Wednesday, March 24, 2010

1972: The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)

1972: The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
I read once where Steven Spielberg said that he would never make a movie as perfect as The Godfather.  I never understood why he would make that statement, but I can't argue against the greatness of Coppola's film.  It simply does so many things right.  

It has tremendous performances.  Pacino, Duvall, Brando, Caan, Cazale, Shire are all at the top of their game.  It has a perfect score, perfect lighting scheme, seemingly perfect editing, shot selection, camera movement, and production design.  It has some of the most memorable lines and scenes in the history of the medium.  And it seems perfectly scaled to fit its themes, desired effect, and wonderfully crafted story.  

Pauline Kael used the term "movie art" to describe it in her 1972 review, and I've always felt the film to be as great a hybrid as we've ever had of depth and entertainment.  It's a tremendous achievement and model for all of us that hope to reach audiences in more than just NY and LA, but hope to say something, too.  

Other contenders for 1972: I still have a few titles from this year I need to see.  These include:  Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, Jacques Rivette's Out 1: Spectre, Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid, Ingmar Bergman's Cries and WhispersBilly Wilder's Avanti!, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Merchant of Four Seasons, Bill L Norton's Cisco Pike, and Maurice Pialat's We Won't Grow Old Together.  I need to revisit Bob Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens, John Boorman's Delivrance, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.  It's been too long since I've seen any of them to know where they'd place on this list. From this year, I really like Eric Rohmer's Chloe in the Afternoon.  I love Bob Fosse's Cabaret.  And Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God is my closest runner-up.  

8/31/10 I watched Bob Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens.  It's a deep film, but one that I've now seen twice and can't warm to quite yet.  It's so dark and drab and is almost completely devoid of fun.  I love Five Easy Pieces and know that this Rafelson also enjoys a huge reputation, but I can't quite connect to it yet. 

4/10/11 I watched Jean-Pierre Melville's Un Flic.  Melville's final film is not at the same level of his two previous and, in my opinion, two strongest films, Army of Shadows and Le Cercle Rouge.  But it still shows off the director's ability for bringing an incredibly unique approach and attitude to the crime film.  Zooms abound, while also on display are the director's uncanny interest in the human gaze and most minute details of a crime.  Of particular interest, the entire sequence where a helicopter helps with the heist of a moving train.    

7/30/11 I watched Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers.  A Bergman rumination on humanity's superficial responses to death.  As is typical in his work, he's able to draw incredibly carnal and deeply primal performances from his female actors.  But as is often my response to Bergman, I'm left more in admiration than in great empathy and connection.  

10/15/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's The Hold Up.  Ferrara's second short film is decently interesting with a wonderful, elliptical ending. 

11/20/11 I watched Roberto Rossellini's Blaise Pascal.  No one made movies like Rossellini, and this statement is particularly true of his later period.  These zoom-heavy (in and out) films of historical figures feel like they're in cursive, with a bunch of commas, long, lovely phrases that we find curious but are unsure to really understand.  Probing and cerebral like later Godard but more linear and less blatantly rebellious.  

2/12/12 I watched Stuart Rosenberg's Pocket Money.  Based on a script written by all people, "Terry Malick", this offbeat road movie has some interest.  But it's too lax for my taste and just seems to amble along, so loose as to fall apart at any minute.  Great collaborators all around, just wish it had a stronger formal approach or a more discernible pulse.  

8/17/13 I watched Mike Hodges' Pulp.  Like a French New Wave noir without the beauty or the genius.  Not my thing at all.  

10/5/13 I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy.  There is a lurid, unhinged brutality on display that seemed restrained during the Hays period.  The effect of this blunt approach is of interest in its raw, primal effect, but it also seems to diminish some of the feelings that come from the best Hitch when he was forced to be more suggestive and subversive.

8/3/14 I watched Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris.  Ambitious and impressive but an elusive as much as a moving experience for me.  Tarkovsky is heady and seems to prefer symbolism and opaqueness over any kind of even somewhat easily readable viewer relationship.  

