Thursday, March 7, 2013

Godfather "I Didn't Know That"s: Part I

I watched The Godfather films with the director’s commentary while exercising.  Since almost everyone I mention DVD commentaries to says, “I’ve never listened to them,” I present these lists of entertaining stuff I didn't know as a public service. 

I’ve confirmed most of the list in other books and websites.  There may still be errors, but that serves as a lesson to listen to them yourself next time.  

The opening long slow pan during the mortician Bonasera's speech was a really big deal at the time, requiring the then new technology of a computer controlled camera.

He realized they were out of place at such a lavish wedding, but since they were at all his family's weddings, Coppola included a scene with "football sandwiches."

Lenny Montana was a professional wrestler and had very little acting experience before playing Luca Brasi.  He was incredibly nervous having to do a scene with the famous Marlon Brando.
(This was not helped by the fact that when filming Luca's close up shots of the conversation, Mr. Brando, who's back was to the camera, had helpfully written an obscene phrase on his own forehead.)  
Montana was so anxious; they were unable to get a completely clean take of the famed, "I am honored and grateful," speech.   Coppola decided to film the scene of him practicing beforehand AFTER the later scene was shot to explain his nervousness.

Some of the less than second unit directing and some of the editing were done by a young film school guy named George Lucas.  Coppola mentions him a surprising number of times, referencing good ideas he gave to improve the pacing, suspense, emotion and other aspects of the film.  Not the dialogue, though.   (George, we kid ya ‘cause we love ya!)

The horse's head was real.  The animal huggy people went absolutely nuts about it...until it was explained to them that the studio got one from an animal already killed at a dog food factory, "To feed all the animal lover's puppies and poodles," as Coppola said.

The famous "Leave the gun, take the cannolis" was an on set ad lib, based on the line Coppola suggested Clemeza's wife say about picking up cannolis on the way home.  They were a special treat for the director when his dad brought them home.

Coppola was very close to being fired many times.  At one of the most severe, he pulled a Michael Corleone like move to save himself.  He knew that studios always fire directors on a Friday, allowing them to set up his successor over the weekend and not affect the film's schedule.  After a scene he shot was very negatively received by studio folks, he compiled a list of "Conspirators." That is, all the Assistant Directors and others who he knew sided with the studio.  He had them all fired on Wednesday, leaving the studio no easy replacement for him. He reshot the scene on his own afterwards to everyone’s satisfaction.

The budget was low enough to prevent using rear screen projection for the night driving scenes.  The headlights are stage hands wandering behind the cars in the dark with searchlights.

Pacino didn't know how to speak Italian, dance or drive when he made the first film.  This was troublesome in the Sicily scenes where he had to do all three, sometimes in the same shot.

It's a good thing the studio was trying to keep the budget down and hired a relatively new and cheap director.  Besides fighting for the actors used, who ended up being fantastic in the role (Pacino, Brando, etc.) Coppola also insisted on filming in New York instead of St. Louis.  Finally he was also responsible for reversing the original decision to make it a contemporary (1970's) film, instead of leaving the setting in the 40's as the book does.

Coppola was so busy fighting to keep Pacino and Brando in the movie that he didn't notice (and neither did anyone else) the lack of a scene with those two great actors playing off each other.  The conversation where Vito warns Michael about Barzini and how to recognize the traitor was filmed at the eleventh hour with a second unit.

The composer stole from himself.  The famous love theme from The Godfather was a melody he originally used in a 1958 comedy Fortunella, removing the possibility of an Oscar nomination for original song. However, in that film it was a very snappy peppy tune, which must sound pretty odd now.

Upon looking up various spellings and other details, I also discovered:

Al Pacino's maternal grandparents really were from Corlione, Sicily…Cool!


Al Pacino's voice and likeness couldn’t be used in the Godfather video game (most other characters awesomely are, or at least imitated – click here for in depth review) because he has an exclusive likeness contract for the Scarface video games.

As these lists go on, there will be less quoting and more personal reviewing, as I’m a movie geek with a big mouth.

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