Francis Ford Coppola

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

On one hand, with the Wojciech Kilar score, Bram Stoker’s Dracula can get away with just about anything. On the other, with Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves playing leads… well, it needs something to help it get away with anything.

It helps neither Ryder or Reeves are the actual star of the film. Neither is top-billed Gary Oldman (as the Count). The star is director Coppola and his crew—cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, production designer Thomas E. Sanders, costume designer Eiko Ishioka (for better and worse), editors Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith. And Kilar, of course. And whoever did all the amazing practical special effects; Bram Stoker’s is a very audiovisual experience. As the story itself belies reality, why should the film itself be any different an experience. Lots of inventive transitions, lots of creative composite shots to show Oldman’s faraway yet so close impact on the world of his victims. Shame James V. Hart’s screenplay isn’t anywhere near as experimental or imaginative. The script’s big deviation from the novel—in addition to Anthony Hopkins’s Van Helsing being crude—is Ryder falling in love with Oldman because she’s his reincarnated fifteenth century wife, who killed herself thinking he’d died in battle, which caused him to renounce God and become… a vampire.

The most interesting thing about Bram Stoker’s is how any of it would make sense. Like, Oldman’s castle is full of paintings done after Ryder’s death—Ryder the queen, not the young British woman with the questionable accent. Did he pay the painters or eat them? Because even though the film “humanizes” Oldman a little, it never makes him particularly reasonable as a character. Why, for instance, does he regrow a mustache when he de-ages himself and then shed it when he gets old again. Also, why does he get old again so often. Why did he get old in the first place? Wasn’t he eating enough villager? Seems like he was eating plenty of them.

Anyway.

None of those details matter because Bram Stoker’s looks great and has that Kilar score. Ryder can be bombing a questionably written scene—though, to be fair, it’s not like there are any strong performances in the film. Oldman’s got a few strong moments, a lot of okay ones, and some piddly ones too. But Kilar’s score can save the heck out of a scene. Given the lack of chemistry from Oldman towards Ryder and the lack of chemistry, accent, and acting from Ryder towards… everyone (save, maybe, best friend Sadie Frost), the melodramatic nineteenth century romance but kind of saucy scenes where Oldman has to remind himself to keep the fangs in are all mesmerizing thanks to how the music compliments the image. Bram Stoker’s is masterfully made. It’s far from a cinematic masterpiece, but Coppola does provide a solid facsimile of one. As long as you ignore the acting and the writing.

Whether Ryder would be better if the character were better—she falls in love with Oldman while fiancé Reeves is being held captive in faraway Oldman’s castle (it’s kind of hilarious how easily Reeves slips her mind—the film utilizes the novel’s epistolary format, turning the diary entries into narration from cast so we know she’s not thinking about Reeves); the falling in love while the dude’s away is literally her only thing. Ryder’s not even worried about Frost, who Oldman’s attacking every night because she’s slutty and Ryder’s virginal. Or something. It’s unclear why Oldman targets Frost in the first place, though maybe there was a scene explaining it… along with his London base being right next door to Richard E. Grant’s sanitarium, which is important but not really thanks to Hart’s script. It’s like Coppola came up with all the visual machinations to distract from Hart not having the best narrative.

Of course, it’d be disingenuous to the source material if Bram Stoker’s had a solid narrative.

And at least Ryder and Reeves are failing with questionable (at best) accents. Actual Brits Grant, Frost, and Cary Elwes all have extremely bad moments where you wish they’d just be screwing up accents. Grant can’t seem to take the thing seriously, Frost is out of her depth, and Elwes always seems like he’s just coming into the film for the first time, scene after scene. He makes no impression. Neither does Billy Campbell (as a very Texan Texan). In an extremely odd case of stunt-casting, Tom Waits disappoints as Oldman’s first solicitor, who’s gone mad and been committed and now eats bugs. Waits’s eccentric take seems more appropriate for a TV commercial than drama.

