Cast Includes

Marión Brando Al Pacino James Caan Richard Castellano Robert Duvall Sterling Hayden Diane Keaton

Vito Corleone Michael Corleone Sonny Corleone Clemenza Tom Hagen McCluskey Kay Adams

(This entry focuses on The Godfather but it is worthwhile viewing all three parts of the trilogy - see Further Viewing.)

FOCUS: Genre

The gangster genre had its first major wave of popularity in the 1930s with films like Little Caesar (LeRoy, USA, 1931), The Public

Enemy (Wellman, USA, 1931) and Scarface (Hawks, USA, 1932). These films were a hugely popular response to the public notoriety of A1 Capone in the late 1920s, upon whom the heroes of both Scarface and Little Caesar were based. Whilst earlier films of the genre developed the background of the criminal placing the blame for his anti-social activities on his environment, Scarface in particular depicts the gangster as a brutal monster thriving on murder and power in the most violent and bloody film the genre had seen. We can compare this to The Godfather.

Coppola's film is not short of blood and violence, but in both its representation of violence and the gangster heroes Vito and Michael Corleone we find something both complex and interesting. The violence is both repellent and beautiful in its choreography and cinematographic execution. Marlon Brando and A1 Pacino present us with characters with whom we can sympathise almost to the point that compromises our response to the nature of their activities. Coppola brings to the genre an operatic, epic quality, making a film that succeeded both as popular entertainment and as high art. A central concern, therefore, for viewers of this film has to be the consideration of the film's moral impact. Does it glamorise the violence it depicts?

The Godfather opens with a black screen and an Italian accented voice stating 'I believe in America'. A slow fade from black reveals Buona Serra speaking almost directly to camera. The way the shot is framed and the pleading voice of this wheedling funeral director create an uneasy sense of intimidation. The scene hints both at the confessional and at interrogation. This sense is created by the fact that we do not see to whom he is speaking. Coppola has deliberately chosen not to use a two-shot or shot/reverse shot where both characters would be revealed. The identity and therefore the character of the Godfather remain in darkness, and, for the moment, suspense. The suspense is held as the camera pulls back revealing a desk and then a hand. The discussion between them, which is about Buona Serra's desire for justice for his daughter, foregrounds the two driving themes of the film(s): the nature of America and the nature/role of the Mafia within American society both as crime organisation and as family. These early scenes of the film also introduce us to Michael Corleone, in whose character we see these themes and the inevitable conflicts between them played out.

Of all his family Michael is marked out as separate. He is the most American of the Corleones. He stumbles speaking Italian, he fought for his country in the Second World War, he has an American girlfriend and he is the only one who is free from the family business and its adherence to tribal violence. As he states at the wedding party that opens the film, 'That's my family Kay. That's not me.' One of the interesting things about this film is that Michael's rise to power is presented ambiguously. Is it a tragedy? Is it a fall from grace and loss of freedom or a return to the fold? Does he want to be Godfather? Does he have a choice? If so, where does it come and what is his motivation? His rise to worldly power is certainly paralleled by his fall into sin. Coppola explicitly illustrates these themes of good and evil, grace and sin, through the elaborate Catholic ceremonies (the film contains two weddings, a funeral and a christening) and through the cinematography with its extreme contrasts and the frequent use of a very dark screen with patches of illumination (look, for example, at Michael's shadowed demonic face in the christening scene).

One of the aspects that makes The Godfather such a powerful film is the way Coppola takes us inside the Corleone family. We see their beliefs, traditions, rituals, births, deaths, and marriages (across the trilogy of films). We sympathise with the motivations and dilemmas of these very charismatic and powerful individuals. Does this have an impact on our judgement of their actions? Does the film-maker condemn their moral code? In the scene where Michael becomes Godfather to Connie's baby, Coppola juxtaposes images of the christening with images of violent murder. Thus he makes explicit the evil nature of Michael's actions as he simultaneously takes on the Mafia role of Godfather as well as the religious one. Is it enough? We see so clearly into his motivation, and his enemies are so negatively represented, that ultimately perhaps his charisma wins the day

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• How does the film-maker use costume/make-up and changes in costume/make-up to illuminate character and status? Look at:

Michael's costume in the early scenes of the film. What does it tell you about him? How is it/he different from the rest of his family?

s Don Vito's costume in the early scenes of the film. How does this change once he relinquishes power? Michael's costume in the final sequences of the film.

• How does the film-maker engage our sympathy with the character of Michael? Look at:

His education.

His occupation at the start of the film.

The way the rest of the family speak to him before and after his rise to power.

The motivation for his first murders. (Look at the scene with his father in the hospital. What does Michael say to him? Is this a turning point?)

Michael's actions and reactions as juxtaposed with those of his brothers, especially Sonny.

The violent murders of both Michael's brother and his first wife. (How does this effect his actions /our responses to them?)

• What impact does the christening scene have on our responses to/understanding of Michael. Look carefully at the way the film-maker has chosen to juxtapose shots here. What effects are created?

• What aspects of characterisation encourage us to sympathise with Don Vito? Look at:

His belief in the importance of family. His dignity when Sonny dies. ' His refusal to engage in narcotics. (Look at how he is presented during the 'heads of families' meeting in comparison to the heads of the other families.) > The representation of his enemies.

His death scene. ■ The star image of Brando.

• In the context of the film what different meanings does the title Godfather have? What does this choice of title tell you about the values and beliefs of the family? Do you find it sinister?

Further Viewing

The Godfather Part II (Coppola, USA, 1974) The Godfather Part III (Coppola, USA, 1990)

The Public Enemy (Wellman, USA, 1931) Scarface (Hawks, USA, 1932) Goodfellas (Scorsese, USA, 1990) Casino (Scorsese, USA, 1995) Apocalypse Now (Coppola, USA, 1979) One from the Heart (Coppola, USA, 1982)

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