When Francis Ford Coppola was about to write the screenplay for his 1972 Oscar “The Godfather“, he re-read Mario Puzo’s best-selling 1969 novel on which the film is based. Coppola wrote in his 2016 book, The godfather’s notebookthat he revealed “a story that was a metaphor for American capitalism in the story of a great king with three sons: the eldest received his passion and aggressiveness, the second his gentle nature and childlike qualities, and the third his intelligence, cunning and coldness. Suddenly I saw history as a story of succession and power.
That’s the thing with “The Godfather”, it’s an American story, not an Italian or Sicilian story. As my friend Chiara, who lives in Rome, noted on my Facebook post where I asked for comments on the film: “From an Italian point of view, this has always been for me the most remote and most exotic of all time. It’s like watching a Chinese saga. “
As for “The Godfather”‘s lasting influence in popular culture, Seattle Jesuit Preparatory School teacher Michael Danielson asked his classes if any of them recognized the movie’s most famous quote. “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” They did, he wrote on my Facebook post, but didn’t know where he came from. None of the students had seen the film or its two sequels, “The Godfather: Part II“in 1974 and”The Godfather: Part III” in 1990.
“The Godfather is one of those occasional, even rare films that elevates filmmaking as an art form,” the father commented. Scott Young. “He does this in several ways. He places us as initiates (silent participants) instead of distant observers. some type of godfather (artistic visionary) to produce this magical genre film about immigrant crime, which always generates chilling awe when screened again.”
Paulista. Frank DeSiano commented on the three “Godfather” films (1972, 1974, 1990) when he posted: “The Godfather trilogy is one of the greatest parables of the illusion of power, both in what he cannot reach and in what he destroys in his way. This parable can be applied endlessly – in politics, in relationships, and even in religion. Once power is its own goal, it becomes demonic And power in the service of something important must itself be restrained lest it become self-centered “My power manifests itself in weakness” defines the opposite view, one which, paradoxically and ultimately, takes it away. “
As I was watching the fourth season of “Yellowstoneon Paramount+ a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that the series is a retelling of “The Godfather”. But instead of the Catholic iconography of the post-war reality of urban immigrants from New York, “Yellowstone” is set in Montana, the icon of the American West, manifest destiny and white privilege.
“Yellowstone” focuses on the dysfunctional and criminal Dutton family. At its heart is patriarch John (Kevin Costner) with two sons, Kayce (Luke Grimes), Jamie (Wes Bentley) and a daughter, Beth (Kelly Reilly) a consigliere/underboss (Rip, played by Cole Hauser) and many of “soldiers.” The family is in constant tension with Native American tribes who want their land back (and provide an opportunity for repentance and restitution) and corporations that are greedy and fierce about land dominance and profit, much like wars. territorial mobsters led by New York crime families in the 20th century.
What is the legacy of “The Godfather”? Is it the many mafia films that followed? It would seem there’s no such thing as a powerful, violent, multi-generational, male-dominated family saga to entertain us, be it the Corleones (“The Godfather”), the Sopranos (“The Sopranos“), the Duttons or even the Roy family on HBO “Succession.”
Over the years and through various iterations of the same story, religious, ecclesial and artistic elements become backdrops and props. At the end of “The Godfather: Part III,” religious faith is replaced without a thought for the divine by the most ancient essentials of the secular world: power, land, and greed. There is beauty in the city, though it is diminished and marred by crime and human folly. There’s the meaningless ritual of family dinners, and what little joy one can get from families in “The Godfather” with the presence and innocence of unsuspecting children ends in violence and tragedy.
In seeking to possess everything and everyone, greed devours everything in its path. So does power, as DeSiano notes above. The legacy is that in the takeover, one dies alone, apparently exterminated by a child playing with an insecticide as it happened to Vito Corleone.
However, “The Godfather” renewed the subgenre of 20th century gangster films about organized crime and the mobs or gangs that ran them. The genre had all but died out due to the restrictions of the Hays Code 1934-1968 who wouldn’t approve of movies that show murder, crime pays, or a lack of respect for police and authority figures.
After the establishment of the Motion Picture Association’s grading system in 1968 which replaced the Hays code (much like the American Episcopal conference’s Office for Film and Broadcasting classification system replaced the Legion of Decency code around the same time), a “New Hollywood” was born. Detective films like biographies”Bonnie and Clyde“(1967) were produced and fictional mob films such as “The Godfather” and fact-based films such as director Martin Scorsese”Freedmen(1990) followed.
If there’s one scene in ‘The Godfather’ that everyone remembers, it’s the baptism sequence at the end, where Vito’s youngest son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), says the baptismal pledges. at the church as the film cuts back and forth to its soldiers as they assassinate the competition, the heads of the other crime families. This is blasphemy at its best. By “The Godfather: Part III”, Michael tries to buy the power of the church with tragic consequences. This third film is far better and more deftly constructed than 1990 critics were willing to concede.
I think the biggest effect of “The Godfather” is that it spawned many Italian mob-themed films in the United States and catapulted Coppola’s directing career. Perhaps one of the film’s best-known descendants is the David Chase-created HBO series, “The Sopranos.” The series, starring the late James Gandolfini, ran from 1999 to 2007 and brought a gentrified crime family from suburban New Jersey right into our homes in 86 episodes.
Many would argue that “The Godfather” created or reinforced stereotypes of Italian Americans. In a 2012 interview with Smithsonian magazineTom Santopietro, author of The godfather effect, has a more optimistic view. He said the film “changed Hollywood because it ultimately changed the way Italians were portrayed on film. It made Italians appear as more fully realized people and not as stereotypes. It was a movie in Hollywood made by Italians about Italians.” He also said the film helped “Italianize American culture” and that other ethnic groups found “common ground” in a shared immigration experience.
Not everyone agrees. We have two sisters in our American province who were born in Corleone, Sicily and came to the United States after World War II with their family. The now deceased older sister was not bothered by “The Godfather”, but the younger sister was. She couldn’t even hear the name of the movie mentioned because “it gives the impression that all Sicilians are criminals”. Coming from Corleone didn’t help either.