The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)

Talking about The Godfather earnestly has got to be hard. Also talking about it not in relation to its sequel–which happens less and less these days, something I’m going to blame on the sequel discussion scene in Scream 2. It’s stunningly unsurprising. My most profound observations this viewing–and its been ten years or so, since the theatrical release, then the laserdisc remasters (featuring the first letterboxed versions ever on home video)–are twain. It moves incredibly fast–at the half-way point it feels like forty-five minutes–and Al Pacino’s really damn good at the beginning, but you have no idea what he’s capable of doing, acting-wise. It’d be interesting to know if he felt more comfortable at the beginning or at the end. Otherwise, I made the standard observations–Marlon Brando’s fantastic, James Caan’s presented to the audience as the most sympathetic character in film history, Robert Duvall’s really good… I could probably chart it out, on paper not here (because I’d want to make boxes and arrows), when characters change, when we discover things, et cetera, et cetera.

That response is the problem with talking about The Godfather. More than any other film (yes, even more than the second one), discussing it devolves into some kind of dissection. This scene does this, this scene does that. There’s the scene when Michael turns. Another problem talking about the film is the novel. Having read the novel, I know the film is a shorter version of the novel, without much change. Puzo’s novel is derided, the film is praised. What does Coppola bring to the filmic storytelling Puzo didn’t bring to the text? I don’t know. Novels have a language films don’t. And it’s fine because they do different things, but this case, where the two are so similar, is particularly interesting.

A great book tends not to make a great movie. I can’t say bad books make good movies as often, but sometimes they do. (Coppola’s the master at that particular genre, given The Rainmaker novel versus film).

Someone had a story about George Clooney–maybe Brad Pitt, I don’t remember–and how Clooney had constant attention in public and attributed it to television–you’re in people’s homes once a week. Somehow The Godfather creates that feeling, that attachment. The melodramatic sensationalism plays out in the novel, I’m sure (I don’t remember and I don’t read things like that anymore), but in the film it’s different. When Sonny beats the shit out of Carlo, even though the book has a funny detail (Carlo’s been telling his crew how he could kick Sonny’s ass), it’s rewarding in the film. The audience goes to the wedding as guests, as full access guests. The morality of these characters never comes into question–maybe I noticed that one too. The FBI is messing up the wedding, Sterling Hayden is a corrupt SOB. The drug thing is manipulative, turning the Corleone’s into the good guys….

Anyway, the wedding opening. The brief moments with the characters, the almost real time pacing. It works really well for the film and Coppola knows it. That manipulative drug thing is probably the least manipulative thing in the film. But he’s manipulative in interesting ways. Why, for example, do people side with Sonny instead of Sonny’s wife? When he gets shot to pieces, why’s it so tragic–the level of violence, sure. But it’s real late in the film and it’s only to set the viewer up to accept the conclusion. But Coppola’s also interesting technically (though not particularly visually–Coppola not being fluent in that filmic language). Nino Rota’s score does good stuff, imparting information to the viewer and so on.

The Godfather‘s kind of a guarantee. It doesn’t knock the world of its axis, but it’s still really freaking great. Maybe I’m just still confused why movielens thinks I’d given three.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on the novel by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by William Reynolds, Peter Zinner, Marc Laub, and Murray Solomon; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; produced by Albert S. Ruddy; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Don Vito Corleone), Al Pacino (Michael), James Caan (Sonny), Richard S. Castellano (Clemenza), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Sterling Hayden (Capt. McCluskey), John Marley (Jack Woltz), Richard Conte (Barzini), Al Lettieri (Sollozzo), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), Abe Vigoda (Tessio), Talia Shire (Connie), Gianni Russo (Carlo), John Cazale (Fredo), Al Martino (Johnny Fontane), Morgana King (Mama Corleone), Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene) and Richard Bright (Al Neri).


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