Coppola’s Authoritative Voice in The Godfather I & II

Part 1. Coppola’s Authoritative Voice in The Godfather I & II

Even though directorial input is believed to be a necessary element of any masterpiece, critics occasionally argue that films are “a collaborative enterprise” and “the composition of a film unit … determines the personality of the end product”. However, film production is such a complex endeavor involving so many people with different functions that a good movie cannot happen on its own simply because all participants are professionals and do their jobs well. There should be an inspiring mind that lends a unifying vision to all the independent parts. The first two parts of The Godfather trilogy prove that Francis Ford Coppola is a skillful creator that turned an ordinary story about Italian gangsters into a true masterpiece. Although Coppola plants all the major themes and motifs, such as the importance of family, the paradise of Sicily, and the driving force of respect, into the first part of The Godfather, it is the second part that reveals the corrupting effects of criminal life on the characters.

When Coppola’s Godfather was first released, film critics were surprised to see how deep and complex the director made what could have been a typical gangster story about how love for power and money brings people down. Based on Mario Puzo’s eponymous novel, Coppola’s film expanded the themes of crime and violence so that the possible consequences of such life choices could be evident. Comparing the two parts of the film, The Godfather I may seem as it is romanticizing crime, whereas The Godfather II finally shows that power based on violence corrupts everyone involved, even if they cling to their principles and a certain form of honesty. Vito Corleone played by Marlon Brando lends the much sought-after protection to the inhabitants of the area where he resides. His integrity and principles bring order and justice to the people and they repay him with respect. Vito Corleone cares about his family and builds his criminal operation within a wider familial circle. Naturally, people buy into it and the audience likes it too: “Many people who saw ‘The Godfather’ developed a romantic identification with the Corleones; they longed for the feeling of protection that Don Vito conferred on his loving family”. However, in the first film we can already see that the patriarchal values of the family propagated by Don Vito are too constraining for Michael. Michael tells Kay that he is not like his family and he will live his life as he chooses. He even joins the army and becomes a war hero, but then, seeing that his father is losing power, Michael decides to take over Don Vito’s position in the mafia family. It helped save the extended notion of a family depending on a patriarch, but it also “destroyed his own life”. 

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Inasmuch as Don Vito represents patriarchal values, it could not but be reflected in his treatment of women. Don Vito divided personal life and work, and his wife was an Italian woman who got used to being subservient and non-judgmental of her husband’s methods of work. In fact, women did not know much about men’s work. Michael attempts the same line of behavior with Kay, but she is a Western woman who wants to share her husband’s worries or at least be sure that his economic activities are within the boundaries of law. Therefore, when Michael yells that he is not going to discuss business with her, she insists on learning about it. When Kay sees that Michael’s corruption ruins their personal life, she takes drastic actions and has an abortion, being well aware that it frees her from her husband because he will never forgive her for that. However, despite Kay’s desire to be close to her husband, she is unable to overcome the patriarchal prejudice that the worlds of men and women should run separately. The divide between men and women is symbolically shown through the motif of doors. The men in the film always close the door when they gather in a room to talk. Women are thus separated from their men’s business and have no access to it. In women’s presence. men try not to talk about business affairs. When Michael lies to Kay about his non-involvement in Carl’s death, she invites him to have a drink in another room but his men enter his study and he stays with them accepting their homage when they kiss his hand. Kay glances from the living room and sees Michael through the door frame, eternally divided from her in his desire to be a patriarch to the members of his mafia family. 

Contrasting the two parts, one can see that the motif of Sicily is explored more deeply in The Godfather II. It is to Sicily that Michael escapes to hide from the revenge he inflicts on himself by killing Sollozzo. Coppola uses wide-angle shots to show the beauty and tranquility of the island. camera shows neat houses under terracotta roofs, narrow streets, and a glaring sun. Nothing betrays the perpetual vendetta wars among the citizens. But when the camera zooms in, the deceptively charming vista reveals women wearing black in mourning for their husbands and sons and houses with numerous plaques installed signifying males in families lost to mafia wars. Therefore, Coppola’s task is to show that Sicily is the root of this infection of violence that Vito spreads further into his American family by involving his children and grandchildren. The Godfather II shows that Vito has a “background of violence” and, when he comes to America, he later employs it to win over respect. Whereas Sicily is shown as a rustic paradise, it is in fact a breeding ground for violence and crime.

Coppola is an example of an authorial voice because he transforms a simple idea into an American epic on the ways of doing business. Coppola uses the story and the script as a framework for his own driving desires and expands the story of the rise and fall of a Mafiosi clan into a larger statement on how unlawful power corrupts. Even though Coppola’s Godfather can be watched as a gangster movie, a deeper look into the motifs of the characters brings more enjoyment and allows the audience to follow the life of one family for half a century. Both films develop the themes of family, power and crime, and their influence on personality. However, Part II explores these topics more deeply, and the resulting corruption of Michael is more evident in The Godfather II. 

