Thursday, October 09, 2008

Rediscovering "The Godfather"

Watch the trailer above.

Let me say that I have watched these restored films and fallen in love with Coppola’s Godfather masterpieces all over again. If ever you need a reason to switch to Blue-Ray, this is it. Do yourself a favor, make yourself an offer you can’t refuse, and buy the newly restored Godfather films
on DVD or Blue-Ray. Worth every single penny.

Even in the midst of a potential economic downturn.

I have been so used to watching faded, flawed, washed copies of The Godfather and I have the films so thoroughly memorized that I can watch them without really watching them. You know? But this time with a perfect, flawless picture, and sumptuous colors, like drinking the perfect red wine, I actually EXPERIENCED The Godfather again.

Here’s a pair of screengrabs to illustrate the difference:

Isn’t that amazing? Notice the lady on the left with black hair. In the old version, she’s almost a shadowy silhouette. In the new, she’s a real human being. You can also make out the dark wooden shelves behind Pacino in his office at the end of Part I, which were too dark to see.

Do you remember the famous scene in Part I with Michael in Loui’s Restaurant and he shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey? I was completely floored, because for the first time, I saw the ENTIRE range of emotions on Pacino’s face - the quivering lips, the watering eyes, the little ticks in his cheek just before he pulls out that gun. Before, the film was always so washed you couldn’t see just how much Pacino did with his face. That has got to be one of the greatest acting moments in the history of cinema. It left me breathless! I had to watch it again!

It took them four months to restore that one scene. Fred Kaplan at Slate talked about
the restoration process. “First, they repaired the original negative to the point where it could be put through a digital scanner without breaking. Then the machine digitally scanned the negative at a "4K" sampling rate—that is, at a rate of 4,096 pixels per line, much more than even a high-def image. The significance of this is that 4K scanning (which is still rarely employed in restoration work, in part because it's so expensive) is a high enough sampling rate to capture everything that's on a frame of 35 mm film. In other words, Harris and his team started with a digital replica of the film—not some compressed approximation, as is the case with most digital transfers.

Here’s a great clip from a DVD extra about the restoration:

This was a seven figure project, a year and a half in the making, and over 1,000 man hours just to remove dirt off of the first film! This was handled by, of course, Robert Harris of the Film Preserve, the best in the business, the guy who, when he was restoring Hitchcock’s Vertigo asked for a color chip from a similar 1957 Jaguar that Kim Novak drove in the film so he could match the shade of green EXACTLY.

The extras were okay. Interestingly, at one point, Steven Spielberg said, “I was so pulverized by the story and the effect the film had on me. I felt that I should quit, that there was no reason I should continue directing because I would never achieve that level of confidence or the ability to tell a story [as well as Coppola did in The Godfather]. In a way, it shattered my confidence.”

There have been some interesting articles around the web.

Dave Kehr in the NYT

The “Godfather” films remain the 20th-century answer to Shakespeare's
plays of royal succession, with the twist that here Prince Hal grows up, not into Henry V, but Richard III. Al Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone, the introverted youngest son of a wise and ruthless monarch, remains a model of modulation. The shape of his face, the set of his eyes, the weight of his body all seem to evolve imperceptibly (at least until the aggressive intervention of makeup in Part III). A puppyish kid who might have been played by Dustin Hoffman in his “Graduate” period becomes a figure of immense gravity and chilling emotional reserve, a portrait worthy of Walter Huston or Max von Sydow

And Brando plays it like the master he was, balancing just enough exaggeration (the cotton-stuffed cheeks, the asthmatic voice) with pure behavioral naturalism (the eyes that go blank when he is bored or distracted) to create a figure that both belongs to this world and is too big for it. After that sequence his work is effectively done, and the character can recede into the background of the action (he spends much of the rest of the movie recovering from an assassination attempt) without surrendering his dominant presence.