As for Hopkins… he could be worse. He’s not good, he doesn’t take the part seriously (how could he), but he could be worse.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a gorgeous exercise in technical filmmaking. And not much else.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by James V. Hart, based on the novel by Bram Stoker; director of photography, Michael Ballhaus; edited by Anne Goursaud, Glen Scantlebury, and Nicholas C. Smith; music by Wojciech Kilar; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; produced by Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Gary Oldman (Dracula), Winona Ryder (Mina), Anthony Hopkins (Van Helsing), Keanu Reeves (Harker), Richard E. Grant (Seward), Cary Elwes (Holmwood), Billy Campbell (Morris), Sadie Frost (Lucy), and Tom Waits (Renfield).


The Godfather: Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola), the director’s cut

Here’s an all-encompassing theory to explain The Godfather Part III, based only on on-screen evidence (i.e. ignoring production woes, casting woes, rewrites, budget and schedule comprises, and whatever else). Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo hate everyone in the film and everyone who will ever watch the film—maybe Coppola didn’t cast daughter Sofia Coppola in the third lead of the film because he thought she’d be good, but instead because she’d be godawful and make everyone hate the movie, which would just validate Coppola not wanting to make it in the first place. It would also explain the terrible script, full of awful exposition sequences and hackneyed scene after hackneyed scene. Godfather Part III makes Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia’s star-crossed romance—they’re first cousins—into a fetish. They’ve both got a cousin-smashing fetish. If you want to love Godfather 3, Coppola and Puzo say, you’ve got to love some cousins bumping uglies.

Let’s not even get into when Talia Shire does a jaw drop at Garcia’s useless stud twin bodyguards and then rubs her nephew’s hands suggestively. If Godfather 3 has any subtext, it’s icky. But saying it has subtext is a stretch. Shire seems like she’s just in the movie to wear great clothes. Her performance is utterly atrocious. Of the returning cast members, Shire’s easily the worst. See, there’s nothing good about Godfather Part III. There are no hidden gems in the film. It’s not like secretly Al Pacino gives a good performance if you just ignore the terrible dialogue. It’s not like his eyes give a different performance than his words when he’s trying to rekindle with ex-wife Diane Keaton—in the twenty-one movie years between II and III apparently Pacino decided he didn’t want to raise the kids he stole from Keaton and ships them back to her and then is estranged from the kids somewhat. Keaton’s remarried (to Brett Halsey, who seems to have just met his wife and step-kids in first scene) and Pacino’s seems to have been a baching it, living with bodyguard Richard Bright (who gives the best returning performance) and hanging out with sister Shire. It’s not clear. The first act is really inept as far as establishing the ground situation.

Godfather 3 kind of remixes styles from the previous two movies—it doesn’t seem like Carmine Coppola composes a single new piece of music for the film, just recycles material from the previous ones, as director Coppola just recycles dialogue and scenes. It all echoes, the film bellows: Don’t you remember when you loved this.

But then Coppola and Puzo grossly veer as far as characterization. Pacino doesn’t have a character. He’s got a caricaturization, not even of the character from the previous films, but of himself since then. In really bad make-up. They’re only aging Pacino ten years but the way he dodders around, shuffling, kind of glassy-eyed, it’s like the makeup person was going for seventy-five and stoned. It’s really, really, really hard not to feel bad for Pacino throughout Godfather Part 3. People remember the first one for Brando, the second one for De Niro; here, Pacino gets to be the whole show—or should be—and director Coppola instead gives all the big material to his daughter, who must give one of the worst performances in a film budgeted over fifty million dollars before 1994. It’s humiliating.

