This week's Cinematical Movie Club pick is a little bit different. Rather than picking a film I've seen and appreciated, I wanted to dig into something I've never seen, but should have: Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Making it even more appropriate: This past livetweet Wednesday marked the 38th anniversary of the film's release.
There's no excuse for me having missed AFI's third greatest film of all time, other than life's regular twists. There are lots of occasions where I almost saw it, but plans would always fall through, the timing was off, or everyday busyness won out over fandom. But now I'm glad. The funny thing is, I think the newbie mistakes that marred Wednesday night's livetweet made it all the better.
I went over to a friend's place, where we planned to dig into the classic on Laserdisc. Naturally, we slipped in Disc One and pressed play. Soon, the screen was filled with the gorgeous Italian landscape, and a young Vito Corleone, soon growing into a young Robert De Niro. Yes, Godfather fans ... we had put in the chronological trilogy. If it wasn't for my friend wondering why Robert De Niro didn't show up on the first film's IMDb page, or having had the foresight to grab a backup copy...
Luckily, after 20 minutes in Italy, Ellis Island, and old-school New York, the screen was full of a cotton ball-stuffed Marlon Brando, whiny Godfather hangers-on, and rambunctious wedding celebrations. Everything, of course, was moving much more quickly, and it wasn't too long before I realized that I appreciated the mistake. Having that slight bit of knowledge -- the poor silent boy who watched his whole family murdered and traveled to the new world alone -- infused every single scene.
When Brando refuses to take a wedding picture without Michael, who turns out to be a straight-laced army vet, the first assumption is that he's the beloved mob-boss to be. He is, indeed, the apple of his father's eye, but for an entirely different reason. Michael is the potential man Vito never had the chance to become -- young, strong, and idealistic. He's outside his father's messy world, able to embody all of the possibilities stolen from Vito ... until circumstances change.
The descent begins when Vito is shot. When Michael saves his father from another attack, and faces the crooked cop, he's given a valid reason to be sympathetic to his family's plight. The wheels begin to turn, and the change officially begins as he becomes the methodical planner to Sonny's hot-headed ways. He kills two men and catches the first strands of the organized crime web. When Vito finds out and his face contorts in pain, you see the hope for Michael's future evaporate. The beloved son still has a chance in Italy as he falls in love ... until his hired help tries to kill him, and mistakenly kills his new wife instead; you can see the last threads of goodness snap. He comes home, marries his once-forgotten girlfriend (who he doesn't really love), wipes out his passion and idealism, and embraces cold indifference and mafia power.
But it's not just the mirrored lives of father and son thrust into "the life" by dramatic violence; it's the ways in which they are different. The most subtle of reactions, posture, or actions mix together to show the warmth in the father and how the son took the image of the powerful Godfather to its coldest extreme. Yet I'm sure that watching Parts 2 and 3, and watching it again chronologically, will reveal even more. And maybe, even change these initial opinions.
There are those who say The Godfather is one of the best movies of all time, and those who say that it's iconic pulp. If not for the mess-up, I'd probably lean towards the latter. There are moments that jump so far forward in time that the plot seems outlined rather than lived, and scenes/scenarios that could easily be cut from the 3-hour film to make it slicker on its own. However, part of me wonders what will be filled in the next installment, wondering what other slight aspects I've missed because I didn't know the back story, or where it will go from here. I wonder about Michael and how much of his former self is still locked inside. I wonder how Vito found his voice (although considering the chronological teaser, it doesn't seem like that will be answered).
Ultimately, I'm really enjoying the curves in the road, and all the gems hidden in the shoulder. And a few days later, I still can't get over how all semblance of time rushed out the window in the final 40 minutes, making it feel like no more than 10, as Michael planned to wipe the past and its bloody struggles away. Or, how Pacino morphed from someone almost unrecognizable in the first moments, into classic, tough-as-nails Pacino by the last.
- The Godfather is one of those films that influenced so much of what was to come that watching it for the first time now, it seems overly familiar. When did you first watch it, and how did that affect your opinion of it?
- From another angle, are references to the film as pulp fair, or is the film just a victim of those filmmakers who idolize it?
- It's hard to imagine any sort of recasting in a classic film, but Laurence Olivier was Francis Ford Coppola's first choice. It would have been, most surely, a different Godfather. Would the lack of Brando's understated performance have helped/hurt/other the character?
- For Godfather fans: How do you prefer the films -- as 1, 2, and 3, or chronologically?
Next Week's Film: The Virgin Suicides | Add it to your Netflix queue
Once again, I will livetweet on Wednesday 10:00 P.M. Eastern time. You can follow me at @MBartyzel, and join in on the discussion using both #cinemovieclub and #virginsuicides.
Last Week's Film: Donnie Darko