Supposedly, when Francis Ford Coppola and his editors were wrangling the film from rough cut to final cut, they kept making the movie longer, reversing the usual trend of “big, unwieldy first cut that gets reduced, maybe like a good sauce with condensed tastiness but sometimes like a person who’s getting needed limbs hacked off” shaping of a film’s final cut. The point is, movies can be edited well, they can be edited badly, and The Godfather may be edited perfectly. And since, at one point, it wasn’t as long, what almost didn’t make the cut? What would you want missing from it? Probably nothing.
The Godfather has been in town, first at the Hollywood Theatre and then Friday night at the Bagdad for KUFO’s Cort and Fatboy Late Night Movie. The print is so clean, you could eat off it; the only marred moments I saw were some jump cuts in Alex Rocco’s “I’m Moe Green!!!!” scene. Somewhere between 200 and 250 people (by Cort’s count) made it to the show, paying the $10 for-charity ticket price as opposed to the usual $3 for a Bagdad flick, and appreciated the movie’s classic goodness…or (like me) wondered How did Coppola also manage to direct a film as bad as Jack? Was that by some alternate-universe Francis? A FailFrancis?
(Notice I’m not saying much about the event, its ambience. I kind of want to take a brief break from that, after describing it for most of the 16 Late Night Movies I’ve attended so far, plus this showing was an earlier one with less time beforehand to do stuff, plus plus these showings are going to evolve. Cort and Fatboy are figuring out different ways to do these showings, now that they aren’t broadcasting live from the theater (their radio show wraps up before they go to the Bagdad). How will they handle it next month? Try to attend and see! Maybe I’ll tell about it then! Maybe I’ll even once again pass out tots!)
There’s something I find weirdly comforting about The Godfather: I’ve seen it several times (and projected it for a film class: five 16mm reels instead of the three reels most movies had), so like Star Wars it’s not going to surprise me by now, but its impact is different. For one thing, it could be studied for how to pace a long, slow movie and have the whole thing be engrossing. (Haven’t people said the wedding sequence is practically its own short film?) For another, the color scheme, so controlled and carefully considered (no green until we’re in Las Vegas, for instance), adds a kind of warmth, a warmth that’s been imitated but never quite duplicated in other films. For yet another, yes it’s famously about family – and The Family, we can’t forget – but that family is one that, at some level, we wonder about having, or joining. At least I think that; even me, and I have a really good family. Maybe my favorite moment in the first Godfather is the family cook overhearing Michael on the phone with his girlfriend, then teasing Michael about not telling her he loves her, then corralling him into learning a bit about making a really good pasta sauce. The signs of love accumulate like that. It’s a teasing, loving, passionate family…with people who kill other people, so it’s not completely comfortable…
Or maybe my comfort with the film is just that Irish-people-finding-Italian-people-hot-a
The acting is, of course, iconic: James Caan’s cloud of scary that envelopes his buffed-up body; the intentional zero of John Cazale as Fredo Corleone, who makes NO impression and isn’t meant to; Marlon Brando being brilliant while reading off of cue cards; Robert Duvall, already looking old (hasn’t he always looked old?), distinguished and in charge as consigliere; Diane Keaton as maybe the most humanizing member of the cast, making the finale so sad and so apt; and, of course, Al Pacino in the role that made his career, one of the film’s many successfully gutsy casting calls. (And let’s not forget ABE FREAKIN’ VIGODA. Who is still alive, if you were wondering…)
The movie has stood the test of time: it came out in 1972, 37 years ago and 26 years after the period it covers, a period that already felt well-removed from the Seventies. And now the film feels like history. It can’t be, not exactly, but it’s been hugely influential in how it presents a version of history. It doesn’t feel dated; it doesn’t show its age. This is more and more of an achievement the more I think about it. And the film is worth pondering.
Now I wonder if Brando had any issue about what happens to his character in the middle of the film. A major star consenting to look incapacitated so that he needs help from his son and a nurse? Would the hospital scene even be in a shorter cut? (Or maybe he didn’t mind because he could just act from a bed…)