Because Pacino’s not terrible. He’s doddering, he’s pretty dense—it’s unbelievable he’s a successful anything, gangster gone businessman or gangster pretending to go businessman—the same goes for Garcia, who goes from driving a car, shooting people, yelling, picking up young girls, then picking up his cousin to being a criminal mastermind. Of course, given the mob plot in this one involves Pacino wanting to buy a huge corporation from the Vatican and the Vatican going to war with Pacino but there’s also something with Joe Mantegna as the mob guy Pacino gave the old neighborhood. Mantegna and Garcia hate each other. Garcia’s Pacino’s illegitimate nephew (and if you’re expecting a great Pacino blow-up scene after Gracia seduces Sofia Coppola, dream on; though at least Pacino disapproves, Keaton’s all for the first cousin—they bring it up to confirm–smashing). Eli Wallach plays an old mob friend who somehow wasn’t in the first two movies even though he obviously should’ve been; he’s got an agenda of his own. If you’ve seen the second movie you can figure it out pretty quick because they use the same music cues.

Speaking of the second movie, evidently the reason Pacino’s a big sweetheart now is because he feels so bad about killing his brother in the second movie. Coppola rolls that footage in the first ten minutes of the movie, clearly it’s important. Only it’s not because Pacino hasn’t got enough character for it to affect anything. Wait, wait, it does. I forgot: Franc D’Ambrosio. D’Ambrosio is Keaton and Pacino’s other kid (sadly, no, he and Garcia don’t bang too). The reason Keaton comes back into Pacino’s orbit is because she wants to support D’Ambrosio dropping out of law school to become an opera singer. See, D’Ambrosio knows Pacino had his favorite uncle killed in the last movie and wants nothing to do with him. Except in all those scenes where he hugs Pacino and tells him how much he loves him and how much he wants Pacino’s approval and blah blah blah. Until the last twenty minutes, it’s hard to get too worked up about Sofia Coppola’s performance because for as terrible as she gets, D’Ambrosio is just as bad. Coppola looked at Keaton and Pacino—who actually dated back on the second movie—and decided if they had kids, those children would grow up to give terrible performances in the worst sequel (compared to previous entries) of all time.

The complete disconnect between D’Ambrosio’s first scene and every subsequent one? It gets to be a natural feeling in Godfather 3. A lot of scenes feel reshot, even if they’re not. Like maybe Keaton and Pacino weren’t really on set at the same time for this one. Same goes for Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia. They’ve got a couple scenes where it really doesn’t seem like they’re talking to anyone else. It’s hard to tell, because Coppola directs the film like a TV show. Instead of doing a two shot in a conversation, he’ll cut between close-ups. It’s really, really, really bad composition. Like so much in the film, it’s embarrassing.

So Pacino’s greatest success is not appearing visibly humiliated. Keaton just seems defeated. She’s terrible. The writing on her character is real bad. All the writing on characters is real bad. But Keaton is way more in Shire territory than not.

Garcia’s okay. Sort of. It’s not his fault. Also the James Caan impression stuff is stupid.

Sofia Coppola’s performance is singularly terrible. Can’t be repeated enough.

Oh, right. The supporting cast. Besides George Hamilton, who has squat to do in the film, everyone is pretty bad. Hamilton’s not good, but he at least seems excited to be in a Godfather movie. He shows up and tries. Mantegna and Wallach don’t try. Wallach just gets worse the more he’s onscreen. The Vatican Eurotrash villains—Donal Donnelly and Enzo Robutti—they’re awful too. But for different reasons. Coppola doesn’t really bother directing the actors. He must be too busy setting up terrible shots, which all have variously poor establishing shots. Gordon Willis’s photography is something dreadful, but it’s impossible to blame him. Somehow it’s got to be Coppola’s fault.

So what’s left… Bridget Fonda? She’s got an extended cameo to get in some male gaze. She’s not good. But she’s nowhere near as problematic as anyone else, even Richard Bright, just because she’s not in the movie long enough to get worse scenes. The longer you’re in Godfather 3, the worse your scenes get. Except maybe D’Ambrosio, who frequently gets completely forgotten because no one cares. He’s not banging Garcia, after all.

