BFI/Palgrave Macmillan £9.99 (96pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Godfather, By Jon Lewis
Friday 12 November 2010
Combining narrative analysis and production history, this slender book reminds us why Francis Ford Coppola's first episode in The Godfather trilogy has been accorded the top spot in numerous polls of the greatest film of all time. Jon Lewis, a professor of English, explores the film's bold style of long set pieces, such as the opening scene of a mob wedding that reveals "a family business that is at once simple and mysterious".
Subsequent scenes, where "gangsters unconvincingly perform the roles of American businessmen", underline the film's theme of power in America: "Everything of importance is achieved behind closed doors". The interior scenes shot in a rich, chocolate brown, which prompted cinematographer Gordon Willis to be dubbed the "Prince of Darkness", are punctuated by moments of startling violence, especially in the five-minute climactic montage that cuts with increasing speed between a baptism and Michael Corleone's ruthless assertion of his authority.
At times, Lewis's commentary seems to be coming from an adjoining cinema seat. During Michael's assassination of a rival gangster and a bent cop, he notes how "we worry for a moment that he might not have the courage to pull the trigger. The action is suspended... so the audience calls even more strongly for its performance." It is an indication of the film's innovatory nature that the first editor on the job insisted that this scene "wouldn't cut", because Coppola "had no idea about continuity".
So accomplished is the direction by the young auteur, and so perfect the casting, it is hard to believe that the film version of Mario Puzo's novel could have been any other than how it is. But we learn that the producer Robert Evans first wanted Burt Lancaster to play Vito Corleone (at 58 he was the right age for the role while Brando was 47) and the directing job was offered to eight others before Coppola. Though the film won three Oscars and rescued the ailing Paramount, the argument over authorship between director and producer smouldered for years. Coppola accused Evans of "ridiculous pomposity". Evans attacked Coppola's "venomous diatribe". Exploring links between the film and real-life gangsters, Lewis notes that the revenge killing of "Crazy Joe" Gallo in "a restaurant on Mulberry Street in Little Italy" six months after The Godfather opened "seemed to assure viewers that Coppola and Puzo had the scoop".
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 3 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 4 Penis size: Study revealing 'what's normal' sends international media into meltdown
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, review: Alexa Chung's secret skills impress but Chris Moyles makes Paul Hollywood gag
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Seth Rogan's pot fumes delay hacked Sony boss’s office move
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin