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The Godfather: Part II is no mere sequel
by Asa Butcher
2009-07-05 11:05:11
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The Godfather: Part II
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
1974, Paramount Pictures

Imagine Leonardo da Vinci's “Mona Lisa” moving at 24 frames-per-second. Picture Picasso's “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon” in constant motion for three hours. Conjure an image of Vincent van Gogh's “Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers” filmed in Technicolor. Difficult? Try this then: Watch Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part II and brace yourself for a three-hour moving piece of art that will leave you breathless from its formidable power, from its dark beauty and from its unbridled brilliance.

The Godfather: Part II is not just a sequel; to call it a mere sequel to The Godfather undermines the film on a monumental scale and anything that would dare diminish the respect that this film rightfully deserves is a crime against cinema. The Godfather: Part II is a film in its own right, a confident companion to its predecessor and a film that almost, by a minute amount, makes you contemplate whether it could be better than the original – yes, I dared to write that!

What makes The Godfather: Part II such a distinguished piece of film making? Is it the music, the acting, the direction, the cinematography or perhaps even the set design? Yes. Yes, it is all of those and more; it is a dish that has been made with the best ingredients and prepared by a Masterchef, and it is a meal that you can enjoy in a different way each time you return to it. The name of the chef is Francis Ford Coppola and he only took time out to make The Conversation – also nominated for Best Picture in the same year - before returning to the ruthless world of the Corleones, with Al Pacino's Michael now head of the infamous family.

At the 1975 Academy Awards The Godfather: Part II walked away with six Academy Awards from 11 nominations, including the Best Picture award. However, the cast managed to claim two nominations for Best Actor (Al Pacino and Robert De Niro), two further nominations for Best Supporting Actor and another for Best Supporting Actress. I want to describe Al Pacino's performance as phenomenal, but then what adjective should I use when describing De Niro, who actually won the Best Actor award? Would 'absolutely phenomenal' do the job?

The Godfather: Part II not only continues the story of Michael Corleone, but also takes us back fifty years to Vito Corleone's arrival in America and introduces us to his origins. Robert De Niro had the heavy responsibility of following Brando's own Oscar-winning portrayal of Vito and it appears he did everything but change his DNA in preparation for the role. It must be noted that De Niro wasn't a bona fide star at the time, with Taxi Driver still two years away and The Deer Hunter four years away, but we are lucky today to be able to enjoy the raw potential from which he later carved an incredible career.

De Niro spent four months in Sicily learning to speak the Sicilian dialect and the large majority of his dialogue is in Italian, which gives you some idea just how good he really is. Part of you wants the whole film to follow De Niro's story, from losing his grocery store job to becoming a respected, yet feared, Don of the neighbourhood, but then we are also helplessly addicted to the future story of the Corleones and Mr. Pacino.

After losing out to Joel Grey for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role actor, Al Pacino must have been confident he was going to collect a gold statuette the second time round, but nothing in life is certain, although as his character says: “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.” Michael doesn't physically kill anybody this time, but his hands are certainly not clean and it is this descent into violence and treachery that Pacino portrays with such intensity.

It's his eyes! God, his eyes chill you to your soul and there is just no redemption, even Michael's wife Kay (Diane Keaton), has an abortion to spite him and you think, 'Good for you!' Innocent Michael from The Godfather is gone and has been replaced by a man trying not to lose a criminal empire that he has built on fear and betrayal, unlike the respect we see the young Vito building in the flashbacks. Pacino becomes the anti-hero and it becomes desperately hard to feel any sympathy for a man that ready to kill his own brother, the lovable Fredo (John Cazale).

“Fredo, you're nothing to me now. You're not a brother, you're not a friend. I don't want to know you or what you do!” Michael's cutting and cruel words are the result of a superb Academy Award winning screenplay penned by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, who followed up the highly quotable The Godfather with even more memorable lines. One of the most famous is "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer", which was voted by the American Film Institute as the 58th all-time best movie quote.

As producer, director and co-screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola could appear to be entirely responsible for the brilliance contained within The Godfather: Part II, but he has to share the credit. Wisely, Coppola used almost the same film crew for Part II, with Gordon “The Prince Of Darkness” Willis returning as cinematographer and seemingly managing to give shadows to shadows. The cinematography is dark and even Willis admitted he "went too far", but I feel it is pitch perfect – you do half-expect the devil to pop up at some point, though!

Even though Angelo Graham replaced Warren Clymer on the Art Direction, he not only managed to trick my mind into thinking I was actually watching a documentary through his sublime set decoration, but also picked up an Oscar in the process. The scenes of 1920's New York look as though a time machine has been employed, while the Cuba sequences look like historical documents, which is also thanks to the incredible Academy Award winning costume design of Theadora Van Runkle.

It would be remiss of me to conclude this love letter to The Godfather: Part II without acknowledging the haunting score written by Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola's father. I believe that a score quite simply draws the whole film together and underlines the emotions and events playing out on screen, but the score for The Godfather: Part II works on another level that is tough to put into words... well, it is music! Sometimes you aren't even aware that the music has been playing, but your subconscious is fully tuned in and together they quietly lead you to places you didn't know existed, sometimes those places are very dark and sometimes they are beautiful.

I think the last line of the previous paragraph sums up The Godfather: Part II: some places are dark and others are beautiful. It is a piece of art that you can happily stare at for hours on end, marvelling at the nuances, the touches of genius from all involved, the emotions and technical brilliance. Perhaps you may even begin to wonder why it didn't win the Best Documentary category because the film feels awfully close to reality and isn't that what art is supposed to do?

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Thanos2009-07-05 13:21:59
The first time I watched Godfather II was on TV when Coppola made it mini series and I ...didn't like it much, but later - having the chance to watch the extended version Coppola did for the DVD - it became my favorite from the trilogy.

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