The scary part is it could be even worse. You can just tell. Coppola could have made an even worse film.

There is one nearly good scene in the film where Coppola lets Pacino try to feel out an honest emotion. It seems like it ought to be a scene in a film called The Godfather Part III. None of the other ones do. The rest of it feels like Puzo and Coppola really wanted to do a Vatican conspiracy thriller and shoehorned in the Corleone Family, with the cousin sex for dessert.

I don’t loathe Godfather 3, I just dread it. Every one of the 170 minutes after the first just promise something else dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on characters created by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Lisa Fruchtman, Barry Malkin, and Walter Murch; music by Carmine Coppola; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone), Andy Garcia (Vincent Mancini), Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone Rizzi), Eli Wallach (Don Altobello), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams Michelson), Richard Bright (Al Neri), Franc D’Ambrosio (Anthony Vito Corleone), George Hamilton (B.J. Harrison), Joe Mantegna (Joey Zasa), Bridget Fonda (Grace Hamilton), Raf Vallone (Cardinal Lamberto), Donal Donnelly (Archbishop Gilday), Helmut Berger (Frederick Keinszig), Don Novello (Dominic Abbandando), John Savage (Father Andrew Hagen), and Vittorio Duse (Don Tommasino).


Dementia 13 (1963, Francis Ford Coppola)

The first half of Dementia 13 is surprisingly good. From the first scene–pre-titles even–Coppola establishes some great angles to his composition. He keeps it up throughout with close-ups jump cutting to different close-ups; excellent photography from Charles Hannawalt makes it all work.

During that first half, the film is basically an old dark house picture, with conniving daughter-in-law Luana Anders trying to worm her way into her husband’s family fortune. Even though Anders is technically a villain, she’s the viewer’s way into the house–and Coppola is always up front with her. Everyone else is a suspect, not her.

Sadly, the second half refocuses on Patrick Magee as the annoying family doctor who decides to solve the mystery. Why is he solving the mystery? It’s unclear, maybe because Coppola just needed someone not staying in the scary castle to do it.

Magee’s awful too. Anders is great, however. Also quite good is Eithne Dunne as the family matriarch who Anders has to con. Eventually Dunne falls away too, with Coppola sharing Magee’s spotlight a little with Mary Mitchel as another daughter-in-law to be. Mitchel’s okay, but her character is thin.

I’ve forgotten there’s an axe murderer on the loose too. Coppola doesn’t do well with those scenes. He does all right with the tense, suspense sequences, but the violence? It doesn’t work.

Good music from Ronald Stein helps too.

Dementia 13 doesn’t deliver on Coppola’s promise; Magee’s too weak a protagonist.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; director of photography, Charles Hannawalt; edited by Stuart O’Brien and Morton Tubor; music by Ronald Stein; produced by Roger Corman; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Luana Anders (Louise Haloran), William Campbell (Richard Haloran), Patrick Magee (Justin Caleb), Mary Mitchel (Kane), Eithne Dunne (Lady Haloran), Bart Patton (Billy Haloran), Peter Read (John Haloran), Karl Schanzer (Simon), Ron Perry (Arthur), Derry O’Donavan (Lillian) and Barbara Dowling (Kathleen).


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994, Kenneth Branagh)

I’m trying to think of good things about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It starts off poorly, with an opening title seemingly made on a cheap video editor from the late 1970s, then moves into the Walton framing sequence. Apparently, no one involved with the film—Branagh, the screenwriters, the producers—understood the point of these frames in the novel. Here, Branagh uses them as a warning about obsession. I think. He saddles that delivery on Aidan Quinn, who’s absolutely awful in the film.

But terrible performances are Frankenstein’s surplus. Branagh is laughably bad, sometimes so bewilderingly bad one wonders how he thought he was making a reasonable film. Tom Hulce is weak, as Branagh seems to have instructed him to play it like Amadeus. The elephant in the room is Robert De Niro as the monster.