11/2/15 I watched Maurice Pialat's Nous ne viellirons pas ensemble.  One of the last of the Pialat features I had never seen, Pialat impresses again by his strong, uncompromising approach to the medium.  A French friend of mine once mentioned how revered Pialat was for his editing.  I had never paid real attention to the editing until now but here it is remarkable - forceful, edgy, propulsive and completely a piece with the rest of Pialat's form. Also Pialat draws Jean as a character with such unpredictable rage that the final minutes simmer and vibrate with such potential violence.  But Pialat runs counter to the catharsis Scorsese offers Bickle and through great restraint trails off instead into a soft and wistful coda of an equal but different power.  

11/16/16 I watched Herbert Ross' Play It Again, Sam.  Feels like a very good, early Allen film even though he did not direct.  What was most impressive to me here was how great Allen was as a physical comedian.    

5/18/17 I watched Robert Culp's Hickey & Boggs.  It feels like a more sensitive Walter Hill film with pretty good Hill-esque set pieces and that buddy thing that Hill really excelled at.  Cosby certainly proves he could have been a strong dramatic movie actor if he continued on that path and Culp makes some very interesting choices that add a moral and emotional weight to what could have been shallow genre fare.  

5/27/17 I watched Sydney Pollack's Jeremiah Johnson.  It feels of the era of New Hollywood, loose, a bit elliptical, and all somewhat hazy.  Pollack really has no rigor or style but the film has a nice connection to the mountains.  As a fable or myth, it works and as a film about the white man and the Indian it has a place of value in the Western genre.

7/18/17 I watched Michael Ritchie's The Candidate.  Further proof of the Ritchie style being similar to Altman and his loose, freewheeling 70s work.  Redford puts in another confident, affecting low-key performance and the surrounding cast, particularly Boyle and Garfield, are unusually strong.  Ritchie surely deserves a much larger reputation.

11/26/17 I watched Billy Wilder's Avanti!  It is the work of a great artist, later in career, working at a time when a youth style has taken over that is so different and foreign it threatens to immediately render the director archaic or a fake depending on the approach he chooses.  Aside from his nod to 8 1/2 (and perhaps to all of the new generation's emphasis on style) in the film's prelude, Wilder confidently and intelligently chooses to stay "classic" and the film derives its power by this bold stance.  It is like Dreyer post Nouvelle Vague giving us the UFO that is Gertrud or Bresson adding color but perhaps nothing else that is stylistically new to his oeuvre in 1983.  Of course, also giving Avanti! its charge is the effect of classic elements in the hands of a master - deeply felt acting (I can't remember liking Lemmon better), intricately designed narrative and long scenes, built and captured slowly, eloquently and artfully.

12/2/17 I watched Michael Ritchie's Prime Cut.  A pretty good Lee Marvin performance can't really save this lazy, uneven noir from Ritchie.  Of all Ritchie's films I have seen so far, this is my least favorite.

12/3/18 I watched Elaine May's The Heartbreak Kid.  My second experience with May's work after watching A New Leaf a couple of days ago.  Richer and deeper in its study of character than May's debut, it proves again the bold and unique place she occupied within American cinema in the seventies.  Her style, though not entirely lacking, definitely seems much less important to her than the words, the acting and the opportunity to burrow deep inside the skin of her cast.  May's power of observation and ability to capture small details is remarkable, whether it's the egg salad on Lila's face or the way Kelly absorbs the conversation when Lenny first confesses to her father that he's married.    

3/26/20 I watched Blake Edwards' Julie.  Interesting as a look at a celebrity, mid-life, trying to balance family and career goals.  

4/3/20 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Breaktime.  What jumped out at me the most was Kiarostami's beautiful framing, camera placement and camera movement.  There are elegant tracking shots, zooms and pans and already, with his second film, Kiarostami's naturalism and poetic eye are clear.  

