Tag: The Godfather

The Don…and the Donbass

 

When The Godfather opened, fifty years ago this month, one thing that really made it hit home to so many Americans, especially “white ethnics” like me, and probably many of you, was its sense of rough urban justice; when crime is out of control and the police can’t or won’t protect you, there’s a strongman who’ll stand up for you and avenge the humiliations and injustices you’ve suffered, even if there’s always a price to be paid.

That was New York City in the Seventies; painfully aware of how far it had fallen, aware and bitter about how much of it had been the city’s own fault, defensive and angry about having it rubbed in our faces by outsiders.

Filming on Location, 1971

 

Why are those people in this crowded photo staring at you so intently? There’s a camera, so it’s a film shoot. For clues, look at the general surroundings. It’s an industrial area of New York. The styles of the cars, haircuts and clothes suggest the very early ‘70s. The man pointing a light meter at you is Gordon Willis. The anxious-looking man with the bushy beard is Francis Coppola. It’s the spring of 1971, fifty years ago, and you’re an actor in “The Godfather”. You have no idea what audiences will think of the finished film. In truth, neither do Gordy or Francis.

Acting is always tougher than it looks, and doing it in the streets, with crowds behind barricades, is often the toughest of all. On a sound stage, or on Broadway, you don’t have to outshout jets landing at La Guardia, sanitation men filling garbage trucks, sirens, dogs, or drunks yelling, “Where’s Brando?” When that camera rolls, you’re supposed to shut out all that you see and hear in front of you, and inhabit the mind of a mafia don’s son in December 1945.

Filming the Recent Past: Images

 

Many years ago, I was watching a taxicab scene in It’s Always Fair Weather, a great 1955 film, when I noticed something strange, almost Twilight Zone-ish going on: the traffic seen out of the back window of the cab, which rolls on for minutes, is something I’ve seen before. Where? I realized that it was an extended driving scene of a not exactly obscure 1972 film, The Godfather. How did they do that?

That scene in Godfather takes place in 1945-’46 when mafia lieutenant Peter Clemenza and his “boys” take a ride into Manhattan to buy deloused mattresses for an extended stay in a hideout during a gang war. They get into a shiny dark Lincoln on a suburban street in south Queens and drive into the busy streets of the city, all beautifully filmed in nostalgic color, before having to abandon that great car because a traitor’s blood (“Paulie sold out the Old Man!”) gets all over the windshield. The car is so authentic to the period that we briefly notice it still has a war rationing sticker.

Garden Scene: The Don’s Advice To Michael

 

It’s late in the Don’s second term. The Don and his recently elected successor, Michael “Whitey” Pence, sit in the Don’s private garden in Mar-a-Lago on a bright, sunny day in South Florida.

The Don is older and slower now, only able to work 18 hours a day. He’s still recovering from Bob “Ferris” Mueller’s seven-year vendetta to bring down Big D on the mean streets of D.C. on behalf of the ruthless government crime families controlling the nation’s capitol.

A Story in a Single Word

 

Though every great story juggles multiple themes at once, there’s usually one that dominates and with which the others all interact and highlight. As @BrianWatt reminds us in his wonderful post, that theme in Robert Bolt’s A Man for all Seasons is integrityYou could tell other stories about the same events and characters, they’d be different stories than the one Bolt told.

It’s fun and often illuminating to try this on other works. Below, I’ve four attempts, but I’d very much like to hear yours.