Between De Niro’s risible performance and Branagh’s ludicrous direction, Frankenstein might actually work as a big joke. It’s somewhat unthinkable these two filmmakers—who have done such substantial work elsewhere—really thought they were making a good film. The film reminds one, on multiple occasions, Young Frankenstein is far better.

There are some good performances—Helena Bonham Carter is nowhere near as bad as the two leads, Ian Holm holds it together in his few significant scenes and Trevyn McDowell is good. John Cleese is… out of place, to say the least.

The film’s not an adaptation of the novel, rather an amalgam of every Frankenstein film before it; I can’t believe no one sued.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Steph Lady and Frank Darabont, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Roger Pratt; edited by Andrew Marcus; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Francis Ford Coppola, James V. Hart and John Veitch; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Robert De Niro (The Creature), Kenneth Branagh (Victor Frankenstein), Tom Hulce (Henry Clerval), Helena Bonham Carter (Elizabeth), Aidan Quinn (Captain Robert Walton), Trevyn McDowell (Justine), Ian Holm (Baron Frankenstein), Robert Hardy (Professor Krempe), Celia Imrie (Mrs. Moritz) and John Cleese (Professor Waldman).


American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas)

I don’t know where to start. The most flippant place to start–the most colloquial–is with George Lucas… specifically, what happened to the George Lucas who made American Graffiti. But it’s not just Lucas. Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck didn’t go on to write anything close to Graffiti–the conversations in the film, the dialogue, is exceptional, some of the finest I can think of. But Lucas’s composition is exalted with itself. The scene at the hop with Ron Howard and Cindy Williams arguing, Lucas’s delight at getting the other couple next to them into the shot is clear. The scenes with the cars it’s obvious, but Lucas is enthralled with filmmaking all throughout American Graffiti. It’s Lucas playing with that big electric train set, something almost no filmmaker ever does.

For a film with the cinematographers listed in the end credits, American Graffiti is beautifully lighted. I first saw the film when I was in my early teens and to this day, all my memories of teenage late nights are in the film’s day-for-night lighting. The street scenes are amazing. The scene with the police car is fantastic, but Paul Le Mat and Mackenzie Phillips’s entire ride is probably the best. It’s all just so perfectly executed–and only made better by the exceptional editing.

Starting the film this time, I tried to remember who got to be the de facto protagonist. Narratively speaking, it’s Richard Dreyfuss, but only because of the conclusion. During, it kind of roams. It’s never Charles Martin Smith, which is fine, since he and Candy Clark’s arc is probably the most amusing of the film. The Ron Howard arc is the most serious, with the Le Mat and Dreyfuss arcs sort of alternating in between. The most affecting arc has to be the Le Mat and Phillips one, just because their acting is so great. And Le Mat giving Phillips the tour of the hot rod graveyard–and of his own psyche–is one of the film’s defining scenes. Lucas, Katz and Huyck manage to do so much muted, so much in just two lines of dialogue.

With the postscripts, American Graffiti reveals its biggest surprise–the reality outside the one night of the film’s present action. Seeing it as a twelve year-old, I understood a bit of the Vietnam presence, but not for Dreyfuss’s character. With the soundtrack, the music going on the radio, American Graffiti cocoons itself. The postscripts, which come a few seconds later each viewing–with each viewing, the subjective takes over the clock’s ticking and I always hope this time they won’t fade in.

The acting’s all excellent, with Dreyfuss, Le Mat, Clark and Phillips the best. Bo Hopkins is also an essential component, just because he makes Dreyfuss’s adventures seem both threatening and, well, fun. Some of Dreyfuss being the protagonist is intentional, but a lot of it is just Dreyfuss’s command of the screen. The scene with Wolfman Jack, for example, is not a supporting character scene. To some degree, Howard gets left at the drive-in, but he kind of needs to be, since he’s the least likable character. As for Harrison Ford’s small role… he’s good, but it’s kind of unbelievable he eventually became a leading man (as he defers to Le Mat in all their exchanges).

