We Can’t Stop Watching ‘The Godfather’ Because It’s Not Cynical About America

The Federalist | 12/21/2017 | Warren Henry
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The 45th anniversary of “The Godfather” has brought us another Blu-Ray box set and another round of critical reappraisal of the mafia movie classic. The secret of the film’s enduring appeal, however, might be found in its opening line: “I believe in America.”

It is often said that “The Godfather” is an ironic commentary on the American Dream. That conventional wisdom may say more about movie critics than about “The Godfather,” which has a more nuanced subtext.

Director - Francis - Ford - Coppola - Battles

Director Francis Ford Coppola fought many battles to realize his vision for “The Godfather.” His most important was to demand that it remain a period piece over the studio’s wish that it be set in contemporary St. Louis instead of 1940s New York.

Coppola saw “The Godfather” as a story about America flowering as a world power in the immediate post-World War II period. During pre-production, he created a notebook analyzing how he would adapt the novel, and “the times” informed every major section.

Gordon - Willis - Signature - Darkness - Cinematography

Gordon Willis brought his signature darkness to the cinematography, as he did with other 1970s classics, including “All the President’s Men” and “The Parallax View.” But only in “The Godfather” (and Part II) did he color-time the film to look like home movies, how we imagine the 1940s looked more than they actually looked.

Placing the audience in the position of looking back is a key to how Coppola and his team present the themes of “The Godfather.” It is also key to how audiences have processed those themes—even if subconsciously—since 1972, when we were losing a war instead of winning one.

Example - Godfather - Experience - America - Film

For example, “The Godfather” is obviously about the immigrant experience in America. The film focuses on one of the darker aspects of this experience. Historically, many immigrant communities have had a phase where organized crime is notable. This did not bother Coppola, an...
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