Thursday, March 21, 2013

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

After a brief trip through some early 90’s professional wrestling (There weren’t many intelligent thoughts to write out of that. It did inspire me to exercise more fiercely with the occasional yell of, “OOOH YEAHHH!” though.) I continued the commentaries folowing Part I and Part II.

Part III was tough. 

I’d seen the first two films multiple times, dating back to renting and then owning VHS copies, and that’s not counting the inability to change away from them when flipping by on broadcast TV.  Even during those first two parts, I found myself having to rewind to hear the commentary, because I got so caught up in the story. I was only reading the subtitles and not listening to the director.

This is also an excellent excuse for anything I may have gotten wrong in these posts. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I’ve only watched Part III in marathons after watching the others, I don’t have many clear memories of it, and ended up doing more watching than listening on the final chapter.  I had the same problem watching the commentary on Star Wars and Superman, but since I didn’t first see The Godfather as an impressionable eight year old, I’m guessing it more has to do with quality than return to childhood in this case.

The scenes of the abandoned Lake Tahoe compound were filmed before Part II.  That’s the state the property was in when they first bought it. They fixed it up for that movie.

It’s been said that the Godfather films are “About a family, made by a family”.  
This notion really comes across in the commentary.  Coppola’s tone changes a bit from “genius filmmaker” to “Italian Son/Dad/Brother/Grandpa” when he talks about his family’s appearances in the movies.  His tone switches from detailing the creative process to discussing home movies. 

An example is the scene where Michael and his daughter are dancing, and the little girl runs in.  That was Coppola’s granddaughter. Her appearance wasn’t scripted but she was upset her Aunt Sophia wasn’t dancing with her.  Like any other Italian grandfather, he left it in. 

He also threw in his family’s inside jokes.  Calling Michael’s favorite song “Salciccia’s Own” instead of “To Each His Own” is one.  I think that’s one element that makes these films so strong, even if things aren’t scripted (or, in some cases, accurate) they make it more emotionally real.  You can’t fake Italian family.

He took a lot of flak for casting his daughter in the film (as did she), but Winona Ryder pulled out at the last minute and several other actresses did the same beforehand. He had to choose between stopping production for weeks to cast someone new (after already delaying all of Mary’s scenes) or put his daughter in.  He had a hunch she could be genuine in the role of an eighteen year old daughter of a powerful Italian man. 

In the commentary you can hear in his voice both the anger at the critics who attacked his child, and the joy that he really doesn’t care what they think because now he has an immortalized, commercially produced, home movie of his child before she became a successful director in her own right.

Part III got a fair amount of negative reviews, which were divided into two main themes:
a)         Part III was not as good as the original and Part II.

b)         Part III cannot be followed unless you’ve seen the original and Part II..

My rebuttals:

a) Yes, Part III was not as good as the original and Part II, but really, what was? 
Even if it wasn’t as good as the first two, it is still a Godfather movie.  Being the worst Godfather movie is kind of like being the worst Carvel Soft Ice Cream, or the worst winning Super Bowl team.  It’s still a pretty darn impressive place to be.

b) Seriously doofus critics, what aspect of “Part III” do you people not get? 
This is the return to a family that has been established in over six hours of screen time in previous films.  Complaining about not being able to follow this movie without seeing the others is like complaining that the final episode of Roots is difficult to understand without watching the rest of the miniseries. 

Also, who in the movie’s target audience would have NOT seen the other two? 

On the off chance that someone in that group hadn’t, they’d have heard someone like their Uncle Frankie say “Make him and offer he can’t refuse,” and any number of other important quotes so frequently at family gatherings that they would easily be able to follow along through osmosis.  

Now back to the commentary.

Coppola felt justified having Connie become such a strong presence in the third film.  This was partially because his sister had become quite an accomplished actress by that point.

There’s that family thing again.

The other reason is that Mario Puzo told him he based a great deal of Vito Corleone’s strength, wisdom and leadership on a member of his Italian family…his mother.

The cast family connection even extended to those not present.  In more proof that businessmen and money destroy art; they couldn’t reach a deal with Robert Duval to come back. George Hamilton played a lawyer handling all the deals and issues that Tom Hagen would have.  Coppola references many instances in the movie showing that not having Tom be there illustrates how when a family member dies, the loss continues along through every aspect of the family’s lives.  This applies both to on screen and behind the scenes.

Coppola put a real recipe in every film.  His logic was: “Even if you don’t like the movie, you learn how to cook something.” (Italian thinking at its finest.)
It’s the Gnocchi in Part III. 
He had to make a change in the original though, when Puzo corrected him on browning sausage:
“Gangsters don’t brown…they fry.”

The cousins’ romance came from Coppola’s family history.  One of his ancestors had to marry her cousin.  Apparently no one else would have her because her nose was amputated after it became infected from cutting it with a knitting needle.
Much to my chagrin, he didn’t use the bit:
“My ancestor had no nose.
How did she smell? 

He felt a strong connection to Michael’s character in Part III.  One reason was, because he wanted to get away from the violence, and didn’t like it.

Of course when he had to do it, he insisted on using violence in creative ways that no one had seen before with impressive results, gotta love that level of professionalism.

He also felt, “They pull me back in!” making him make another of the same kind of movie instead of doing something new and different.  He made a very profound statement about artists being the only ones who want to do different things and looking toward the future.  Everyone else says they’re in the present, but they’re really clinging to the past.

The original ending of the “Death of Michael Corleone” was:
Michael reunites with Kay and is then shown, after time has passed, gunned down coming out of church.
She asks if he’s dying and with his last breath tells her, “No,” lying to her one last time.