I could waste time–on the last paragraph–speculating on what went wrong–because something certainly did–with George Lucas following this film, but I don’t want to. I don’t even want to make it in as a parenthetical. The best thing about American Graffiti is how it truly does get better with each viewing.

Choo-choo.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Lucas; written by Lucas, Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck; directors of photography, Jan D’Alquen and Ron Eveslage; edited by Verna Fields and Marcia Lucas; produced by Francis Ford Coppola; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss (Curt Henderson), Ron Howard (Steve Bolander), Paul Le Mat (John Milner), Charles Martin Smith (Terry ‘The Toad’ Fields), Cindy Williams (Laurie Henderson), Candy Clark (Debbie Dunham), Mackenzie Phillips (Carol), Wolfman Jack (XERB Disc Jockey), Bo Hopkins (Joe Young), Manuel Padilla Jr. (Carlos), Beau Gentry (Ants), Harrison Ford (Bob Falfa), Jim Bohan (Officer Holstein) and Jana Bellan (Budda).


The Godfather: Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola created the modern film sequel with The Godfather: Part II. I wonder how people who’ve never seen the first one understand the second one. I was talking to a friend about it and he described it as the best filmic account of “the darkening of a man’s heart.” I hadn’t seen it in ten years and while that description is perfect, I found it interesting without knowledge of the original, it’d wouldn’t really work. One might figure out something was a little off, since Michael’s not exactly a person to spend 140 minutes with. Even the last scene moves away from giving any context to the character’s tragedy, instead going further–adding an unexpected layer to the character, reversing some of the viewer’s assumptions (ones the same scene had initially–and this scene is at most four minutes–reestablished).

In many ways, it’s a more depressing version of Citizen Kane, one where it never occurs to Kane to keep the snow globe (which is a good reason there’s no possible sequel, not one with Michael anyway). The juxtaposing of the two stories, father and son… I’m sure there’s been a lot said about how they work but I’m going for a more cynical approach. Robert De Niro’s story is in there as a reward for the viewer. The first film is not a tragedy, tragedy being a soft word for what goes on in this film, and it provides a release valve. Characters with known futures appear and there’s no need for actual concern for the characters. The scenes do offer a singular look at the Don’s marriage, giving Francesca De Sapio more to do as young Mama Corleone than Morgana King ever has.

The scenes also have action, something the Pacino parts of the film lack after the first half. While the opening Michael scenes resemble the first film–both in style and content–it quickly becomes about his relationships with his family. The first half of the last scene speaks directly to that focus, while the second half suggests something different, something more tragic, something about the relationship with Kay. That suggestion requires having seen the first film and it’s an example of this thing Coppola does in Part II. He gently forces the viewer into situations the viewer may not be looking for, but Coppola is interesting in exploring. When the film started, in Sicily, with the exposition text onscreen, I thought Coppola had some incredible affection for his characters, then quickly realized he didn’t… he was utilizing the viewer’s affection for the characters to create an atmosphere in which he could tell the story.

It’s a great film. It also has that moment Gene Siskel once wrote about, discussing The Bridges of Madison County, when the viewer knows something is going to happen, but believes his or her hope might change the characters’ minds. I’m paraphrasing. I’d never seen it in anything other than Madison County and thought about it, but watching Part II, I didn’t remember until halfway through the scene Michael closes the door and, for that second half, I kept hoping I was wrong.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on the novel by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Barry Malkin, Richard Marks and Peter Zinner; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Michael), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Diane Keaton (Kay), Robert De Niro (Vito Corleone), John Cazale (Fredo Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Lee Strasberg (Hyman Roth), Michael V. Gazzo (Frankie Pentangeli), G.D. Spradlin (Senator Geary) and Richard Bright (Al Neri).


