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Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Godfather

I've never been a big admirer of The Godfather films. Of course, I recognized its significance in cinema, as well as its good quality; that it is, indeed, an impressive film. I am not saying that I did not enjoy the film, just that I did not enjoy it as much as, say, a male critic. It is a well-known stereotype, which is always based on truth, that The Godfather appeals more to men than to women. This, in no way, objectifies women as prissy moviegoers who only enjoy epic romances or romantic-comedies. (Why even introduce such a conjecture?) Upon watching it for a second time, I found myself to be absolutely captivated by the utter genius and mastery of the marvelous film, which shows just how much I've grown in the past few years. Regardless of my initial reaction to the film, the first time I watched it was a major milestone in my life. The Godfather marks my entrance into the spectra of intellectual cinema. Before this extraordinary trilogy, I was in the dark, figuratively speaking, when it came to watching movies, as I would simply watch for basic entertainment, to fulfill a need and time wasted. With The Godfather, my eyes were opened to the mastery of film, the intricate details that compose a film into the brilliant moving portrait it is. Let's journey into this magnificent family saga.

It is accurate to say that the general plot of this film is known to all, even if it is as vague of an understanding as "it has something to do with the Mafia." Of course, it is much more than that basic generalization, as the film extends beyond the average expectations of moviegoers and of true cinephiles. (Remember, cinephile merely means one who loves film. Philia is one of the greek words meaning love. It is society who has attached the gross connotation to the sound of any "phile" word, particularly pedophile. Disregard this tangent.) This film is a genuine gem in cinematic history, therefore one can imagine how stunned and amazed viewers were when it was released in 1972. Back then, the only films of the crime genre were those gangster films of the 1930s and 1940s, such as James Cagney movies. And to think that this was originally a low-budget project distributed by Paramount simply to make a quick buck. From what I've read on the production's history, Paramount hired Francis Ford Coppola (reluctantly, mind you, as he had only made flops until then) and specifically directed him to make it "as simple as possible." That's a paraphrase, I don't know exactly what they told him, but it was in that general area. Fortunately, Francis Ford Coppola does not take shit from anybody. (Did you sense the forced purpose in that derogatory comment? Well, maybe not derogatory, but simple-minded and common.) This entire film was his production, and his alone, as he independently made casting decisions without allowing Corporate to interfere. Because of the director's passion in bringing Mario Puzo's masterpiece to life, we have an unquestionable relic of golden cinema, alluding to the Golden Age of film.

One of the prime themes of The Godfather is the rise of Michael Corleone, how he transformed from an innocent war hero to the malicious patriarch of a notorious Mafia family. I cannot envision a more ideal actor to portray the prodigious son of Don Corleone, the Godfather himself, than Al Pacino. Most know him as the hot-tempered, often-crazy man who shouts and yells, or as the so-called awful actor starring in "hits" such as Jack and Jill. (Unfortunately, relating that abominable film to the great actor has become somewhat of an annoying reflex.) In The Godfather, Al Pacino is generally calm and reasonable, unlike his enormously rowdy older brother, Sonny, who was originally meant to take over after their father would no longer be able to be the Don. I could just picture that: Sonny, as easy to provoke as he is, sentencing absolutely anyone who so much as glares at him to an unthinkable death, preferably by his own hands. Really, Sonny's "conclusion" was inevitable, and rather theatrical, as much of the film's scenes beautifully are. Theatrical. (That term, perfectly describing The Godfather films, was coined by my dad. Kind retribution.) Michael's other brother is Tom Hagan, whom everyone in the family considers direct blood after they lifted him from the cruel streets of New York. While Tom is incredibly intelligent in the inner-workings of the Mafia, as well as in the outside world of non-Mafiaso, which makes him all the more valuable and indispensable for the family, he could never really be the Don. I think it's because he is not actually Italian, or a true Corleone. Nevertheless, he is a beloved part of the family, just as much as Sonny and Michael. He, also, happens to be one of my preferred characters in the saga, which intensifies my remorse for the way Michael treats him in the second part. Michael's other brother is Fredo, who is, for lack of a better word, a moron. In no way whatsoever is he cut out to be in the Mafia, as he is naive, clueless, and tragically impulsive. Why tragically? Let's just say his "conclusion" isn't as loud as Sonny's, more on the lines of desolate and unnecessary. (Note that this would be another mark on Michael Corleone's con list.) Now that we have an overall knowledge of the Corleone line-up, let's explore Michael Corleone himself.