Stephanie Argy had
a great article in American Cinematographer:

In one instance during the digital grade of The Godfather, Yarbrough was able to draw out detail that was previously invisible because of a lab error during the production. The sequence in which Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) murders Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and Capt. McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) in an Italian restaurant was shot over two nights, with the first night covering the first half of the scene, up to the point when Michael goes to the bathroom to retrieve a hidden gun. The first night’s work came back from the lab looking exactly as Willis intended, but the second night’s work came back too thin: the lab had neglected to push the film. “They simply pushed the wrong button and underdeveloped a day’s work,” says Willis. “When that happens, you don’t lose that much speed, but the fog level drops, and the look of the film changes. We left that lab and continued at Technicolor.”

Here's Jason Davis writing for CS Daily (not available on the web):

Though Coppola and Puzo collaborated on a screenplay based on the latter's book, The Godfather was directed, much like Coppola's subsequent masterpiece, Apocalypse Now
, from a heavily annotated copy of the original text. Puzo divided his novel into nine books of successively shorter durations. Book I, which encompasses 34 percent of the story's page count, was virtually filmed in its entirety. Though several brief sequences were deleted from the finished film -- including the death of Vito's original consigliere Genco Abbandando, Michael's hotel stay with his girlfriend Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), and acting boss Sonny Corleone's (James Caan) war council after the attack on his father -- it's clear from the dialogue and mise en scène of the movie and its available deleted scenes that the book was Coppola's bible in executing the first act of the film. Following Michael's murder of the drug lord Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and corrupt Police Captain Mark McCluskey (Sterling Hayden), the film veers subtly away from the novel as Coppola restructures the narrative to emphasize Michael's journey toward the Don's infamous leather chair. Therein rests the first distinction between book and film: the former chronicles the fall of Vito, while the latter dramatizes the rise of Michael.

A reading of the novel reveals a number of subplots discarded to tame the 446-page narrative, though many of the excised elements leave vestigial plot points in the finished film that allow Coppola to make several critical points. Sinatra-esque crooner Johnny Fontane (Al Martino), Vito Corleone's godson, was a key character running throughout the book, but only appears briefly at the outset of the film version. On the Don's daughter's wedding day, Fontane asks his Godfather to give his Hollywood career a push by leaning on an uncooperative movie mogul. The film seizes upon this story beat to illustrate Vito Corleone's process of persuasion as outlined by Michael to Kay in an earlier scene. The viewer sees Corleone consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duval) attempt to reason with producer Jack Woltz (John Marley). Woltz refuses to come to mutually beneficial terms with the Godfather because his quarrel with Fontane is personal and has nothing to do with business. The mogul receives "an offer he can't refuse" that changes his mind, and Vito's godson gets the role that will make him a movie star. The film has used the outset of Fontane's story to establish the ruthlessness of the world, and now the singer (as well as his future duet partner Nino Valenti, who goes unseen in the movie) can exit the story, despite the fact that Puzo dedicates the entirety of Book II, as well as several chapters later in the novel, to the trauma of Fontane's voice loss, his attempt to get Nino off the booze, and his eventual career as a Corleone-financed movie producer.

Referred to discreetly as "the woman whose private parts are too big" by Coppola, the novel's subplot regarding bridesmaid Lucy Mancini (Jeannie Linero) and her affair with the Corleone heir apparent Sonny is glimpsed several times in the film, but the movie never reveals that a gynecological abnormality is the basis for her attraction to the well-endowed mobster. Puzo devotes a substantial portion of the novel to Lucy's plight, and though the screenplay ignores the storyline altogether, Coppola's direction still alludes to the nuance when we see Sonny's wife Sandra (Julie Gregg) demonstrating her husband's "bedroom prowess" to the giggles of her girlfriends during the wedding at the top of the film. Though Lucy's story -- and its collision with Fontane's story strand -- is digressive in terms of the overall narrative arc, her minimization in the finished film is indicative of an overall trend within the movie. Sandra Corleone is almost entirely absent from the film. Hagen's wife Theresa (Tere Livrano) is seen, but her reunion with her kidnapped husband was cut from the theatrical release. Carmella Corleone (Morgana King) is never even named in the finished film (she's credited as "Mama Corleone" in both this movie and the sequel). The book features several key scenes between the Corleone matron and Michael's eventual wife Kay. Though at least one was scripted, it didn't appear in the finished film, leaving Kay, Michael's first wife Appolonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli), and his abused sister Connie Corleone Rizzi (Talia Shire) as the only prominent female roles in the movie.