The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola)

Talking about The Godfather earnestly has got to be hard. Also talking about it not in relation to its sequel–which happens less and less these days, something I’m going to blame on the sequel discussion scene in Scream 2. It’s stunningly unsurprising. My most profound observations this viewing–and its been ten years or so, since the theatrical release, then the laserdisc remasters (featuring the first letterboxed versions ever on home video)–are twain. It moves incredibly fast–at the half-way point it feels like forty-five minutes–and Al Pacino’s really damn good at the beginning, but you have no idea what he’s capable of doing, acting-wise. It’d be interesting to know if he felt more comfortable at the beginning or at the end. Otherwise, I made the standard observations–Marlon Brando’s fantastic, James Caan’s presented to the audience as the most sympathetic character in film history, Robert Duvall’s really good… I could probably chart it out, on paper not here (because I’d want to make boxes and arrows), when characters change, when we discover things, et cetera, et cetera.

That response is the problem with talking about The Godfather. More than any other film (yes, even more than the second one), discussing it devolves into some kind of dissection. This scene does this, this scene does that. There’s the scene when Michael turns. Another problem talking about the film is the novel. Having read the novel, I know the film is a shorter version of the novel, without much change. Puzo’s novel is derided, the film is praised. What does Coppola bring to the filmic storytelling Puzo didn’t bring to the text? I don’t know. Novels have a language films don’t. And it’s fine because they do different things, but this case, where the two are so similar, is particularly interesting.

A great book tends not to make a great movie. I can’t say bad books make good movies as often, but sometimes they do. (Coppola’s the master at that particular genre, given The Rainmaker novel versus film).

Someone had a story about George Clooney–maybe Brad Pitt, I don’t remember–and how Clooney had constant attention in public and attributed it to television–you’re in people’s homes once a week. Somehow The Godfather creates that feeling, that attachment. The melodramatic sensationalism plays out in the novel, I’m sure (I don’t remember and I don’t read things like that anymore), but in the film it’s different. When Sonny beats the shit out of Carlo, even though the book has a funny detail (Carlo’s been telling his crew how he could kick Sonny’s ass), it’s rewarding in the film. The audience goes to the wedding as guests, as full access guests. The morality of these characters never comes into question–maybe I noticed that one too. The FBI is messing up the wedding, Sterling Hayden is a corrupt SOB. The drug thing is manipulative, turning the Corleone’s into the good guys….

Anyway, the wedding opening. The brief moments with the characters, the almost real time pacing. It works really well for the film and Coppola knows it. That manipulative drug thing is probably the least manipulative thing in the film. But he’s manipulative in interesting ways. Why, for example, do people side with Sonny instead of Sonny’s wife? When he gets shot to pieces, why’s it so tragic–the level of violence, sure. But it’s real late in the film and it’s only to set the viewer up to accept the conclusion. But Coppola’s also interesting technically (though not particularly visually–Coppola not being fluent in that filmic language). Nino Rota’s score does good stuff, imparting information to the viewer and so on.

The Godfather‘s kind of a guarantee. It doesn’t knock the world of its axis, but it’s still really freaking great. Maybe I’m just still confused why movielens thinks I’d given three.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on the novel by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by William Reynolds, Peter Zinner, Marc Laub, and Murray Solomon; music by Nino Rota; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; produced by Albert S. Ruddy; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Marlon Brando (Don Vito Corleone), Al Pacino (Michael), James Caan (Sonny), Richard S. Castellano (Clemenza), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen), Sterling Hayden (Capt. McCluskey), John Marley (Jack Woltz), Richard Conte (Barzini), Al Lettieri (Sollozzo), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), Abe Vigoda (Tessio), Talia Shire (Connie), Gianni Russo (Carlo), John Cazale (Fredo), Al Martino (Johnny Fontane), Morgana King (Mama Corleone), Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi), Alex Rocco (Moe Greene) and Richard Bright (Al Neri).


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