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aspects which he identifies appear as indictments.10 Three of these are relevant, em-
bodying my own reservations about The Godfather: the issue of length, the emphasis
on style and the effect on the audience.
 Both films lack the genre s typical brief efficiency. Together, they are a rhythmi-
cally ponderous domestic epic about the consequences of American capitalism on
family life. . . . We watch a pageant and are kept detached. 11 It is hard to disagree that
the films lack forward momentum, a fault which is already apparent in the wedding
scene, where Coppola seems unwilling to abandon the festivities (six years later,
Michael Cimino was to display a similar reluctance in The Deer Hunter). The em-
phasis on ceremonies establishes the stately pace and mires the film in an unchang-
ing past. Having settled on a leisurely rhythm, Coppola only varies the tempo for
moments of violence. One consequence is excessive length, which accentuates the
difficulty of holding together a discursive plot.
Shadoian s reference to rhythm invites comparison with music, but caution is
needed in making the analogy. The triple rhythms of Nino Rota s score, which under-
pin The Godfather, recall Verdi, leading Naomi Greene to seek links with Rigoletto
and with Mascagni s Cavalleria Rusticana, which is set in Sicily.12 What distinguishes
Verdi from Coppola is that Verdi engaged with society: he was a member of parlia-
ment as well as being a composer committed to tackling political themes. Censorship
122 " Movie Greats
meant that issues had to be presented in historical guise, but audiences got the point.
Coppola faced no such strictures, but he still opted for the distancing effect of the
past. In place of political realities, The Godfather offers a series of lyrical set pieces
bathed in sepia hues and linked by stretches of dialogue. Periodic bouts of violence
make poor substitutes for Verdi arias. Bernardo Bertolucci integrates Rigoletto into
The Spider s Stratagem (Italy, 1970) more successfully, letting the action evolve in
parallel with an operatic performance. And he uses genuine Verdi.
Shadoian s second criticism is that  Both [Godfather] films have a generally petri-
fied air, a lifelessness that keeps us at a distance. Even private emotions are treated
ceremoniously by style . . . The past is projected . . . as a tableau. . . . What used to be
accomplished by voice-over narration is now embedded within directorial attitude
and photographic style. 13 The abstractions arise from a lack of differentiation be-
tween the male characters, who are there to display clan loyalty and macho posturing
rather than individuality. The directorial attitude detected by Shadoian shows itself
in the self-consciousness which can afflict Merchant-Ivory films. Shots feel posed
for the camera. One scene in The Godfather which escapes the director s deaden-
ing hand is the Don s death, which Brando improvised in order to coax a natural
response from the child actor.14 Would that there were more such moments.
The photographic style might be characterized as Technicolor noir, borrowing
from gangster films of the 1930s and only shaking off the prevailing gloom for the
wedding scene, the Don s death and some tourist views of Sicily. Greene makes
clear how this affects the wedding:  What strikes us most about this sequence are
its formal qualities (the sunlight wedding contrasting with the dark interiors) which
create a kind of subtext reinforcing the film s themes of claustrophobia and power. 15
Colour could be used to subvert or parody the gangster genre, but Coppola does nei-
ther. Humour is missing from his world. Nor does he redefine his chosen genre like
Sam Peckinpah in Junior Bonner (US, 1972), or Ang Lee in Brokeback Mountain
(US, 2006). The Godfather seems conventional beside them. The gangster genre is
predicated on black and white photography; by comparison, Coppola s use of colour
creates a mannered opulence, leading to what David Thomson terms a  lustrous sup-
pression of vitality .16 Coppola s emphasis on directorial attitude and photographic
style serves to conceal rather than clarify when the film is set. The focus is so much
on the family that they exist out of time, like characters from Hamlet. The crooner at
the wedding, the men s clothes and those dark interiors with Venetian blinds which
resemble prison bars betoken another era, though it is only when cars are seen that
the period can be identified precisely. This vagueness is an aspect of the film s dis-
tancing from the audience, noted by Shadoian. By cocooning the subject matter
in the costumes and props of a mythical past, Coppola neutralizes any relevance
to today. Events take place in a never-never land where the public never ventures
and the audience are voyeurs. So that Michael can be lured back to the family firm
as the Don s successor, Coppola and Puzo make the older brothers flawed and under-
characterized, allowing them to be conveniently sidelined. There are hints of real life
The Godfather (US, 1972) " 123
beyond the gates of the Corleone mansion the crooner Johnny Fontane resembles
Frank Sinatra, while Harry Cohn might be the model for producer Jack Woltz but
this is drawing from the outside world rather than reflecting upon it.
If the film s style seems familiar, Clarens suggests a source:  Coppola s Don
Corleone appeared at times as a kindred soul to Visconti s Sicilian prince in The
Leopard, both symbols of an order about to pass. Visconti s original choice for his
princely hero was Laurence Olivier; so was Coppola s for the godfather. 17 Coppola
appropriates Visconti s seedy glamour, but Visconti is a treacherous master, whose
opulent facades can conceal the lack of anything important to say.
Shadoian s third point echoes this:  There is a profound mood of uselessness in [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]