7/5/20 I watched Christopher St. John's Top of the Heap.  An inventive and substantive film that deserves to be more a part of the dialogue.  I was not always fully engaged but I appreciated St. John's acting, creativity and occasional burst of brilliance.

8/15/20 I watched Robert Frank's Cocksucker Blues.  An interesting, behind the scenes look at The Rolling Stones.  I'm not sure the version I saw is as good as it gets (sound was not good and visuals were pretty fuzzy) so it's hard for me to know if it's as special as its reputation.

1/2/21 I watched Liane Brandon's Betty Tells Her Story.  It is an interesting cinematic work.  In less than twenty minutes, Brandon says a lot about our inability to tell the same story the same way twice and, more important, to feel the same way about something from one hour to the next.   

12/30/21 I watched Joseph Mankiewicz's Sleuth.  The performances are sublime and the choice of material assures it as one of the most idiosyncratic final films in the history of cinema. 


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1972:

    Cries and Whispers (Bergman; Sweden)


    The Godfather (Coppola; USA)
    Cabaret (Fosse; USA)
    The New Land (Troell; Sweden)
    Tout va Bien (Godard; France)
    A Separate Peace (Peerce; USA)
    Chloe in the Afternoon (Rohmer; France)
    The Merchant of Four Seasons (Fassbinder; Germany)
    Fat City (Huston; USA)
    The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeiosie (Bunuel; Spain)
    Lucifer Rising (Anger; USA)
    The Ruling Class (Medak; UK)
    Young Winston (Attenborough; UK)
    Solaris (Tarkovsky; Russia)
    Aguire the Wrath of God (Herzog; Germany)
    Bless the Beasts and Children (Kramer; USA)
    Sleuth (Mankiewitz; USA)
    The Ecstasy of Angels (Wakamatsu; Japan)
    The Heartbreak Kid (May; USA)
    Deliverance (Boorman; USA)
    The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Fassbinder; Germany)

    Yes, Jeffrey, it's as perfect a film as as ever been made, and it's one of the crown jewels of American cinema as is it's even more auspicious follow-up in 1974. There are few films as imminently watchable on repeat viewings (how many times have I seen this in my life after that initial viewing back upon release when I was 18 years old at the Lowes Tower East in Manhattan?) and Puzo's novel too was a favorite back in those days. Members of my family still utter dialogue from the film...("oh Paulie, you won't see him anymore"...."two shots in the head, don't take no chances", "leave the gun, take the canoles" etc. etc.

    It's criminal not to have this film at #1 here or perhaps even for the decade, but I'll play the role of contrarian here and go with an art house masterpieces, a film that also had me returning to the theatres, and which has exerted an enormous influence on the way I think of film. CRIES AND WHISPERS is one of the most shattering film sin the history of the cinema, and with Coppola's film, are the creme of the crop for 1972, along with several other masterful works.

  2. Sam, thanks so much for your wonderful comments! First off, I apologize. I have never seen CRIES AND WHISPERS and should have said that in my post. I am correcting that now. I also am a huge fan of CABARET and am correcting that in my post, as well.

    Of the others you mention, I still need to see THE NEW LAND, TOUT VA BIEN, A SEPARATE PEACE, and THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE. And I like FAT CITY, although a little less than the others I mention.

    Thanks, Sam. Always such a treat to have your perspective here!

  3. A true masterpiece as is the 1974 follow-up. Similar to Welles with “Citizen Kane”, the rest of Coppola’s career has always lived in the shadows of The Godfather films. And like many filmmakers have done before him, Coppola took a pulp novel and turned it into art. While Sam saw it at the Loew’s Tower East, I was a few blocks south watching it at the Loew’s State in Times Square.