He also talked a little about Kay, which is worth sharing:

The character of Kay is a particular point of comparison between the novel and film. In both versions, she's introduced as Michael's date to Connie's wedding. In each case, she's told about Vito Corleone's business and how Michael has no interest in joining the family firm. As noted earlier, the book offers more snapshots of the couple's evolving relationship, but some of this was excised to streamline the story. After Michael departs for Sicily, Kay comes to the Corleone compound to inquire after him. She's met by Hagen, who explains that Mike will get in touch when he's able. Kay asks to use the phone to call a cab and is ushered inside. Here, the scene ends in the film, but both the book and screenplay carry on with Kay encountering Carmela. In the script, Kay asks the older woman to pass on her letter to Michael and Mrs. Corleone agrees over Hagen's legal objections:

You tell me what to do? Even he don't tell me what to do.
(to Kay)
You listen to me, you go home to your family,
and you find a good young man and get married.
Forget about Mikey; he's no good for you, anymore.

The loss of this brief exchange is two-fold: first, it establishes some idea of Vito and Carmella's relationship. Even the all-powerful Godfather doesn't command his wife. Without this beat, we only have Connie's relationship to illustrate male-female dynamics within the Corleone family, and that train wreck tells a very different story than the one to which Mrs. Corleone alludes. Second: we see Carmella warning Kay away from Michael. In the book, Kay ignores this advice and continues, albeit intermittently, to inquire after Michael and eventually discovers that he's been back in America for some months. Mrs. Corleone invites Kay to the house, and there she's reunited with Michael before the story time lapses into their married life. The screenplay originally featured no rapprochement between Michael and Kay. She was merely waiting for him at the airport with their son when he returned home from Las Vegas. A year or so after principal photography, Coppola remedied this narrative oversight with a scene that now finds Michael seeking out Kay in Connecticut upon his descent into the underworld. Already, Michael is the more active character. When she calls him on becoming a mobster, he offers a rationalization based on a passage from page 365 of Puzo's novel:

"My father is a businessman trying to provide for his wife and children… He doesn't accept the rules of the society we live in because those rules would have condemned him to a life not suitable to a man like himself, a man of extraordinary force and character. What you have to understand is that he considers himself the equal of all those great men like Presidents and Prime Ministers and Supreme Court Justices and Governors of the States. He refuses to accept their will over his own. He refuses to live by rules set up by others…"

The dialogue onscreen delivers the point more concisely and, like the text of the novel, ends with a promise of legitimacy within half a decade. What's not apparent in either version of the story until later is that Michael may as well be talking about himself, as Vito has effectively begun the transfer of power to his son. Indeed, the peace Vito guaranteed at a meeting of the entire American underworld a few scenes earlier was promised solely to insure Michael's safe return to America. The movie doesn't concern itself with the complicated logistics of pacifying the Barzinis and Tattaglias, but the novel expends great detail upon the elder Corleone's machinations. Why does Coppola shortchange the audience on these specifics? To service the primacy of Michael Corleone. In the book, Vito plans the entirety of the film's climax. Only a massive coronary prevents him from seeing his son execute (quite literally) his grand design. While the book places much of its thematic weight on Vito's failure to see his plans through -- to topple his enemies and steer his family into legitimate business -- the movie rests its finale on Michael. It is Michael who plans the simultaneous murders of gambling mogul Moe Greene (Alex Rocco), Dons Victor Stracci (Don Costello), Carmine Cuneo (Rudy Bond), Phillip Tattaglia (Victor Rendina), and Emilio Barzini (Richard Conte), and the movie executes these killings while Michael attends his nephew's baptism as an alibi.

