Monday, August 21, 2006

Keeping It In The Family

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about The Godfather after having gone to watch it in a new print; two nights ago I saw, at the same cinema, Part II, a film that I had always imagined to be better than the first. Now however I think that there is little qualitative difference between the two: both are very good. Part II is Pacino's film, as his ruthlessness mounts until he becomes a Cosimo Medici-type monster that is far from his apparent principledness of the beginning of the saga. He becomes an even better 'businessman' than his father, simply because he has managed to immerse himself in the crime culture much better, imposing his might as the only rationale and the only argument. The scene in which Diane Keaton's Kay tells him that her miscarriage was an abortion and that she is leaving him is harrowing as much for the implied slight to Corleone and the family as it is for the violence. Family members and old associates are all disposed of as the web of deceit is unravelled. The film has a broader visual palette than the first one, moving from vivid colour in the Sicilian scenes, to brown, almost sepia in the early New York days, to the icy, high-contrast chiaroscuro of the final hour in the snow-bound lakehouse in Nevada. There is a similar escalation of tone and contrast in the first film, but here the effect is more intense, without ever losing control. It is strange how Gordon Willis, who lit both films, and later some of Woody Allen's best work, has for the past twenty years worked as a journeyman technician on largely uninteresting films. His work on both of these films is breathtaking.

The most remarkable quality of the two Godfather films is the way that they appear so mature, so endowed with seriousness of intent, compared to films these days. It is hard to imagine a film with such a persuasive attention to detail and with such an intelligent script and mise en scène coming out of Hollywood today. It is the cinematic equivalent of joined writing, while today's Hollywood produces pretentious, overblown 'quality' films that are littered with ostentatious cultural references and improbable plot turns, a large printed scrawl in comparison to the early cinema of Coppola, Cimino, Scorsese and Malick. I have yet to see Part III as the general consensus is that it tarnishes the earlier films by its association. But I think I might give it a go, out of curiosity if nothing else.