I considered spending my evening watching the many hours of special features to really dig into the heart of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II by Francis Ford Coppola, but I decided that just watching the (three) movies with the commentary gave me a sufficient amount of information. I have seen the three films enough times to probably review them without a fresh viewing, but that is against the heart of this project, so I chose to pretend that I was watching them with Mr. Coppola chewing my ear off while I tried to pay attention to the dialogue.
When I first read through the list of films I was not surprised to see The Godfather represented, but I did not expect to see Part 2 as well. I don’t mean this in a negative way toward Part 2 but seeing a sequel on this list was strange. As sequels go, before the viewing, I felt that the two movies almost seem to be a single story that could be edited into one really long film; this is why I have personally chosen to combine the two together. Coppola says, several times, throughout the commentary that by the end of The Godfather he wanted to be done with the story and to not continue with a sequel, but I can hardly imagine not seeing the two as one.
The Godfather films are about family, and capitalist America, not movies about gangsters; that is the first and most important takeaway. It is the story of an Italian-American family doing what they need to do to get by and, while you and I hopefully would take another path, Vito Corleone decides that his route would be on the wrong side of the law. On a deeper level, the films present the death of the soul as we watch Michael, the good son, start with a clear conscience and descend into the family business.
It was not included on the list, but I decided to add The Godfather Part III to my viewing. While it has been historically panned, it is necessary to see the full story to get to the heart of Michael Corleone. It was interesting to hear Coppola whole-heartedly defend the performance and choice of casting his daughter Sofia in the role of Mary.
A question that I have is whether or not I should divorce the historic importance of The Godfather on the industry from the filmmaking. Without any question the film excels in both regards. It saved Paramount Pictures at the time of its release and Coppola had to fight for his chance to make the film, living day after day wondering whether or not the studio would find a reason to replace him.
An argument may be made that it was persistent fear that helped Coppola to make the best possible picture; with Part 2 he had complete control and it was not quite as strong as the original, but Part 3 is inferior to both and Coppola had little control or time, which is likely the biggest issue. The film itself, removing everything else, is gorgeous. Everything from the color to the sound to the emotion is precisely where it needed to be.
There is a very important lesson here, I think, regarding storytelling: it sometimes does not matter what you think about your story, or where you want to take the narrative. If you have any sort of collaborator, there is always a risk of having to make changes. The act of creating for yourself, which is the ultimate dream, I assume, can end in folly. You may be happy, but there is a realization that tweaking something could deliver the touch of success that may be the difference between whether or not you will eat.
When it came down to it, the collaborative spirit, while wracking the creator, produced a classic masterpiece of modern cinema.
I suppose there is a second lesson, too – when do you finish your story, or when do you let yourself be strong-armed into a continuation? Coppola was lucky, which is a strange idea to have, but he was lucky to hit it twice. That is how I see the continuation – the one, complete, film narrative.
The version of the films that I watched were in The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration. I am not sure what I can say about this. The transfer was perfect; the only flaw is a touch of graininess in Part II but I understand this was intentionally left in, so no real complaints.
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part III