Coppola ended up rethinking and rewriting it because he felt it wasn’t a bad enough thing to happen to Michael after all he’d done.
“There are worse things than dying.” 
He said he commonly changes the endings once he gets going on a story and has a better feel for it, including Apocalypse Now.  (This means I’ll have to find that one with commentary.)

Having oranges as a symbol of upcoming doom began as a coincidence, but then started to get put in on purpose.

Eli Wallach’s family accompanied him to the shoot, and warned Coppola not to let him overact.  The director, however, enjoyed watching Wallach being himself and let him go over the top with the role, letting all of us enjoy it as well.
I find that the best movies are the ones where people obviously had fun doing them and didn’t give a hoot about any focus groups or “conventional wisdom.”

Michael supposedly drinks a lot of water all through the series, which is an indication of his constant thirst and developing diabetes.  I hadn’t noticed this, which is as good an excuse as any to watch them again without the commentary after I finish this little project. 
Maybe he meant just this movie; I’m paying too much attention to the story again.

It’s amazing how many people and locations form the original films came back for Part III.  Many of the Sicily locations are the same, and there are a large number of bit part people from the original (e.g. one of Michaels’ shotgun carrying Sicilian bodyguards) back in this one.  Even the drawing Michael’s son gives him in Part II resurfaces. (It was actually drawn by Coppola’s son, just in case there weren’t enough family references in the story.)

Then there’s the opera at the end that has references to dang near every scene, event and character in all three films.  Woo!

The personal asides from Mr. Coppola flow really fast and furious in Part III, all very entertaining. 

In the middle of discussing actors preparing and evolving roles, or planning out shots, or parallels between films and/or other stories he suddenly interrupts himself to inject personal notes.

He stopped almost in mid-sentence when Vincent was telling Maria they couldn’t be together and said, “I hate to see my daughter cry.” 

When Connie gives Don Altobello the cannoli he started with, “You really have to be careful of cannoli in these movies.” Then went into a long, detailed explanation about what makes those really good cannoli. 

Even just stopping when his sister and daughter were on screen with Pacino and Keaton (who he’s been friends with since the first film) to talk about how nice it was to be able to have them all there at once. 

He may have identified with Michael in this film, but it sounds much more like he built up his family and friends around him successfully, like Vito.

Coppola talked about having some evidence for the Vatican conspiracies emulated in this film, but that was during some complex plot stuff, so I didn’t listen closely to all of it.  Since I kinda knew that already, it doesn’t fall in the scope of these posts anyway.  You can look that up pretty easily for yourselves anyway when you finish here

The difference between Michael and Vito is defined by a modified single line of dialogue paralleled between the first and third parts.

When Sonny emotionally mouths off, Vito chastises him with, “Never let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking.” 

When Vincent (Son of Sonny) emotionally mouths off, Michael chastises him with, “Never let anyone know what you’re thinking.” 

That’s some efficient and powerful writing there.

Coppola’s father composed and conducted much of the incidental music for the three films.  For conducting the opera, Coppola didn’t want to over tax his Dad, so he brought in his Uncle.  He thought it would be good for them to work together, as they hadn’t been getting along. 
They continued to not get along, and their wives hated each other. 
“It didn’t go well,” may win the prize for biggest understatement of the commentaries. 

His mom pops up here and there in the films too, specifically as Mama Corleone in the coffin in Part II. (The regular actress refused to get in the coffin as its bad luck.  That’s a superstition I can understand having some basis in reality.)

He talked about wanting the ending to be a classic tragedy, and for Michael to pay for all his sins in all three films.

When Mary is shot, Coppola said, “This is my worst nightmare.” 
He continued, talking about, “Very often life imitates art…  When the film came out, they [the critics] all went after Sofia.” 

He then lapsed into what has to be one of the longest pauses in all the commentaries before speaking up again. 
At least it felt that way; this scene hits a heck of a lot harder now that I’m a Dad.  I needed to watch some more wrestling before loading up the bonus features disc.

Oh man.  Looking up spellings I learned that Coppola’s oldest son died in a speedboat accident in his early 20’s in 1986.  I have no idea how he was able to film that scene with his daughter, now.
Maybe it’s an artistic expression of what he had gone through? 

I am continually amazed at how much information is available here in the future.  I’m an engineer out in Whatever, New Jersey, and thanks to the recorded commentaries and the internet, I have a large volume of, mostly first hand, peeks into the creative processes and personal tastes of a multiple academy award winning film maker. 

You’d think with that level of access we’d be in a golden age of creativity.  This is why the cinema is filled with remakes and sequels…sort of. 

I think it comes down to the same level of access is available for the money people to look up past financial performances and trends, giving them data to back up only financing what already worked.  The battle continues.

During the credits Coppola talked about Michael’s death scene being at an indeterminate time, and that he and Puzo had discussed a fourth film.  Similar to Part II it would have been two stories, one set in modern times with Vincent leading the family into the drug trade and eventual ruin, and one in the time between the flashbacks of Part II and the original film’s opening - showing Vito’s rise to power and how each of his kids learned about the family business. 

Sonny and Vincent would have been the main characters whose lives echoed each other as the Rise and Fall were compared.

Sadly Mario Puzo died before they worked out more than a few scenes. Hopefully either he’ll finish it with someone else, or it will be left alone; anything to avoid the inevitable remake or a reinvention like Pirate Godfather or The Godfather…OF SPAAAAAAAAAACE!!!! 

Actually a combination of those two might be pretty cool; I should start working on a treatment.

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