From the moment Michael returns home from the war for his sister's wedding, with pretty-as-a-doll Diane Keaton on his arm as the WASPy Kay Adams, he is fated for becoming involved in the criminal mechanics of the Family. I'll be capitalizing the word Family when it refers to the Corleones from here on. Sure, he seems to be totally indifferent to the workings of the Family, as well as its reputation, considering he was an American war hero and attended college. And dating a non-Italian, all-American girl further supports his detachment from the Family. However, when his father is shot, nearly to death, he begins to stay closer to home, which brings along completing secretarial tasks and keeping watch at the hospital where his father lies. (For some reason, spell-check always fragments "lies" when used in the form of lying on a bed. It insists that I say "where his father lay." Now, I ask you, does that sound right?) Soon enough, Michael is granted the daunting task of "taking care of" two major enemies of the Family, crime-boss Sollozzo "The Turk" and the corrupted police captain-bastard McCluskey. The scene where this takes place exquisitely defines Michael's entrance into the deep chasms of the Family, transforming him into a shrewd, sly member of the Mafia.

I'd like to alternate to a different character in the film, if I may: Don Vito Corleone would be him. You might be surprised that this is the first instance in which I mention the grand, wise Don of the Corleone Family, since he is indeed considered the main character of the film. And why not? He is the head of the Corleone Family. However, the character himself rarely appears on the screen, compared to, say, Michael Corleone. When I first watched The Godfather, I was unimpressed by Marlon Brando's drowsy portrayal of the crime boss, as his speech was overly slurred and I did not sense much emotion on his part. Upon viewing it a second time, I must admit that his performance was that of an icon, a damned magnificent icon. While he may not have been as awe-inspiring as Al Pacino in the film, in my opinion, Marlon Brando rightly deserved his Best Actor statuette, for he remarkably brought an interesting man to life better than anyone would have expected. (Currently, I am reading The Godfather book by Mario Puzo, and, from what I've read so far, Marlon Brando portrayed Don Corleone superbly.) To think that Lawrence Olivier was the original choice to portray the formidable Don Corleone is somewhat of a joke, not to disrespect the royal British actor, because, well, he's British. Could you imagine Hamlet making an offer no one could refuse? I certainly can't.

In the sequel to The Godfather, a majority of the film is dedicated to Vito Corleone's beginnings in America, as a Sicilian immigrant aspiring for greatness in this promising land. Playing the role of a young Vito Corleone is a young Robert DeNiro. You know Robert DeNiro, don't you? Of course you do, I'm simply being coy. In the film, he speaks mainly Italian. Or does he speak Sicilian? Is that a language? Anyway, it was strange to watch Robert DeNiro as a completely different person. That's what he was, wasn't he? He spoke a different language, in what I would assume to be the perfect dialect, and looked so young, so fresh in this world of cinema. I must always allude back to cinema, mustn't I? Once again, the "two time's the charm" effect has ringed true, for the second time around I enjoyed this segment much more. Initially, I found the part with the young Vito Corleone quite dull, wishing for it to move on back to Al Pacino's reign in the present era of the 1950s. Robert DeNiro demonstrated his true potential in this industry, why he rose so impressively to the status of legend that he assumes today. Even in a different language, Robert DeNiro proves his marvelous acting prowess. Very impressive, indeed. To support my own subjective opinion, Robert DeNiro garnered an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the film, allowing Vito Corleone to be the only character with two Oscars to his name.

Al Pacino, on the other hand, was not so fortunate. Nominated twice for his performances as Michael Corleone, Al Pacino failed to win himself an award for a role he delivered excellently. (He would not win an award for his achievements until 1992 for Scent of a Woman.) In the first film, he was absolutely brilliant, truly deserving for the title of Best Supporting Actor that he did not receive, even compared to his competitors, James Caan and Robert Duvall. For Part II, Al Pacino was promoted to a Best Actor nomination for his sinister portrayal of an utter villain. Once again, my initial view of this second segment was much, shall we say, higher, as in I was immensely captivated by his performance, reflecting on my overall admiration of the film itself. However, once again, a second time around proved to alter my judgement, for the worse in this instance. (Or is it for the worst?)

As I progress in writing this important post (important because it describes and honors one of the greatest masterpieces of cinema), it seems I will list a series of facts about the film in a structured, organized manner. Of course, as you have already seen, I will incorporate my own views on the films, as well. Just thought I should inform you now before you become confused as to what exactly my purpose is. I feel I should always caution you in my writing--moving on.

