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March 3, 2009 10:40 AM   Subscribe

The drama behind the making of The Godfather is nearly as intriguing as the movie itself. A recent Vanityfair piece recounts "how the clash of Hollywood sharks, Mafia kingpins, and cinematic geniuses shaped a Hollywood masterpiece." A follow-up article tells of a fateful dinner between the film's stars and members of the famous Genovese crime family.

Thanks to Kottke for the links.

Also, previously on MeFi, albeit with a broken link, sadly.
posted by Afroblanco (32 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
As it happens, Mrs. Beese and I just watched the movie again a few days ago. And strange to say, as obvious as the quality of the acting and the mise-en-scène were, the film didn't leap out at us as something that would be routinely proposed as the Greatest American Film Ever Made.

A masterpiece of the genre, to be sure - and almost incalculably influential. But not having quite as much to say about families and/or capitalism-as-crime as I had remembered.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:53 AM on March 3, 2009


May your first comment be a masculine comment.

(oh, good)
posted by jonmc at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2009 [11 favorites]


Are we going to have to get the New York families on board to make this film? Yes! We are!
Are we going to use Martin Sheen for the Michael Corleone role? No, we're not!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:07 AM on March 3, 2009


Reading that article really made me want to break out the Robert Evan's "Kid Stays in the Picture" book on tape.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was really hoping for a more detailed recipe for that eggplant parmesan, but hey, family secrets are family secrets. You don't just blab all the details of what your mobster dad served to Marlon Brando.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:34 AM on March 3, 2009


I was really hoping for a more detailed recipe for that eggplant parmesan,

Recipe? No self-respecting Italian uses a recipe! You WASPy types damn near a lost cause.
posted by jonmc at 11:39 AM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's my favourite nugget of fascinating pop-cultural fluff from the original VF feature:

The next morning he had Sonny’s personality down cold. “Oh, are you telling me that the Tattaglias guarantee our investment?” he cracked, with a rapid-fire, Don-Rickles-meets-the-Mob bravado that elevated his character to a whole new level. Then a phrase was delivered to him straight from improvisational heaven. It popped into his mouth as he mocked Michael, after hearing his kid brother say he intended to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey, the corrupt Irish cop who had broken his jaw: “What do you think this is, the army, where you shoot ’em a mile away? You gotta get up close, like this—and bada-bing! You blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit.”

Bada-bing became a mantra for mobsters and aspiring mobsters. More recently, it served as the name of Tony Soprano’s strip club in The Sopranos. “‘Bada-bing? Bada-boom?’ I said that, didn’t I? Or did I just say ‘bada-bing’?” asks Caan. “It just came out of my mouth—I don’t know from where.”


I love how a bit of Italian-American doggerel authentic enough to take a central role in the Jersey set dressing of the most naturalistic mob epic ever started out as improv from the mouth of a Jewish kid from the Bronx doing an over-the-top impersonation of an Italian. At some point (if it hasn't already), bada-bing will go through the looking glass entirely and be a common phrase used by actual Jersey Italians who think it's their heritage. I like that kinda postmodern pop oddness.

And jonmc, no disrespect, but I coulda used a real recipe too for that eggplant. I don't need precise measures or anything - I'm (mostly) highland Scottish Catholic (a mob whose beef with the WASPs is about as deep as they come), my grandmother's handwritten recipe cards would call for things like "a goodly hunk of butter," but with the limited Italian blood in the family tree now four generations thinned I've never watched this kind of thing in action and I know I'd mess up the egg-to-cheese ratio in that batter a dozen times before I got it right.
posted by gompa at 12:01 PM on March 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


Regarding the accidental and undesired meeting of Sinatra and Puzo:
Sinatra, writes Puzo, never even looked up from his plate, but "started to shout abuse . . . The worst thing he called me was a pimp, which rather flattered me. But what hurt was that there he was, a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian, with physical violence. That was roughly equivalent to Einstein pulling a knife on Al Capone."

posted by exogenous at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


After plowing through the entirety of "The Sopranos" and then re-watching The Godfather, I was similarly underwhelmed by the movie. "Sopranos" makes a far better mafia-as-metaphor for capitalism, terrorism and race/sexuality factors than the movie. It's important that the "Sopranos" characters are obsessed with Godfather to the extent that they can't see its glamorous mythologies for what they really are. (Furthering gompa's point: the Bada-Bing strip club where Tony Sopranos and his goons do their business is full of misshapen silicon implants, sweaty old mobsters, and existentially depressing lighting).
posted by zoomorphic at 12:11 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


gompa: I know. I just couldn't resist, both my Italiin grandmother and my elderly Jewish mother-in-law take a great delight in looking at people funny when they ask for a recipe after a meal.

