Cognition & Reality

Sunday, 7 November 2010

An Offer(ing) I Can Refuse

Filed under: Film — drtone @ 11:40 am

The first time I saw “The Godfather: Part II,” I didn’t like it. I went to see it at the student cinema in Boulder with the woman who would become Wife #3 & 4 and her then-husband. The two of them loved it, but I found it incoherent, and objected both to Diane Keaton’s shrill performance as Kay and the substitution of the then-obscure Robert De Niro for Brando as the younger Don Vito Corleone.

A few years later, I was house-sitting for Phil Zimbardo at his place on Lombard in San Francisco. At my disposal was the first VCR I ever encountered, a top-loading Sony monster the size of a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Among the few films Phil, who is Sicilian, had in his library was “The Godfather: Part II.” Using the Sony, having little else to do, except digging the view from the deck, I analyzed the film. Excited about the ability tape gives for watching a scene repeatedly and closely, I deconstructed a few key scenes, and was fascinated by the one in which young Clemenza (Bruno Kirby) and young Vito steal a rug. De Niro, who was still relatively unknown at the time of my second viewing, blew me away with the subtleties of his performance. I became a fan of his and belatedly became a fan of the film, with its appealing atmospherics and top-notch acting.

During two successive late nights recently, I watched “The Godfather,” and “Part II.” The former deserves its reputation as perhaps the greatest American film of all time. The latter, which I have now seen a few times, was as annoying as it was the first time I saw it, for different reasons. The worst irritant is the revelation that the cruelly orphaned Vito Corleone became a gangster as a married man in his twenties, replacing the previous Don’s reign of terror in his neighborhood with a kinder, gentler form of “protection.” I find this “Robin Hood” premise offensive and silly.

Though I understand the need of director Francis Ford Coppola to create a sympathetic Don Corleone (faithfully following the account in screenwriter Mario Puzo’s novel), and I understand that movies are not the place to go for historical accuracy, it is a disturbing distortion. The big-time mobsters’  life of crime, in nearly every case, began when they were children, stealing from neighborhood merchants and extorting money from other kids. The other hole in the movie, and one that’s a hangover from the first film, is the puzzling transformation of Michael Corleone (handled a little better by Puzo in his novel) from Ivy League war hero to mafia don, which would not be a glaring problem were it not at the the heart of the drama. Keaton’s performance remains a sore point. I recognize that every movie, even the best, has its holes, but “The Godfather: Part II” has run its course with me.

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