Allow me to explain exactly what my initial judgment of Part II was. To sum it up, I considered it to be the greatest sequel in the history of film that I have seen thus far. In fact, I thought it more than surpassed the first one, being, quite frankly, a damned fine masterpiece, from the proportioned length to the brilliant acting. However, this gaspingly admiring description very much declined on a second-time viewing. I'm not implying that this was the worst sequel in the history of film, as it was a pretty great sequel considering what it competes with. (Part Two: The Demanding Sequels.) Upon a second appraisal of this film, I found my opinion to be greatly changed from what it once was. Now, I find myself with more than a few complaints, including the drastic change in setting and a certain character's demise in respectability. In the first film, the Corleone Family remained in its familiar home of Long Island, New York, a home that moviegoers have similarly become adapted to. Part II takes the audience across the country, eradicating the Corleones from their home in Long Island to the barren Western coast in Nevada. The basic plot of the second film involved Michael Corleone branching his crime syndicate to Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Also, in the background of this change of scenery was the chaos surrounding pre-revolutionary Cuba. Forgive me, but this feels a little too much like Scarface, only quieter. Of course, I cannot expect a sequel to follow every point that was followed in its predecessor, for that would just be copying-and-pasting, but creating something new that isn't better is also a wrong turn.

An additional issue with the second installment was the decadence of the primary character in the film, the decline I mentioned earlier: that of Michael Corleone. Upon a first viewing of the film, I found Al Pacino's leading performance (as opposed to his previous supporting performance) to be exceptional. In that alternate past, I found myself infuriated with the fact that he did not receive a Best Actor statuette as he rightfully deserved. (Even now, I still feel he should have won, compared to his competition. Art Carney in Harry & Tonto? That just sounds ridiculous.) From the subtle, rational premature (not to be confused with immature) Don of the Corleone Family he had transformed into in the first film, Michael Corleone degenerated as a character by acquiring a new-found narcissism that has blinded his once-good judgement. To make my point, allow me to provide the example of his ordering his own brother's death. (We all know the famous quote, "You broke my heart, Fredo," a quote I once revered and associated with chilling betrayal, so there's no need to cry out spoiler-alert.) The Corleone Family is recognized for its enormous regard and consideration for the Family. Nothing is more important, Don Vito may have said sometime in the first one. With that in mind, to witness Michael commit such a harsh and unnecessary punishment is simply shameful to the fictional Family audiences have come to admire. You might have noticed that I italicized, and therefore emphasized, the unnecessary element of Fredo's murder. Fredo was merely a harmless, if not simple-minded, young lad who, really, couldn't hurt a fly; so him being murdered for something as inconsequential (in comparison to the whole situation, that being his murder) as betrayal? It's just tragic, as all. In addition to unnecessary, it was also very poor judgement on Michael's part, who is supposed to be an analytical patriarch who places Family in front of business. Because the Corleones are in this business solely based on their loyal status as a Family. Am I right? I feel I've been rambling for the past few sentences, so I'll move on.

I hesitate in writing about The Godfather Part III for this reason: it was positively awful. Now, while I do love bashing films, because it comes easily and people usually get pleasure from reading something critical rather than praise, I still linger in continuing on. This wonderful Family saga is wonderful because of the first two, this being an obvious statement I'm sure. Moreover, I wouldn't even label The Godfather as a trilogy because it would have to bring up the issue of the third one's disappointment, as well as the mistakes the film made in its production. To mention, and in turn criticize, Part III would suggest that it ruined the entire saga, and even question the original two films as being excellent pieces of cinema. For one, and this may be the source of the film's failure, Robert Duvall did not return as Tom Hagan, a character I happen to admire; the reason for his absence was a matter of salary, as it almost always is. So, instead of a plot involving a feud between the egotistical Michael and the more reasonable Tom Hagan, Francis Ford Coppola decided to make it about...something else. Honestly, the whole beginning was so dull, I didn't bother in actually focusing on the film. I doubt doing so would have changed my opinion of the movie. Also, another major error was adding his dopey daughter, Sofia Coppola, in the movie as a, for lack of a better word, stupid whore. Stupid because she seems mentally slow/incapable, whore because she is desperate to get her cousin into bed. (Cuz.) Andy Garcia as Sonny's equally rowdy, pompous son was a little over-the-top, and absolutely nothing compared to James Caan's memorable performance. It was very apparent that Andy Garcia's intention was to recreate, and even surpass, his screen-father's performance. The rest of the film, though there was barely anything eye-catchingly horrible left, was basically Michael Corleone, now an old geezer, pining over his failed love for Kay, also an old geezer. There are moments, when I awoke from my boredom, of extended, supposedly "romantic" montages of them two in the country, which is just so pointless--overall, it's all very, very aggravating. The final scene was the highlight of the film, as well as a source of more laughter. Call me heartless, but I'm sure you laughed too.