I love how a bit of Italian-American doggerel authentic enough to take a central role in the Jersey set dressing of the most naturalistic mob epic ever started out as improv from the mouth of a Jewish kid from the Bronx doing an over-the-top impersonation of an Italian.

Well, for roughly a century in NYC, the rougher neighborhoods were inhabited by what one writer called the 'holy trinity' of Irish, Italian and Jewish Americans so I wouldn't be suprised if Caan had simply heard the phrase on the street somewhere and used it unconsciously.

a northern Italian, threatening me, a southern Italian,

Italy's regional squabbles are legendary (says this son of Northern Italian-born mother) which is odd since to outsiders we're all just a bunch of wops.
posted by jonmc at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2009


"Sopranos" makes a far better mafia-as-metaphor for capitalism, terrorism and race/sexuality factors than the movie.

Perhaps. But at the same time, you could say that the makers of The Sopranos were standing on the shoulders of giants.

(I make the same argument when speaking with people who love Battlestar Galactica but hate Star Trek)
posted by Afroblanco at 12:33 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Sopranos" makes a far better mafia-as-metaphor for capitalism, terrorism and race/sexuality factors than the movie.

Perhaps. But at the same time, you could say that the makers of The Sopranos were standing on the shoulders of giants.


Of course, we're leaving Goodfellas out of the timeline here, aren't we. I'd say Scorsese did a great job of stripping back the gangster mythology to reveal a bunch of thugs as could be done, and the Sopranos, the Wire et al merely followed that lead.
posted by jonmc at 12:44 PM on March 3, 2009


Actually, unless we can all agree that the two-part (sic) Godfather epic, Goodfellas and the full series of The Sopranos and The Wire would combine to chart near the top of the All-Time Top Ten of Televisual Lost Weekends, I don't even wanna be in this thread anymore.
posted by gompa at 12:56 PM on March 3, 2009


I love how a bit of Italian-American doggerel authentic enough to take a central role in the Jersey set dressing of the most naturalistic mob epic ever started out as improv from the mouth of a Jewish kid from the Bronx doing an over-the-top impersonation of an Italian.

According to the Oxford English dictionary entry for bada-bing, the first recorded usage of "bada bing" comes from the comedy routine, "Italian Wedding," on the album Our Hero by Italian-American comedian, Pat Cooper (born Pasquale Caputo). So, to be accurate, Caan was probably unconsciously imitating an Italian-American comedian when he improvised the word.
posted by jonp72 at 1:01 PM on March 3, 2009


The funniest part of the article to me was the segment where the actor playing Johnny Fontane actually got his part through his real-life Mafia connections. You know, exactly how the Fontane character gets his part.

Hopefully, there wasn't an actual horse involved...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:02 PM on March 3, 2009


Goodfellas in a great movie to bring up, which dresses down all the glamor of airheaded mob flicks like Scarface. Even Donnie Brasco was a really grim portrayal of mobsters. But I still think Godfather ultimately drank its own poison when it portrayed organized crime with such a heavy tone of gravitas and elegance. The horse head scene in Godfather epitomizes the flourishing checkmates and stylized terror of a Hollywoodized mafia. The episode when Tony Soprano avenges the death of his horse and winds up getting a can of Raid sprayed in his face is much more compelling to me.

Then again, Godfather is a brilliant, operatic tragic, so I should probably back off and just enjoy it instead of expecting it to address questions of responsibility and power blah blah blah. I still haven't seen II and III, so feel free to shout me down in case none of my qualifications hold true to the end of the trilogy.
posted by zoomorphic at 1:16 PM on March 3, 2009


Why does a movie have to have a lot to say in order to be a "masterpiece"? I didn't like the Godfather at all until my third viewing, when I started watching it for the acting/narrative/mise-en-scene and not the "meaning".
posted by archagon at 1:26 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


... I still haven't seen II and III...

Not seeing Godfather II is a crime, as it's far superior to part one.

Godfather III is just a crime.
posted by newpotato at 1:31 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Godfather III has its pleasures. There is a mass execution via helicopter that is superb, and the death of the gangster Joey Zasa is as much fun as anything in the series.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:40 PM on March 3, 2009


The women's costumes in The Godfather prevented me from taking the movie seriously. Those hats!
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2009


Godfather III is just a crime.

