FILM / DIRECTORS CUT: A compelling argument, The Godfather III: Martha Coolidge rediscovers the lost art of domestic drama in The Godfather Part III

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
A scene I've looked at quite frequently is the big argument between the two parents in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part III, in which Diane Keaton tells Al Pacino that she's had abortions. This is going to turn into one of the most powerful moments in the movie. It's a tough argument - it splits the marriage. There's beautiful work by the actors in it: that kind of sudden violence is something Al Pacino excels at. The scene erupts at the end and it's terrifying.

I spent a long time developing a picture for Francis and I saw that he, unlike some talented people, is not afraid of other people's talent. Many directors don't want to be challenged, but he will hire gifted people, and that's what gives his movies so much spark. And, by knowing Francis personally, there's something else I can point out: even though the characters are seemingly totally fictitious, this scene has tremendous personal elements. That doesn't mean everything in it happened to Francis, but it does mean he can take things that have moved him or pained him and personalise what he writes and directs. That's the case with every good director, even if he's making films about aliens in space.

The scene begins with good writing, but he could also have shot it as two people arguing in a room, in a television way: a couple of close-ups, a two-shot (medium-close shot of the two actors in the frame), bing-bing-bing, and be out. What's really interesting is that, instead of just cutting into the argument in the traditional way, Francis starts with the children out in the hall hearing their parents argue, then finally, at a significant moment, moves in to Pacino and Keaton. All of us have probably had that experience and it's deeply upsetting. I'm sure it took days to shoot, but it's incredibly exciting. Coppola builds to the desired revelation.

This, frankly, is what a lot of movies are missing these days: you're not seeing, except in a few directors, really creative work when it comes to drama and character. Everyone wants big event movies. But great movies always have character-driven scenes in them: for example, I think Andrew Davies is a very good director of actors and The Fugitive is an interesting combination of a big action picture that has great performances in it alongside all the action and special effects.

In the sense I'm talking about, television is like cancer. It has many good qualities and is certainly developing some of our finer writers, especially in Britain. But in the States it makes us settle for the lowest common denominator: shooting quicker and quicker and quicker, with lower production values, lower acting values and impossibly lower directing values. It starts to make you think anything is acceptable.

I shot Angie in anamorphic (CinemaScope). Most people say, if it's just a bunch of people in a room, shoot in 1:1.85, but I don't agree. Wide-screen means you can establish the rhythms and get all the values out the physical comedy, instead of cutting to a close-up for a line. That's what television has done to us, the idea that you cut, cut, cut to the punchline. The pacing should be in the scene itself and comedy is bigger than just a funny line. I shot Real Genius, one of my early films, in wide-screen as well, for much the same reasons. It isn't a very popular way of film-making. You can go to see a movie now and it will be all close-ups. There almost won't be any wide-shots. It's a destruction of our craft, which is to present a world.

That scene between Pacino and Keaton is not a great event in a movie (although when you see Godfather III it's a moment you remember). I picked a - in some senses - rather mundane scene, but I think it's really important we remember these things.

Martha Coolidge's two latest films, 'Lost in Yonkers' and 'Angie' are both on release

(Photograph omitted)

Comments