    #1 The Godfather

    Runner ups
    The New Land
    Cries and Whispers
    Jeremiah Johnson
    Slaughterhouse Five
    Ulzana’s Raid
    Harold and Maude
    Fat City

  4. I can understand why Spielberg would make such a statement... The Godfather is drama of such high quality that it's almost unbelievable. I wrote a lengthy essay on this one when I chose it for my own countdown, without even really going into plot or anything. I love everything about this movie. Perhaps I don't rank it as my #1 of all time, but it always hovers around that mark. It is one of those rare films that can be appreciated by the average moviegoer and also gushed over by the snootiest of film snobs.

    As I said when I wrote about this one, really the entire 1970s is, for me, "The Decade of Coppola." He made four of the best movies of the decade. His work between only 1972 and 1979 is amazing. Four classics, three of which are indisputably epic in scope.

    My #1 runner up has to be Werner Herzog's AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD, which I also consider to be a masterpiece. It's a toss up between that one and FITZCARRALDO as to what is my favorite Herzog film.

  5. This is a great film and one that I can watch pretty much any time, even when it shows mangled on TV (usually during one of AMC's GODFATHER marathons) and I invariably find myself quoting along with the film. Just great dilaogue, direction, acting, cinematography, etc. And just when you think Coppola can't top this he goes along and makes GODFATHER PART II which is even better!

  6. John, thanks so much for the great comments! I love what you say about Coppola taking a pulp novel and turning it into art. I couldn't agree more.


    Thanks, John. Always great to have you here!

  7. Dave, I just read your piece on THE GODFATHER, and it is fantastic! And I love your comments above, particularly these two things:

    "The Godfather is drama of such high quality that it's almost unbelievable."

    "It is one of those rare films that can be appreciated by the average moviegoer and also gushed over by the snootiest of film snobs."

    Great stuff, Dave! Thanks, always a treat to have you here.

  8. JD, great to hear from you. It sounds like you and I are completely on the same page with this one! Right now, I probably prefer this one a little to the sequel. But I definitely love them both.

    Thanks, JD!

  9. Jeffrey, I can't argue with this one except to anticipate a dispute a few years from now by saying that the sequel is better. My runners-up would be Aguirre and Kinji Fukasaku's harrowing WW2 expose, Under the Flag of the Rising Sun. I've seen Chloe in the Afternoon and Cisco Pike fairly recently; Cisco is certainly worth a look and Chloe would now make a more extensive top-film list for this year.

  10. Samuel, great to hear from you! I'm not sure this one is better than the sequel, but I personally prefer it. I just like its slightly tighter structure. But, really, we're splitting hairs, I think they're both incredible.

    Thanks, Samuel. Always a treat to have you here!

  11. I gotta say that THE GODFATHER's reputation is not in dispute. But I think that one of the things it benefits greatly from in hindsight is how the sequel deepens and enriches the first film.

    Personally, I prefer the second film, especially as a self-enclosed epic tragedy depicting the moral degeneration of one man in comparison to his father's rise (even though both started with similar motives). The fact that it so seamlessly fits in with the first (despite the loss of several key cast members, most notably Clemenza who had to be rewritten as Pentangeli after the actor overreached salary-wise) is even more exciting.

  12. Tony, extremely well put! You certainly make a solid case for the greatness of the sequel.

  13. Jeffrey,

    Better than the sequel I think and a good film for sure.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "I've always felt the film to be as great a hybrid as we've ever had of depth and entertainment." as if depth and entertainment are generally mutually exclusive.

    Once Upon A Time in America is the best 'Gangster' film if we're thinking along reductive genre lines - and even that has a poor final half hour. Last year's Public Enemies is also very good.

  14. Stephen, always great to hear from you!

    As for my statement about depth and entertainment, I find that many of the more challenging films are not terribly entertaining. And that many films that have have little more than an ambition to entertain are not terribly depthful. Does that help clarify at all?

    Thanks, Stephen. Always a treat to have you here!

  15. Yes thanks, Jeffrey. I understand. It often happens that way but it doesn't amount to a rule, I suppose.

    My pleasure. Always a treat to visit this site.

  16. Thanks, Stephen! I completely agree. Not a rule but more often than not the case, in my experience.