. The other is that it's very good, but doesn't belong in the same league as the original. There also seems to only be one "The Godfather Part III" camp, which everybody just seems to accept as complete crap, which is actually the one I really don't agree with, like, at all. It's one of those movies that's really only bad in comparison to the other two, which are indeed classics and essentials; on it's own, it's pretty good. It's got great moments in it, and it's also got a few weird parts. The incest, the questionable acting from Sofia Coppola which, ehh, look she's not an actress, so yeah, I get that, although I'm more amazed that nobody makes fun of how somebody gets killed by their own eyeglasses; like wouldn't they more likely brake before before they cut through a coratid artery? Honestly, that's always been the biggest issue I've had with "Part III"
"Part II", well, I used to be on the side that it's on par with the original. I am Italian-American, so even if..., I'm kinda obligated to think that; culturally the movie has more power to me then it might others. There are scenes in this movie that are just, beautiful, masterly framed shots; if you saw paintings of some of these shots, you'd stare at them all day, stunningly. However, I do have to ask, does the movie actually hold up, on it's own? Can you hypothetically watch "The Godfather Part II" out of context with "The Godfather" and have it work? I mean, it would be great filmmaking but, would it actually be a great film? The whole tragedy of the movie is that Michael (Al Pacino) has fallen from grace and become comfortable in his role as the head of the crime family, so much so that it's literally costing him, his entire family in more ways then one; the only real hint in "The Godfather Part II" that this is some grand tragedy, is the last scene, the flashback shot of the entire Corleone family sitting down for Don Vito's (Robert De Niro) birthday, which happens to be on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked and Michael announces that he's joined the Marines, upsetting everyone.
Honestly, the biggest accomplishment in hindsight to me regarding "The Godfather Part II"'s importance, is that it makes "The Godfather" even better. That's no small feat by the way; most sequels are more likely to make the original worst, and "The Godfather" was already great. How does it do that? Well, in the parlance today of today, we'd say that Francis Ford Coppola made both a sequel and a prequel at the same time. In a more accurate sense though, he gives a more rounded context to "The Godfather", more epic scope, gives the movie a more grandiose tragedy to it. Michael's descent into villainy
If “The Godfather” is Shakespearean, “The Godfather Part II” is downright biblical. Unlike how “The Godfather,” was about one man’s unwanted and unexpected decent to the hell that is the head of an organized crime family, “…Part II” tells an epic story, profiling generations showing the birth of a crime family to its destruction. Michael has relocated the Corleones to Nevada and after his son’s Communion Party, which is really an excuse to show how successful Michael is, there’s an attempt on his life. This is no longer the man who was so diligent in not being part of the family; he is now a Don of great power and respect. He maneuvers people like he’s playing a game of chess, trying to figure who made the attempt, all at the same time, attempting to orchestrate business dealings in Cuba at the time of Castro’s Revolution. Once again, a mafia historian could say these events are fairly accurate to fact. Hell, nobody I know refers to Johnny Fontaine in the first movie as his character's name, I just think of him as being Frank Sinatra. Same with Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg, in a very rare film role), that same fill-in-the-blank translates him to just being Meyer Lansky.
As a counterpoint, to these more insider retellings of Mafia history, filtered through the Corleones, we get a more universal narrative as we see how Vito Corleone made it into power as a crime boss and why. Vito comes to America to Ellis Island as a child after his father’s murder, and succeeds in making a life for himself as a businessman and father, and eventually becomes the protectorate of the neighborhood. How I will not discuss, but to say, just as the future holds for Michael, loyalty will be rewarded and honored. Although I will say that I have a particular affection for the scene with the rug, somehow I feel like every Italian-American has some similar story involving a grandfather and a rug, I'm not sure why; probably osmosis through this film, but that's how authentic this film is. The movie looks great, the art direction, the set design, the Gordon Willis cinematography that for some reason the Academy never wanted to acknowledge. (Seriously, I think cinematographers hated that he liked darkness.) There was no ready-made sequel to "The Godfather", unlike the Mario Puzo novel that the first is based on, Puzo worked with him on the film, so this is basically all Coppola's ideas and inventions, and you can tell. The movie feels narratively much more like "Apocalypse Now" than "The Godfather", at least in terms of emotional tone. It swamps over you with it's importance and tragedy like a wave.
Everything in the storytelling emphasizes the tragedy of the story. Roger Ebert's great movie review, who personally always thought the movie was overrated, specifically thinks Nino Rota's Oscar-winning score (Along with Carmine Coppola, Francis's dad) is the hidden character that makes the movie great. He might be onto something there; without context, it's just another film about how one bad guy takes out other bad guys.
As for Michael, once we know he's put the pieces together in Cuba, we know there’s only one way the film will end, that being murdering his weak brother, Fredo (John Cazale). I always read this as though he had no other choice to do what he did, not because he was backed into a corner, but more on the nature of his person, but Michael is a different person. Most will tell you I misinterpret this and should regard Michael as the more tragic figure which he is, but you know, I feel more for Fredo. Could he have controlled himself and not turn against the family? I think its inevitable with Fredo. Sickly and slow, even if he wasn't passed over, you get the sense that he would've screwed up accidentally if he didn't do it on purpose. Michael had a chance and he took his Faustian bargain, and it cost him, but Fredo didn't even have that opportunity.
Either way, “The Godfather Part II,” is essential for all film viewers. Both films are regarded as essential to one’s knowledge of film as “Hamlet,” is to literature. At least in America. To go along with assessment that "Part II" works best, in context of "The Godfather", the only time either film ended up on Sight & Sound's once-a-decade list of the greatest films of all-time, was in 2002, and both films were paired together as one. They changed the rules to disallow that in 2012, and both of them fell off again; you can debate whether or not that's something that should've been done, either for this list or in general with "The Godfather" or any film series but "The Godfather Part II" does have more then enough accolades. The first sequel to win the Best Picture Oscar, along with Best Director, Writing, Supporting Actor for De Niro, his first and the first time two actors won for the same character a feat that wouldn't be repeated until Joaquin Phoenix and Heath Ledger won for playing The Joker.
That final flashback scene is quite possibly the greatest scene in film history from a metaphorical standard, but it’d mean nothing if we didn’t know all that happens before. In the end, Michael is now a man with nothing but his empire, and somehow they made us feel empathy for him.
Posted by David Baruffi at 8:10 PM