Friday, August 25, 2017

The Godfather Reaches New Heights (What? No Cannoli?)

A movie on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But both New York and L.A. hipsters are discovering the fun of watching movies on the rooftop of an urban high-rise. Last weekend in DTLA (the cool new acronym for Downtown Los Angeles) I checked out the Rooftop Cinema Club, perched atop a trendy residential building in the rapidly gentrifying South Park neighborhood. It was surprisingly chilly, but the price of admission included (along with a choice of soft drinks) a comfy blanket, plus some spiffy earphones and the privilege of curving my spine into a canvas deck chair. There are also tacos, popcorn, ice cream, and other suitable munchies available for sale: it’s an offer you can’t refuse.

The film I saw on that rooftop was a an all-time classic, The Godfather. Given the subject matter, it would have been more appropriate to watch it in New York, though at least one memorable scene is set in a Beverly Hills mansion. (Yes, I mean the one where John Marley wakes up to find he’s been joined in bed by the severed head of his favorite horse.) I first saw the film, of course, circa 1972, when it was racking up honors, some of them controversial. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor—the notorious Marlon Brando win that led to a colorfully costumed Sacheen Littlefeather refusing the trophy on Brando’s behalf, in protest of Hollywood’s mistreatment of Native Americans. I had almost forgotten that The Godfather garnered a remarkable three nominations (out of five) for Best Supporting Actor: James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino. The latter, though, refused to attend the ceremony, complaining that his role was bigger than that of Brando, and should have been judged as a lead actor performance. The Supporting Actor category was won by Joel Grey, who played the perverse Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, a film that also won Oscars for star Liza Minnelli and director Bob Fosse.

It's remarkable to me how The Godfather has influenced our language. For the subtitle of my first book, a biography of my former boss Roger Corman, I was inspired to suggest that Roger be called the Godfather of Indie Filmmaking. (My publisher had suggested the much more somber word “Patriarch.”) And who can forget phrases like “go to the mattresses” and “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes”? But on this viewing, at a time when our nation can’t stop thinking about the political scene,  I was also struck by the film’s commentary on leadership. When Marlon Brando’s courtly Don Vito Corleone sends his henchmen to commit nefarious acts, he apologetically explains that there’s nothing personal about it: business is business. The movie, though, gives the lie to such rationalizations. Don Vito wants to make money, but above all he wants respect, even fealty. And this attitude transfers to the son, Michael (Al Pacino) who ultimately takes over Don Vito’s crime empire. Michael, who at the start of the film has seemed to reject his father’s approach to life, ends up running the show precisely as Don Vito had done. Why, given his American education and his status as a war hero, does he fall back into the old ways? Money? A sense of obligation to continue the family legacy? Yes, but also a playing out of his resentment against his older brothers and the adoptive son (Robert Duvall) with whom he had to share his father’s love. 

Ironically, Don Vito had wanted Michael to stay clean—to have a future as a senator or maybe even President. Gangsters spawning politicians? Hmmmm.


  1. I am a bit scared of where you're heading with this, but sounds like the movie on the roof was a lot of fun!

  2. You're right on all counts, Hilary. Thanks for reading --and writing!