Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Godfather Notebook

Arguably, the best movie of all time is now a book.  Phaidon is already taking pre-orders for the signed special edition due out in November.  If $250 is too much, you can buy the paperback version for $50.  Whether it is the most important unpublished work is a matter of debate, but there is great value in the 720-page tome as it will shed light on Coppola's process behind the film, not that much of it hasn't leaked out in one form or another over the years, as this movie has been pored over by every major film critic.

Hard to believe it was 44 years ago that this film came out.  Coppola was only 32 at the time, with a handful of movies to his credit.  Only The Rain People stood out.  Coppola wasn't the first, second or even third choice to make the film.  He didn't even want to make it, until he read something in the novel that inspired him to think along Greek tragic lines, or so the story goes anyway.  He began assembling his loose leaf notebook while traveling through Europe in 1970.

He struggled to keep the film in budget and on time to satisfy an overeager Paramount studio anxious to cash in on the runaway success of the novel.  Paramount had bought the film rights to the book before it was even finished, sensing a blockbuster.  And, a blockbuster they got.  For years, The Godfather was the most popular film of all time until Jaws came along.  It also cashed in at the Academy Awards with Best Picture, but Coppola lost out to Bob Fosse for Best Director.  Coppola would get his Oscar for the second installment two years later, which likewise won Best Picture.

Coppola can also be credited with raising Marlon Brando from the dead, as he had fallen out of favor with studio executives.  It took a very emotional appeal by Coppola to get him in the film.  Brando would also win an Oscar for his performance, which he infamously declined, sending Shasheen Littlefeather to read his rejection.

All the bold moves Coppola made established him as the new star in Hollywood.  He would follow up with equally memorable movies like The Conversation, The Godfather, Part II, Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club, although he had his misses as well like One from the Heart, although the soundtrack by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle is great.

He produced other big films, notably American Graffiti, and financed interesting projects like Koyaanisqatsi through American Zoetrope.   The one movie that eluded him was On the Road.  He thought he had finally found his director in Walter Salles, but the movie fell flat especially after all those years of anticipation.

The same was true for The Godfather, Part III, the overlong final installment that left you wondering, what for?  Like the previous two films, he collaborated with Puzo on the script but this film just went on an on and on without giving us any real added insight into Michael Corleone, other than he was desperate to have his children live a virtuous life.

It will be fun to see the Notebook, but what is more interesting is the story arc that spanned nearly two decades from the first film released in 1972 to the third film released in 1990, and the nature of the collaboration between Coppola and Puzo.

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