Breaking News: It has come to my attention that a prequel based on a screenplay Mario Puzo drafted years ago has been released in the form of a novel, under the title The Family Corleone. In a (not so recent) recent article in Entertainment Weekly, the dramatic lawsuits against this book and the Puzo family estate (for "copyright infringement") and the counter-suits against Paramount ("go to the mattresses") is only the intriguing silver lining to an even larger discovery: the possibility of a fourth Godfather film. After Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola collaborated on The Godfather Part III, the original author decided to begin writing Part IV, and, according to his editor, it had "all the wonderful flavor of the Godfather movies." (Doesn't quoting from a respected publication make me sound pseudo-intellectual?) When my eyes came across those hopeful words, my face did a spasm it usually does when I experience shock and awe. Then again, would another Godfather film be the most logical choice? Keep in mind the infectious misfortune sequels have received lately. Of course, this would be a prequel to the saga, after Robert DeNiro's Vito Corleone and before Marlon Brando's Vito Corleone. One can recall the success of X-Men: First Class. The prequel in question would take place during the time when the Godfather's Mafia was in its unstoppable prime, and there was very little attack targeted against them. Think of it as that glorious time between the two World Wars, a sort of Midnight in Paris-esque era of wonder and joy. As of this time, no trial date has been made for the lawsuit at hand, nor has any official word been released that there will be a fourth Godfather film. (This breaking news is brought to you by a May 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly.)


To conclude this uncharacteristically long post (uncharacteristic because it has been a while since I have released some interesting insights in the realm of film), I must, again, emphasize what a "major deal" this saga is. Seriously, it may be the most prolific trilogy in the history of cinema. Can you name one that surpasses this? (If so, comment below. Who knows? I just might peruse it myself. Most likely not.) The Godfather is a cinematic classic, one that viewers will continue quoting, admiring, and, for those rebels out there, criticizing. The fact that this movie calls forth much criticism (shocking yet happens still) truly reveals its extraordinary quality, doesn't it? Well, no, disregard that. I, myself, have never heard a foul word uttered against this magnificent trilogy, aside from the third film, which was just a mistake altogether, as you should be aware. No, the first two films, the real trilogy attributed to the Godfather legacy, are bulletproof from any criticism. So far, at least. Those who dislike these films by giving them a one-out-of-ten star on IMDb are just ignorant rebels who rate low to be different. But that's really neither here nor there. Once again, to conclude, for those who have not yet experience the amazing pleasure of watching the Godfather saga really should and soon. And if you really want to adore it for all its glory, skip the third one. It's just not good. All watching it would do is make you feel remorse for how awful it was, and how it somewhat tarnished the entire trilogy. Oh, but it did not tarnish the entire trilogy, not for me at least. Even a film as terrible as The Godfather Part III cannot diminish such an incredible classic as The Godfather. Because, once more, the film is just that brilliant. A true cinematic gem, to stress it one last time.

P.S. For the record, it took me five months to dish this baby out. (I hesitated in typing that sentence, so you're aware.) I don't know why I delayed it for such a long period, but I figured better late than never, and it would be a fine start to what would hopefully be a productive year in my steady posting.

2 comments:

  1. I stumbled upon this article through some googling. I recently watched the Trilogy again with my wife after having watched it around 8 years ago initially. When I first watched the Trilogy I didn't really know the reaction to the third movie going in, and I watched it all back-to-back so there was no over-hyped anticipation for the third movie for me. And I genuinely liked the third movie but did have some issues. The plot was a little confusing (but I felt that about the first two movies as well) and Sofia Coppola's performance was slightly annoying, and the movie itself was a very different type of movie (to the point where I felt that the original title, "The Death of Michael Corleone", would have been far more appropriate). It was also disappointing to see Michael as a vulnerable older fellow with a radically different look, especially knowing that Pacino wasn't actually that old and could have totally pulled off a Michael in his 50's. And the lack of Tom Hagen was the biggest hole in the movie for sure. After watching Part III again I didn't feel as bad about the movie due to a lot of the issues I had disappearing because I didn't have the expectation for the movie be about what I wanted and instead judged it on it's own merits. And I also feel after reflection that the outrage on Sofia Coppola's performance is kind of overblown. Marlon Brando had an interesting interview with Larry King before his death talking about how people perceive "good actors" and his point basically was that most people like a certain type of polished acting, but that's not realistic and that's not how all people behave in the real world. So in that context, her acting is COMPLETELY fine. And the plot definitely made more sense to me the second time around. The one thing I noticed about the film (watching the Bluray version this time) is how gorgeous almost every scene in this movie is.

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  2. Oh and one more thing about Sofia's acting, if you look at the landscape of TV shows now and see a TON of reality TV shows and mockumentary-like shows (The Office), I think that type imperfect/awkward acting seems to just be more acceptable nowadays, and I might have been less bothered with it because of the way movies/TV have changed over the last decade.

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