Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Godfather, Part II

Well, this week in my 70s Cinema course, we'll be talking about The Godfather, Part II. I'm interested in anything my readers might have to say about the film, which is, in my opinion, an interesting way to make a sequel. That is, it seems to intentionally avoid the sense of "nostalgia for the original" that most sequels go for, instead creating an opposite feel. There is no honor in Michael Corleone's reign (in contrast to Vito's reign). The whole film seems to be tinged with the loss of Vito -- just as the viewer feels the loss. His presence in the first film was so powerful that everyone in the movie feels the loss and can't help but compare Michael to him. Connie yells at Michael that, "You're not my father!" when he opposes her latest marriage, and Fredo sadly says, "I wish pop was here" near the end.

The complex structure and plot also go against the standsrd sequel fare, which normally tend to re-tell the original story but with slight differences (like Rocky II, which tells essentially the same story but gives the viewer what he or she wanted in the first film, namely a victory for Rocky).

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what elements of this film interest you the most.


Anonymous Jonathan said...

You are right--the absence of Vito is very strong. There are two practical reasons for this--he died in the first movie and also that Brando doesn't believe in sequels. But the death thing shouldn't have stopped him because they brought back Sonny and Abe Vigoda for the final scene. That scene is cut just as Brando would have entered. If I recall correctly, you can almost hear him in the next room. (I think that final scene says so much about that film.) The other thing is that you can always get by Brando's refusal to do sequels since he was just in the recent "Superman Returns" last summer, and this time the actor himself is dead.

That said, you actually do have Vito, as a very young man, in flashbacks with Robert DeNiro. I like those flashbacks because they create a certain mood, a feeling, a sense of the early 20th Century. Perhaps there is a tint on the camera lens. We learn backstory, but more importantly Vito's "morality" contrasts with Michael's "morality."

The other thing about this film is it just pushes Michael into the darkest place he could be--the murderer of a brother. Much darker than he was at the end of the first film. He lies to his wife, he lies to Congress, and he kills his brother. The revered family loyalty is torn apart in this film.

I also like the whole Cuba part, but that's because of my personal interest in Cuba. Although everyone is interested in Cuba because it's a taboo country and Michael is there to witness the revolution which changed US relations. To this day, we still cannot go to Cuba and we wonder which government is worse--Castro's, or the corrupt Batista who was in bed with the mob.

1/21/2007 8:10 PM  
Blogger badMike said...

I love the film and my favorite part is when Frankie Pentangeli goes to testify against Michael and Tom nonchalantly brings Frankie's brother into the courtroom beforehand. It's such a powerful message being sent to Frankie, but the way it's shot is so low-key and you don't really understand what's going on until you think about it for a minute. I can't help but think today, they'd have ushered the guy in with a big close-up and ominous music so we know what the message is. The whole film is like that.

I also think I have an interesting anecdote, but judge for yourself:

I was at a special screening of The Godfather here in Hollywood a few years ago and Robert Evans, the producer, held a Q&A afterwards. I forget mostly what he said, but one thing was really interesting.

He said (and it's Evans so who knows if it's true) that he and Francis were shocked that audiences of the first Godfather thought that they were presenting a glamorous view of all the violence and were leaving the theater with a romanticized view of it. So, they set out to make Godfather, Part II to show that violence is not "cool" and that's why Michael is so much more vicious than Vito ever was. Nothing good comes as a result of violence and only tears the Corleone family apart in the sequel.

And that's why, I think, that Part II is not just a rehash of Part I, as you rightly say it isnt.

1/23/2007 9:40 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Badmike, that's very interesting what you said about the violence in the first movie. I had an interesting discussion with Chris about that. It seemed to me that Copolla was saying violence is bad, but I heard a lot of people say the violence was glamorized. It always made me wonder if I was missing something. I would agree with Evans then. Thanks for sharing that aneqdote.


1/24/2007 12:18 AM  
Blogger Chris Hansen said...

i think the violence in the first film is not what's glamorized (it seems fairly brutal to me), but it's glamorized by association -- that is, the lifestyle itself (and the "morality" of Don Vito) is glamorized, and the violence goes with it.

Vito, as a character in both films, seems to commit acts of violence when necessary, and his reasons are usually just (even if the violence itself isn't morally correct). It makes Vito a very complex character, because you can't simply dismiss him as a gangster. His whole empire was founded on protecting his family and the little people around him (immigrants, mostly) who couldn't get a fair shake in this country.

Michael seems to take that power -- power he didn't have to fight for, and he never had to experience being "downtrodden" in the way Vito did -- and seeks more and more power.

1/24/2007 9:17 AM  
Blogger said...

It seems to me that the ganster identity is always a violent one. The brilliance of GII is that Michael Corleone, a man we know to be smart and loyal, actually disappears into that violent identity. He becomes little more than the violence that he can inflict on others. In this way GII calls the entire structure of the First film into question as well.

1/25/2007 3:40 PM  

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