The first movie I ever watched on home video was a VHS tape of The Godfather. My good friend Kevin was the first person I ever knew to have a VCR in his house. In HIS HOUSE! We were in high school at the time. When the Turnabout dance rolled around, Kevin, his gal, me, and my gal decided to forego the dance, and instead go to a fancy restaurant and then straight back to Kevin's for a feature film.
I can still remember marveling at the then-new technology. I held the bulky tape cassette in my hands. You could watch this whenever you wanted; you didn't have to wait for it to be on TV. There were no commercials. You could pause it. As soon as it was over, you could watch it again. It was magic.
Since that night I have seen The Godfather scads of times—at home, at repertory screenings in college, and sometimes as often as three times a day during the semesters I screened it in my film studies classes.
In some ways, this level of multiple screenings is a luxury for film lovers. Here are a few things that struck me after coming home from the theater last Wednesday afternoon:
1. I was surprised by the variable picture quality and the different framing of the digital presentation. It seemed as if the theater was throwing up its hands and saying, “Coppola restoration? What Coppola restoration?” I recognize that Gordon Willis’s famous “dark” cinematography is hard to get right in any digital medium, but the digital copy screened at my theatre varied wildly from “reel” to “reel.” In the opening scenes in Vito Corleone’s study, the graininess and pixilization of Brando’s face made it look as if he was beset by a swarm of mosquitos. In later scenes, this improved.
This reminded me of the dozens of “amateur” screenings I have attended at reparatory theaters where the print or digital copy on display is not as good as the one I have at home. Several times, I have been tempted to drive home, fetch the disc, and let the sponsors of said screening borrow my copy.
Still, I am glad that Francis didn't go quite as far with his restoration as his friend George has in the past with his famous films. Coppola’s intent was to make The Godfather’s presentation look pristine. He did not mess with the content of the film. If Coppola had followed Lucas’s lead, we would have a new Special Edition of the film where Sollozzo shoots first in the famous Italian restaurant massacre scene.
2. When the film was first released in theaters, I was too young to see it, but I still remember its popularity and how it bulldozed popular culture. The two things mentioned most often were the line “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and the “horse’s head in the bed“—you know, the scene where hotshot movie producer Jack Woltz gets his famous comeuppance and learns that you don't fuck with the Corleones. I never noticed before that during that scene, there is an Oscar statuette on Woltz's bedside table. Why was that included as part of the production design? Could it be the Oscar Coppola won for co-writing Patton the previous year, or is it a prop? Did the studio have to get permission from the Academy, which is notoriously finicky about how their copyrighted symbol is used?
3. During the funeral scene, the “ghost face” that appears in Michael’s dark suit was glaringly obvious. What’s that? You’ve never heard about or seen the “ghost face?” You can see and read about both here and here. Again, it made me happy that Coppola was at least leaving the film alone, and even if there was an obvious mistake that was part of the original presentation, he wasn’t changing history by digitally erasing it just because he could. I checked to see if it was retained on the Blu-ray disc and thankfully, it’s there. It’s a little creepy if you don't know the explanation. It’s even kind of creepy if you do.
4. I was surprised by how much more compelling I found the sequence where Michael hides in Italy. In the past, I must confess that I always found these scenes interminable and a bit of a bore, but not this time. I take this as another sign of my advancing age. I am also reminded of Roger Ebert’s famous quote about revisiting the same film over the span of many years: we like to think the film has somehow changed, but of course it hasn’t—it is we who have changed.
5. Casting! We have spoken here at F This Movie! about perfect films, but good golly, Miss Molly, when you read about the actors that Paramount Pictures pushed for versus the actors Coppola wanted, there is just no contest. Coppola knew that the title role of Don Vito Corleone was perfect for Marlon Brando; the studio wanted Sir Laurence Olivier or Danny Thomas. Coppola insisted that Al Pacino should play Michael; the studio auditioned Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neal, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, Martin Sheen, and James Caan. James Caan eventually won the role of Sonny. Ryan O’Neal? Oh man, oh God, oh man, oh God, oh man, oh God! Thank goodness that Coppola got his way.
The Cinemark Classic Film Series starts all over again next week with a new slate of six older films: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (July 6th & 9th), Pretty Woman (July 13th & 16th), The Breakfast Club (July 20th & 23rd), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (July 27th & 30th), The Big Lebowski (August 3rd & August 6th), and Beverly Hills Cop (August 10th and 13th). Check this link to find theaters and show times.
Anything new you’ve noticed on the ump-teenth screening of a favorite film?