Film Discussion 03: The Godfather Parts I & II

We were a small group today, but we covered a lot in the hour we had to discuss! We covered Michael's motivations, the differences between Michael and Vito as Godfather, that Michael sacrificed his soul to save the family and much more. We even touched on some similar themes that we found in Pulp Fiction, so check out that discussion as well to see the similarities.

Thanks to Nick and Irene for joining this morning. I know some of you couldn't make it because you just didn't have the time to watch the films, and I apologize for assigning so much material. But hopefully you'll get a chance to watch the films soon and you can let me know your thoughts afterwards. They are really pinnacles of cinema and worth a watch, whether you discuss them or not!

We didn't point to too many links today, but I'll go ahead and post some quotes that were either mentioned or related to the topics we covered. Hope to see you in two weeks to discuss Man on Wire (which is much shorter by the way!)

Show Notes

1. Moments in Film: An Essential Understanding by Ron Newcomer, p.437.
The Godfather became the catalyst for excellence in the New Hollywood. The film had raised the bar high in terms of character development, cinematic storytelling, truth in depicting an ethnic culture, intelligence in writing, and all the basics of production, including cinematography, acting, scenic design, and music, that other young filmmakers of this era strove to do the highest quality work.
2. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, p.348 and 207.
Not only is the Corleone family corrupt, but so too are the other mafia families, even the police and judges. Everyone in this film is a criminal or related to one. But the Corleones have one positive quality—loyalty. In other mob clans gangsters stab one another in the back. That makes them bad bad guys. The loyalty of the Godfather's family makes them good bad guys. When we spot this positive quality, our emotions move toward it and we find ourselves in empathy with gangsters.
[Michael's] ruthless enforcement of the mafia code of loyalty ends in the assassination of his closest associates, estrangement from his wife and children, and the murder of his brother, leaving him a hollowed-out, desolate man.
3. The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje, p.258.
...what Francis wanted to accomplish, which was to make each of the three Godfather films about the death of a brother: Sonny in the first, Fredo in the second, and Tom in the third--a beautiful symmetry, like a fairy tale. Once upon a time there were four brothers...and the one who didn't want to be part of the family at the beginning is the one who survives in the end. And yet at what cost.
4. "'Godfather': Offer Accepted" by Desson Howe
With Puzo, [Coppola] forged an epic tragedy about America, capitalism, family, greed, treachery and love. He showed us – with almost Shakespearean gravitas – the errors of hasty vengeance and the wisdom of assured leadership. He gave us a great American picture, full of incredible images and lasting moments. There are too many to choose from, but I leave you with two here: When Michael – hearing about the assault on his father – scrambles into a telephone booth to call the family, his girlfriend (Diane Keaton) waits outside in the cold. It's clear that she's literally being kept out of the picture. Much later, when a door is closed between her and her husband – as he conducts family business – this estrangement is not only reconfirmed, it sets us up for "The Godfather, Part II," a movie that achieved the impossible: to equal its predecessor.
5. "The Godfather (1972)" by Vincent Canby
The Godfather plays havoc with the emotions as the sweet things of life—marriages, baptisms, family feasts—become an inextricable part of the background for explicitly depicted murders by shotgun, garrote, machine gun, and booby-trapped automobile. The film is about an empire run from a dark, suburban Tudor palace where people, in siege, eat out of cardboard containers while babies cry and get underfoot. It is also more than a little disturbing to realize that characters, who are so moving one minute, are likely, in the next scene, to be blowing out the brains of a competitor over a white tablecloth. It's nothing personal, just their way of doing business as usual.