“It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes." Although not a true Throwback Thursday, last Thursday night (thanks to Essex Cinemas) we were lucky enough to get access to the newly remastered 40th anniversary edition of The Godfather. I grew up hearing about The Godfather, but I never got to experience the film until I was almost out of high school. While working at Costco, The The Godfather Collection was released as a box set on (gasp) VHS and I picked myself up a copy and for the first time watched the rise and fall of Michael Corleone. From war hero to hit man to the Don of the Corleone family, Michaels struggle has interested me since the very first time I popped the VHS in and adjusted the tracking and now, almost fifteen years later, I finally got to see The Godfather on the big screen.
Throwback Thursdays have become a staple amongst my core group of hardcore film nerd friends and, as I stated before, The Godfather isn’t truly a Throwback Thursday because it’s a 40th anniversary release, but for the sake of argument it is a throwback movie and we did watch it on a Thursday so let’s just call a spade a spade. Also, The Ghostbusters re-release only played in 500 theaters nationwide last Halloween and kicked off Throwback Thursdays at Essex Cinemas, so even though it really wasn’t a Throwback Thursday it birthed the rest and, well, I think you can see where I’m going now. So anyway, my friends and I have made every movie so far (I tried to duck unsuccessfully out of The Blues Brothers but that’s another story) and in keeping with that tradition as soon as Back to the Future was over I purchased tickets to The Godfather. I was excited to see it on the big screen. I mean, I never had before and even more exciting was my wife hadn’t seen it period, so her first exposure to The Godfather would be on the big screen - not a bad way to pop your cinema cherry. Little did I know something darker than Gordon Willis’ Cinematography was afoot; one of the members of our group didn’t like The Godfather. In fact, he was so against the movie that he was going to boycott the film and try to get us to do the same. I could try and explain his side of the argument, but his position (besides just not liking the film) was never properly explained to me, so instead please check out the following clip from the Family Guy (Season 4, Episode 27 Untitled Griffin Family History).
Unfortunately, his position did not change. He didn’t watch The Godfather, but he did head to Club Take 2 and have the special Lasagna dinner that was prepared to go along with The Godfather. And as much as I tried to change his mind, he wouldn’t budge which made me rethink my own position. I mean, why do I like The Godfather? Maybe I was wrong, maybe the movie isn’t as great as I remembered… or was it? When the lights dimmed and the movie began I could feel myself trying my hardest to look at the film with a critical eye; did the wedding scene drag on for too long? No, it established the family and how the characters interacted. It also got some exposition out of the way without hitting you over the head with it. Were all the character set-ups necessary? Once again, yes, every character you learned even just a little bit about played out beautifully in the long run. Want an example? Sonny plays fast and loose from the very beginning, hooking up with a bridesmaid, smashing a camera of an F.B.I photographer (leaving him money in the wake) and also talks out of turn. But hang–on…before I finish this thought, let me just throw up a…
It feels weird saying that about a film that came out before I was born, but at the same time I don’t want to ruin a movie that you maybe haven’t seen yet, so please stop reading if you haven’t seen The Godfather. Anyway, Sonny’s temper is ultimately what gets him killed, the very same temper that causes him to smash the camera at his sisters wedding gets him ambushed later on as he once again flies off the handle upon finding out his sisters’ husband beat her up again. There’s a set-up and then a payoff and it works the same for the other characters as well. Coppola and Puzo carefully crafted each character arc and that makes the overall story much more interesting and keeps the audience engaged even at the parts that might seem a little slower. The Sicilian Sequence may feel a little long, but because of it you learn a little bit more about Michael as he courts the beautiful Apollonia (I guess the other zip code rules apply). And later on you find out there is no honor amongst thieves when Favrizio who is supposed to be Michaels body guard tries to have him killed, but ends up killing Apollonia instead. Each scene gives you just a little more insight into the world that Coppola and Puzo created until the movies final climax and my personal favorite scene: the baptism. The juxtaposition of Michael becoming the Godfather of his sister’s baby while at the same time becoming a true Don is amazing. I love how Michael renounces Satan while at the same time is having the most horrendous acts committed in his name. The sequence is stunning and has to be one of the best cinematic montages that comes to mind. As far as Peter Griffin stating that the movie insists upon itself… Well, if you mean weaves a tragic story about a family engrossed in criminal activity and the rise and fall of Michael Corleone then yes, it does, and it’s very insisting. Insisting that you care, that you want to see Michael get revenge on those who have wronged him and his family. How satisfying was it to see Michael shoot Capt. McClusky in the face after being roughed up by him earlier? Is that an eye for an eye? No, but McClusky was a dirty cop and he did get what was coming to him; same as Sollozzo who tried to have Vito Corleone killed. It’s only later once Michael has Moe Greene killed that you see Michael has turned a corner. You don’t mess with the family, and it’s no longer about revenge as it is about growth. What was Moe Greene’s crime? Not letting Michael buy out his share of the Casino. It probably also didn’t help that he slapped around Fredo, too. Either way, Michael made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
When the lights came back on in the theater, I couldn’t help but think “Man, when am I going to have the time to watch The Godfather Part II?” After all these years, I was still a fan and enjoyed the story as much as I did all those years back watching my VHS copy. As for my wife, she enjoyed the movie too. I did have a text message waiting for me the moment I turned my phone back on. The message? “It insists upon itself.” Some things will never change, but I guess that’s what is so great about movies: everyone’s experience is different and half the fun is debating films once they’re over. I can’t wait until the next Throwback Thursday to see where the chips fall. Until then, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”