Tuesday, May 08, 2012
The Godfather remains for me still the quickest three-hour movie I know, a picture that moves in almost stately fashion but is never less than compelling. The sweep of the story is epic, proceeding from an extravagant wedding sequence as expertly handled as it is vivid, setting everything of importance in motion all at once.
The story and the manner in which it is told are warm, rich, and bursting with life and poignance. It's all dressed up in the garb of a gangster movie but with deep family dynamics and tensions propelling the narrative—lean and muscular with few indulgences yet rarely cutting away too soon from even the smallest details that advance its themes. Even when it threatens to become ham-handed and obvious, as in the baptism scene near the end (trivialists note: the baby is Sofia Coppola), it never entirely boils over because it always seems to understand exactly what it's about and what it can and can't do.
I couldn't find a clip of the hospital scene, which I think is the most significant point in the whole thing—really, in the whole franchise, which extends beyond this across two more long movies and various exercises by Coppola cutting them together with otherwise unseen footage. But I couldn't find that so instead I'll offer up the scene that follows it, where Michael Corleone begins the moral descent that preoccupies the rest of the franchise.
I should also acknowledge my own prejudices in regard to the sequels, which I don't think are up to the standards of what's accomplished here, certainly in terms of compelling narrative schemes. I'm including a pointer to where I make my case on Part II. You'll see that a very smart commenter came along with what is now the more conventional view and makes a pretty good argument for it. I suspect Phil, Steven, and others here may have much more to say on the franchise too.
"I have to go to the bathroom. Is it all right?" [video deleted]
The Godfather: Part II
Phil #36: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) (scroll down)
Steven #36: His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
You can see how high-toned our picks are starting to get here. For the record, I like both The Apartment and His Girl Friday a whole bunch and considered them for my list as well.
As for The Godfather, I was pretty sure from the start of this exercise that it would be one of possibly three pictures all three of us would choose (Taxi Driver and Nashville were my other guesses). I'm used to seeing The Godfather (with or without usually only the first sequel) placed high on these lists, so much so that I was pleased to think of myself as a bit outside-the-box for putting it so low. Actually I was emboldened to it partly by one of my favorite movie bloggers, Timothy Brayton at Antagony & Ecstasy, whose then-recent list of The 115 Best Films of All Time had The Godfather and Part II together at #114.