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Godfather who?
by Asa Butcher
2009-04-07 09:10:43
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The Godfather
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Paramount, 1972

Life has a strange habit of bringing loose threads together in order to make a pretty bow. The threads of which I now speak began to present themselves a few months ago when the film magazine Empire unveiled The Godfather as the best film of all-time. This prompted me to consider it as my next Ovi Best Picture review, but I didn't know how to review a film that has been the subject of countless books and essays, been voted to the top of so, so many polls and has entered the  collective consciousness of our culture... that was, however, until last week.

On the same day last week, I realised Francis Ford Coppola's 70th birthday would be on April 7th and I received the latest issue of Empire in which there was a letter from Seamsu Mulrenan who wrote: “I am 13 and have been reading your magazine for about a year. I thought your Top 500 Films was a great feature but was a bit surprised that The Godfather came first, as it's a film me and my friends hadn't heard of. A few weeks ago I finally got a chance to watch it and it's absolutely brilliant!

Seamsu's letter left me shaking my head in despair and whole-heartedly agreeing with Empire's reply of “Kids today, eh!” However, the more I thought about his comment the more the threads began to loop and knot, until it was clear that this was the access point for my review of The Godfather, with the prefect timing of the award-winning director's landmark birthday of three score years and ten.

Many of us take it for granted that films such as The Godfather are quintessential viewing and are the influence, inspiration and foundation that so many films have been built on since. We forget that there was once a time that we had never heard of or seen some of our favourite films, especially for those of us born after their initial release. Unless there was a cinematic mentor in the family or among your group of friends you could easily have missed, or even still are missing, so many great films – I remember having a hard time convincing my dad to watch The Shawshank Redemption, but now it is among his favourite films.

Perhaps it is arrogant to think that everybody should have seen, or at least heard of, The Godfather, but when hundreds of films are being made year after year a young newcomer to cinema, like Seamsu, can feel overwhelmed and unsure whether to work their way through the back catalogue of Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola or... well, you get my point. Seamsu, it is easy: Watch them all! You are young, actually you are too young to be watching the 18-rated The Godfather, but let's overlook that law-breaking aspect!

Like music and art, our taste in film is personal and is influenced by a number of variables, among which are mood, age, experience and even understanding of the creative process because when I first watched The Godfather in my late-teens I knew it was good, but when I watched it again for this review, well I had forgotten the enormity, the artistic brilliance and acting tour de force that assault your senses for almost three hours. I am not an art lover. Paintings have no hold for me, but a film can set my mind on fire and it has always been my escape route from reality; The Godfather is one film that I would "hang" on my wall if it were a painting.

The Godfather has cinematography that rivals artwork by some of the Masters in its construction, with the now classic silhouettes of the opening scenes suddenly contrasted against the vibrant colour of the wedding. It has a cast of acting genius that the word 'talented' can only begin to describe, with Marlon Brando at the pinnacle of his powers, Al Pacino's perfection, James Caan's explosive force and Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, Abe Vigoda and the great Sterling Hayden all lending even further weight to this giant. The screenplay is packed full of dialogue that some people actually live by (watch You've Got Mail to fully understand) and scenes that have been parodied hundreds of times since – by the way, did you know that the name of the horse that loses its head is Khartoum!

Marlon Brando won his second Best Actor Oscar for his role as Don Corleone, although he famously sent the fake Indian girl to collect it for him, while Francis Ford Coppola may have lost out on the Best Director award to Bob Fosse for Cabaret, but he did share the Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, with Mario Puzo, who wrote the novel on which the film was famously based.

The Godfather also walked away with the Best Picture award, currently holds the second spot on IMBD's Top 250, has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, is ranked as the second greatest film in the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list and, as I mentioned earlier, topped Empire's Top 500 films list. Quite simply Tom Hanks' sums it up in You've Got Mail:

The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? 'Leave the gun, take the cannoli.' What day of the week is it? 'Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.'

For those of you reading this review today I ask you to become a film mentor to somebody close to you. Help them navigate through the thousands of titles available on DVD and teach them about the beauty of cinema… it certainly wouldn't hurt to start with The Godfather, although make sure they aren't at an age where the sight of a bloody horse's head or a man being shot to pieces at a toll booth will leave them with nightmares!

By the way, Seamsu, do you know there are also two sequels?

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Emanuel Paparella2009-04-07 12:19:49
Interesting peroration to film as an art form Asa. The suggestion of becoming a film mentor is certainly appropriate, given that quite often in our brave new world perfume and garbage is mixed together and it is hard to sort it all out. Even within the film itself there is much of that to sort out, for certainly many immature audiences (and readers of the Puzo novel) have mistaken the content for a celebration of a life of crime.

I have at times given taught a course on Italian cinema and have always advices students not to miss another superb movie which is perhaps itself a peroration to cinema, a metamovie, so to speak, teaching the beauty of cinema. I refer to "Cinema Paradiso". I highly recommend it to those who have never heard of it. It could well function as a sort of introduction to cinema via cinema.

Asa2009-04-07 12:32:55
"Cinema Paradiso" is also among my favourites - you cannot fail to be overwhelmed by the emotions of the final scenes when Salvatore begins watching the film reels of all of those censored kisses!

Emanuel Paparella2009-04-07 16:46:21
Indeed, and as one watches them, the whole history and panorama of cinema is presented, from the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin to John Wayne's.

Thanos2009-04-07 19:31:05
Even though I wouldn’t put the God Father in the top of my favourite films it is definitely on the top ten list. Your reference and I suppose inspiration to write this, Mr. Seamsu makes me really wander what his top ten list includes and if he has ever heard of Fellini, Bergman or Fassbinder and if anybody will mention them after twenty years.

Btw the same time with "Cinema Paradiso" another fantastic film came out, “Il Postino”

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