One of the great moments in American cinema is the opening scene of The Godfather. The close up of Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto) and then the pan away to reveal an obsequious man stooping down, almost begging. He's asking the Don Vito (Marlon Brando) for a favour.
The entire film is encapsulated in this scene. The Don is asked a favour and when you ask him for a favour, he has you and you owe him. This is how he has been able to become such a powerful man - through manipulation and subterfuge.
The Don is smart. Anyone could at some point become more than they are now and Bonasera is relatively prosperous. Don Vito is an emigrant from Italy and he is still living in Italy; the tradition, the culture, the understanding of respect and dishonour - doing the "right thing". The Don is set in his ways and it will eventually be his down fall.
Meanwhile Bonasera is begging the Don for justice. It seems that his daughter was beaten, badly, by two men who tried to take her honour.
After Bonasera and his daughter went to the police and the two men were arrested and tried, the two men were given suspended sentences and went free that day. It was then that Bonasera decided to go to the Don and ask him, on the day that his daughter is to be married, for help and to kill these two men.
The Don's answer to this request is interesting, he doesn't merely acquiesce, but he makes Bonasera beg and call him Godfather.
When you make a deal with the devil there are always strings and with this display of desperation from a father who feels betrayed by society, he goes to the devil and he makes a deal. "I will do you this favour… "Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter's wedding day.."
And this is how it goes, this is how the Don became a powerful and this is how he collects politicians and other powerful men and their favours.
The Godfather is a film about the mafia, or rather Mario Puzo's version of the mafia, I'm not sure how accurate Puzo's Mafia is to the actual mafia; Lucky Lucioni and Meyer Lanski and earlier still, Rothstein. However having read the book by Puzo and a couple of biographies on Lucky and The Little Man, there does seem to be a certain authenticity to Puzo's tale.
The Godfather films is an epic tail of one family, the Corleone family and the head of the family is Don Vito Corleone. Michael who has come back from war a hero is next in line to take over the family business, which has its roots in the prohibition days; alcohol, prostitution and gambling. The only problem with this is Michael's reluctance to be a Corleone and even though he tries so hard to get away from the life of his family's business, he merely succeeds in becoming even more entrenched in it.
The subtle nuances of character and the small displays of reading between the lines is one of the amazing parts of this film. A good example is when Sonny speaks out of place during a meeting which has consequences far more extreme than you would realise. Not for any irrational reason, but due to reasons that will come obvious when you're watching the film on October 28, 7:30 at the Astor Theatre.
The Godfather is American cinema near the peak of the new wave, during what became known as the New Hollywood. Francis Ford Copella wanted to be Jean Luc Goddard, it's funny to think that this is what he came up with.
Young Al Pacino, like young Robert De Niro, are both untouchable. They were visceral, really punch you in the face kind of actors. The cinematography in The Godfather is irrepressible, there are so many moments of beauty and cinematic style and what I like to call poster moments – the kind of cinematography that you could print and frame and then hang on your wall. The music comes across as a little clichéd, but that is due to it becoming a cliché - it wasn't when the Godfather was made. Back then it didn't feel like you were at a pizzeria. I imagine it to have been fresh, but having said this the opening credit and the music is petty significant – iconic.