By the way, Abe Vigoda is still very much alive, thank you.

Phil Nugent and Sarah Clyne Sundberg
debate Part III.

Here’s the
Official Godfather Site.

And if all this wasn’t enough, let me share a few
of my thoughts about The Godfather when we had the Favorite Screenplays Blog-a-Thon:

* For a time, I used to obsess over the various motifs that ran through the film, particularly the use of oranges, which were symbols of death. Don Vito Corleone tried to buy some oranges just before he was gunned down. He also put an orange in his mouth just before he died. In Part II, I think you could see oranges when Johnny Ola visited Michael near the beginning of the film. Michael also sucked on an orange when he had a serious discussion with Hagen and company about killing Hyman Roth. And of course, Michael was holding an orange when he died in that final scene of Part III. There were quite a few other motifs involving fish, automobiles, wine, water, and thunder. Thanks to The Godfather, it’s a habit of mine to incorporate rich symbolism into my own stories.

* A lot of writers would try fancy schticks to convey the idea that a particular character is powerful, especially through excessive talk or a huge office. But in the opening shot, I am still moved by the simplicity of how easily Coppola conveyed to the world that Don Corleone is a powerful man. He was not in a huge office, and the Don didn’t have to say anything special to prove how powerful he was. We knew it from the way Amerigo Bonasera poured his heart out to the man in front of him and begged for justice and with the way the camera would pan back, and we would look at Bonasera over Brando’s shoulder.

* The dialogue has a poetic quality that elevates it above realism. It’s like they were able to take ethnic dialect and elevate it to this syntax of opera librettos. In other words, the dialogue and mannered phrases operate at a theatrical level and display a kind of operatic loftiness, which no one else has been able to achieve at that level. And that poetry in words is reinforced all the more when they speak Italian.



Anonymous said...

I Love BLU RAY!!! lol. There is even a significant difference to watching a blu ray of a movie and then watching the hd version of it over free to air

Sabina E. said...

yeah it's a good movie but lots of my friends HATE the Godfather.

anyway I'm sick of technology always evolving. I just got a new DVD player a while ago and now I need a goddamned Blu-Ray player? give me a break.

Joshua James said...

Love this movie, as you well know, and if you haven't read EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS for the backdrop of the making of it(and a load of other films of the 60s and 70s), do it do it do it!

But I'd bet hard money you've read that book already, hehheheh.

Great book.

great post.

And I rode on an elevator with Abe Vagoda once, few years back . . . took all my willpower not to grab his hand and ask him, "is there nothing you can do, y'know, for old time's sake?"

Anonymous said...

"Thanks to The Godfather, it’s a habit of mine to incorporate rich symbolism into my own stories."

I've always been confused by the whole orange=death thing. Why is this impressive? Every time someone dies, there's an orange around. Is that it? How is that deep? I must be missing something.

JJ: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is well written and expertly researched, but I absolutely hate films of the '70s. Of all the great filmmakers mentioned in there, only one, Spielberg, is still making movies worth talking about.

Mostly, the book is about old people crying for their lost youth. "Kids these days!" and all that.

My favorite part is, early on, Jack Nicholson confronts an old director (I can't recall who) and basically tells him, "You're washed up, man! Your time is over. We're gonna be making movies our way, now!"

Several hundred pages later, sometime in the '90s, Nicholson bags on modern movies, essentially saying, "They don't make movies like they used to."

Neither Nicholson nor Peter Biskin seem to realize that Nicholson has become the establishment he once despised.

Joshua James said...

Actually, it was Dennis Hopper who confronted that old director, not Jack Nicholson. Hopper was off his rocker, according to the book. Jack never did such thing.

You're quoting Hopper.

