Feature Articles

February 2002

Reflections On The Godfather Saga

By David Foglietta

     The more I watch and re-watch the Godfather Saga the more I come away thinking that the best thing about it all was the music. The Godfather Waltz, Love Theme, Sicilian Pastorale, The Pick Up, The Godfather Tarantella, and all the rest: was there ever finer music conceived by man? I listen to it constantly while working on my computer concocting this wretched rag [THE LACKAWANNA COUNTY NEWS, PA] every two weeks. The music is perfect and superior to and more edifying than the action it accompanies, as music always is. The German philosopher Nietzsche spoke of the Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. And so it is.

     One doesn't have to be a New York drama critic to see the obvious anomalies and incongruities in the Godfather. For one, I think that Al Pacino was the wrong choice for the part of Michael Corleone (I thought Armand Asante would have been the perfect choice). In Godfather One Pacino appears fragile, even effeminate. There is a distinct softness in the eyes and mouth - Pacino even seems to be willing it - which betrays an unmistakable passivity and softness that is, to say the least, unbecoming in the son of a mafia Don. I refer particularly to the scene where his macho brother Sonny threatens to punch him after learning that Michael joined the service instead of opting for the Family business. There he sits, like a bewitched little fag, puffing away on his cigarette with his girlish little lips and wistful brown eyes. But you have to believe that the stark contrast between Sonny (James Caen), with his jutting defiant jaws and powerful personality, and the passive Michael in this scene, was contrived. I submit the theory that Francis Ford Coppola cast Pacino as the Queer Corleone, hoping, by degrees, to chronicle his evolution into a hardened Don. But why? As far as I'm concerned, it never happened. Throughout the whole saga Pacino is just not believable. Go to the fights with his wife; go to the face-off with the Nevada senator; go to Pacino rubbing out his brother Fredo; the scenes with "Roth" in Havana, etc. Pacino never strikes fear into you. It's just not believable. Compare Michael Corleone to the Al Pacino of "Scarface" and "The Devil's Advocate." Here the soft lips and passive eyes disappear. Here is a wicked Orpheus, a fire-breathing Dionysus, a Proteus without equal, an unmistakable (and familiar) flame from the dark, chthonian BasItalia, the dangerous South, with all its only half-tamed terrors. This is Pacino come into his own. This is a real Italian! But the theme is much more lofty. The Devil is an Archetype in the human soul. An Eternal image. Sons of mafia Dons are not.

     Another soft spot in the Saga is when the young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) starts to map out his turf in Manhattan. DeNiro can't speak Italian worth a hill of beans (his mother is Jewish) and apparently all the Italian "lessons" he took in preparing for the movie were in vain. The other actors were real Italians and spoke the language exquisitely. The contrast, to even the moderately discerning ear, spelled cinematic disaster. But the stupid American public, what do they know? Perhaps that's what Coppola was thinking too. It was a cheap trick. That's why I think Francis Ford Coppola is overrated. You do things like that and you forfeit your right to be called serious, or creative, or whatever the critics call it. You show that you have no respect for the fine acting talents of a Robert Duvall, an Abe Vigoda, Brando, James Caen, Lettieri and all the other fine actors in the Saga.

     The worst thing about the Godfather Saga is that, because of these woefully apparent anomalies, it never reached a climax. Unlike the music did, which was perfect and made a perfect Circle and always will. It played to the gallery and the cheap seats. Sicilians and Neapolitans must have choked on their tongues watching it. That's why the American cinema is so despised and degraded in Europe. The Saga was so disjointed that it came off as a real disappointment to real Italians. DeNiro should have been left out. Pacino was wrong for the part, etc. But we must not forget that the Godfather stories were ciphers. For obvious reasons, they were meant to be misunderstood. But misunderstood in just the right way. The whole enterprise was rife with peril. Maybe that's why it was so ill-conceived. Duvall as consigliere was a cipher. The Jew in Las Vegas who was the thinly veiled Bugsy Siegel was a cipher. Fredo was a cipher. And the fact that Mario Puzo lived to a ripe old age is eloquent testimony to the fact that they were misunderstood.


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