Everyone always remarks on how Sofia Coppola's terrible acting ruins the ending of III. What really struck me on my recent re-watching of I is how Talia Shire [an equally nepotistic casting choice] at least half-ruins its ending.

Don't believe me? Watch.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:51 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


A cable television series has ALOT more room for everything. Fitting a story into 2 hours is a bit different than developing one over X year(s).
posted by P.o.B. at 1:58 PM on March 3, 2009


The Godfather is a very good example of a great film being made from a mediocre book. Whereas most great books are turned into less than mediocre films.
posted by cazoo at 2:05 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


A cable television series has ALOT more room for everything. Fitting a story into 2 hours is a bit different than developing one over X year(s).

I'm not comparing the movie's ability to develop characters or complex story arcs to 600+ hours of a television show on the same subject. But I never saw the dazzling assessment of modern power that so many fans and critics attribute to the film. It's a phenomenal work of art and very arresting in its own right, but the depth of its social commentary has been a little overhyped.

Then again, I can never eat fresh oranges without succumbing to a foreboding sense of doom.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:22 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


the Sopranos, the Wire et al merely followed that lead.

One of these things is not like the others.

By which I mean The Wire very definitely *wasn't* standing on the shoulders of giants, but creating something wholly new. The previous drama you refer to was primarily about organized crime. The Wire is about the nexus between organized crime and disorganized crime in the drug market economy.

The precursors, where they exist, are probably things like Clockers and New Jack City but comparing either of those with The Wire simply serves to illustrate what a phenomenal leap ahead of everything it actually was.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:13 PM on March 3, 2009


Peter, be that as it may, my point was that neither Tony Soprano or Marlo Stanfield or their minions, like Henry Hill and Paulie Cicero before them were not portrayed with Brando/Pacino gravitas and mystique, merely as a bunch of thugs. I was talking about a common thread of realism and frankness, not subject matter, neccessarily. The Wire was definitely something new, but it was another step in an evolution, not something that dropped out of the sky.
posted by jonmc at 3:38 PM on March 3, 2009


comparing either of those with The Wire simply serves to illustrate what a phenomenal leap ahead of everything it actually was

*sigh* Comments like this are so frustrating to me, because I've found The Wire to be so NOT engrossing the times I've tried to watch it. I totally believe everyone's assessment that it gets incredible at some point, but I've never been able to stick with it long enough for its incredibleness to kick in for me.

posted by scody at 3:39 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why I oughta...
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:32 PM on March 3, 2009


All this whining about how Godfather isn't actually a great film.. and nobody mentions how Godfather Part II was better than the first!
posted by ChickenringNYC at 5:44 PM on March 3, 2009


I think The Godfather was one of those moments that changed and molded perceptions so much, it's hard now to see just how groundbreaking it was.

Before then, gangsters were just gangsters (even if they were anti-heroes, like in Bonnie and Clyde). I think about someone walking into the theater in 1972, expecting to see some hard-core gangsterism...and the first scene is Brando giving that undertaker an etiquette lesson...I think that would be mind-blowing.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:48 PM on March 3, 2009


How is The Godfather (and II) not a great film? You had some seriously heavy films coming out around that time with not only innovative stories and methods of telling them but interesting social commentary (whether lighthearted like Anne Hall or a bit creepy like Taxi Driver) and it's astonishingly well made on every level. The subject matter happens to be gangsters but it could have been nearly anything and, given it was entertaining, made movie history with how effective it used nearly every image on the screen. Especially with II in the end with Michael, having effectively destroyed his own soul, sitting alone with winter coming.

Then came the whole blockbuster summer whiz-bango movie thing full of special effects and cheese. Guess which trend Hollywood went with?

The Godfather delves into the conflict between respect predicated on a rigid social order and outward showings of gratitude and familial care (but ultimately resting on violence) and the legitimacy that comes with operating openly and being visible in the greater society (which we see conceals a kind of violence of its own, but also reiterates as a motif of the conflict between personal matters and matters of business). From the first shot at the wedding, you know the themes, through the wedding sequence you know all the characters, and Coppola does all this while creating sympathy for men who are shown to be ruthless killers through the structure of these elements.

Star Wars by contrast has a space ship based on a hamburger.

(I'm not going to say Star Wars isn't entertaining, I like it, or that it doesn't have some interesting themes going, but it's pretty clear in retrospect Lucas was just borrowing from great works without really understanding them. Not a problem really, but he should have, y'know, continued to do so).

You can not like Citizen Kane, but c'mon, recognize the quality and genius of the work.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:27 PM on March 3, 2009




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