Personally, I love a lot of the films of the 70s (Godfather I & II being just two of them, in addition to TAXIDRIVER, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, BULLIT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, BONNIE & CLYDE, ENTER THE DRAGON, first Bond movies) and the 60s, I really do. I don't love all of them (EASY RIDER being just one) but I do like a lot.

And STAR WARS was made in 77, I should add, and still very much worshiped today.

In terms of how many of them are still directing, I'd say that it's been forty or fifty years since then . . . there are not many directors from any era who are still working consistently forty or fifty years after they peaked, which tells us how special the ones who have, still are.

Spielberg, of course, is one. Clint Eastwood (whose directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, was in the 70s) is another. Scorsese just one a best director Oscar a couple years ago, and that film made money, regarding of what people think of it, it was popular. And he's still directing.

So I guess I disagree. I like, if not love, many of those films.

But I love films from may era. I'm a huge fan of THE BREAKFAST CLUB from the 80s. I love FIGHT CLUB from 99.

Actually, 99 was a good year for film, too.

Anyway, I've digressed. I've read the book many times, and I love a lot of the films of that era.

Anonymous said...

Why is it smart to add symbolism into a screenplay? I think it's all subliminal, whether it registers or not, you may see the oranges and immediately recognise the situation. You see Michael Corleone sat in a chair and it reminds you of Vito's office. I know when I recognise an object or shot's significance the tension racks up. In No Country For Old Men we know the significance of Chigurh's last scene because he buys a shirt. That's one item which links a scene with limited dialogue to a whole character arc.

Mr. Nighttime said...

Okay, now you have gone and done it. Now I have to go and put this into my Netflix queue, along with GF Part II. I just finished seeing "Goodfellas" (Special Edition) for the first time in a long time, and had forgotten what a marvel that was.

I was reading a comment on Rotten Tomatoes recently that said "The Godfather is a stylized version of the Mafia, but Goodfellas shows the Mob as it really was."

I think that is a pretty good evaluation, but it doesn't take away the power of both Godfather I and II, and what troubles me sometimes is that people try to make too much of a comparison between GF and Goddfellas. They are two totally different approaches to the same subject, that being organized crime. Each satisfies totally, and each gives us a glimpse into a world that most of us would rather avoid.

Glad I stopped by, and I think I will do so more often. Very nice analysis on your part.

Neil said...

I had always wondered what the Godfather films would have looked like if they had actually been shot in the 3-strip Technicolor format instead of the process being used for the prints. Regardless, the Technicolor process used for the prints has generally been regarded as the reason why The Godfather movies had such great blacks, color and contrast.

I always liked Robert Evans take on Coppola's first cut of "The Godfather." Evans told Coppola, "Where the hell is movie you shot?"

Evans forced Coppola to re-cut the movie to what we know today.

It's sad to know that there most likely will never be movies as good as the first two Godfather movies ever again.

Mystery Man said...

wey - amen.

deaf - Hehehe... What did you think about the film?

Josh - Bwwah ha ha ha!

ON THE ORANGES - Because it's cool! Because it's fun! Because it's a way of thinking when you're writing a story, trying to make the most of every single detail. You gotta make every word, every detail count.

Anon - my dear friend, why are we so bitter? "I absolutely hate films of the '70s." "I hate directors." "Pardon Me While I Complain a Bit" "I am, by nature, a complainer. It’s a personality flaw, I know." Why? I want to see you happy!

Mr. Nighttime - Thanks so much.

Purple - Yeah, Evans told him to come back with a longer movie! Imagine that? I seriously question whether we'll see anything this great in our lifetime. Thanks for the comment.


Matt said...

MM, if you think they look beautiful on Blu-Ray, you should've seen them at Manhattan's Film Forum a few weeks ago. I went to one of their Part I/Part II marathons, and it was worth taking the personal day.

Though Part II really does not hold up. The first one is Greek Tragedy; the second is melodrama.

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