Part 2 Coppola’s Authoritative Voice in The Godfather I & II

In The New Yorker article “The Current Cinema. Fathers and Sons,” Pauline Kael praises Francis Ford Coppola’s directorial success arguing that “maybe [The Paramount executives] knew they couldn’t make it without him”. Reading about the theories of authorship in Perkins’ chapter “Direction and Authorship,” one may doubt as to who is really responsible for a film’s success: the director or cast and crew as a whole. Perkins argues that making a film is a “collaborative enterprise” and even the best directors with the best crews can fail occasionally. However, in terms of Coppola and his Godfather, I agree with Kael that Coppola is a talented director who was “able to seize the power to compose a modern American epic”. Although a large number of people contribute to film production, ranging from costume designer and truck drivers to camera men and actors, the director has the leading role of coordinating everything and everyone to convey his own vision and controlling idea for the film. 

In the article, Kael points out that there could not have been a second part if Coppola did not create a staggering production of something that could have turned out to be a mere gangster movie. It is especially evident in The Godfather II, because Mario Puzo did not intend to show the degree of moral degradation that Michael had to experience. Coppola’s film clearly embodies a viewpoint. which is that unlawful power can corrupt a soul.  

Even though a large number of people pitch in to create a film, their efforts should all guided by a person who has the big picture in mind. Perkins reminds that “the interaction between the various personalities and talents engaged” can both create stunning effects and lead to disappointing failures simply because people can sometimes be hard to organize in a harmonious way. However, the end result – a harmonious unity – can be attributed to a genius of a director. Being able to deftly maneuver between producers, studio’s executives, and the tastes of the public, the director presents a joint result of the efforts of everyone involved. 

In The Godfather, Coppola gathered an exceptional cast and crew who were able to assist him in creating a masterpiece. Furthermore, Al Pacino was successful in portraying his character as a person slowly closing in on himself. In Part I, his face cannot contain his emotions and he hardly concealed his nervous state when he killed Sollozzo, whereas in Part II his facial expression is mostly “sullen and withdrawn”. The visual component of the films was assigned to the cinematographer Gordon Willis, and in Part II he intensified Coppola’s themes of personal corruption. The Godfather II starts with a First Communion scene and, when Michael’s face is shown, a play of light and shadows suggests that he starts to rot. All these details show adherence to a larger scheme. In regards to the theme of power corruption, The Godfather II is more developed and complete. 

Kael sees Coppola’s attempts to show that a legacy of violence cannot do good. Picking up the motif of Sicily, Coppola further explores it in Part II and shows that it not as a paradise, but the root of evil. Coppola’s work with details and his placement of accents help the audience accept his reading of the story. People may act similarly, but the motivations behind their behavior are often different. Both the father and the son are shown as powerful figures that can deftly manipulate people and devise smart schemes. However, they do it with different rationales. 

The plot of the films is somewhat jumbled. The Godfather I shows the middle part of the story, while The Godfather II reveals how it all started and how it finishes. In The Godfather II, the spectators find out how Vito Corleone arrived to America as a 10-year old orphan boy and how he lived honestly up to the moment when he understood that life is unfair and unfair people had unreasonable demands. Later, he explains to Michael that he did not want to give his respect to people who were not worthy of it. Thus, respect is Vito’s theme as he refuses to help if he is not treated respectfully. For Don Vito, being friends is essential in order for him to be able to help. He cannot base his protectionist services on a capitalist method of ‘pay-and-request’. That is why he refuses to help a suitor who has never had coffee with him, pointing out that he cannot sell his services and can do something only out of respect. 

Meanwhile, Michael is a new type of person. He is young and ambitious and he believes that he can live differently. Therefore, when he has a moral dilemma of joining the mafiosi business or going his own way, he chooses the family ‘business’, but with a mental reservation to do it legitimately. This is what he promises his fiancé Kay when he convinces her to marry him. Even though Michael discards the prospects of finding his own way in life for taking care of his family, he is still different from Vito and his rationales. Vito appreciated respect more than anything else and he chose the path of crime so that he would not pay undue respect to wrong people. Meanwhile, Michael wanted to make his business legitimate and live as a law-abiding citizen. 

Even though at the beginning of the chapter Perkins argues that film production is a result of the work of many people, at the end of the chapter he admits that a director can create a masterpiece by offering their own reading to a story. Kael, in her review of Coppola’s two films, supports this theory of authorship and believes that the power of Coppola’s talent was able to turn a banal story of the mafia clan into a saga about the destructive force of violence. I agree with Kael’s take on Coppola’s work and believe that, for an attentive spectator, The Godfather II completely removes a vibe of romanticism created by Part I. Michael’s corruption becomes ugly and evident and even the least attentive viewer will find it hard to miss.

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