The Godfather

6 commentsFilm

The God­fa­ther is weighed down by responsibility.

The God­fa­ther (1972) famous­ly opens with a close-up and the words “I believe in America.”

The speak­er’s sur­round­ings are grad­u­al­ly revealed, fol­lowed by the back pro­file of a man lis­ten­ing atten­tive­ly. The pro­file belongs to the God­fa­ther him­self, and the set­ting is his office. He is vis­it­ed by sev­er­al guests ask­ing him for favors, for as explained, it’s a Sicil­ian tra­di­tion that a man nev­er refuse a request on his daughter’s wed­ding day.

We see very lit­tle of the wed­ding in the begin­ning, but can tell from the loud music that the par­ty is right out­side this somber room. The scene soon shifts there, and we’re shown the fes­tiv­i­ties in all their col­or­ful, noisy glo­ry. From this exte­ri­or van­tage point, we now see the God­fa­ther peer out of his office win­dow from behind a cur­tain to catch a glimpse.

OPENING SCENE OF THE GODFATHER • Click on each image for a larg­er view. 

Stills tak­en from DVD of the film.

That is how in this famous open­ing scene, direc­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la first tra­vers­es an ini­tial bound­ary, the begin­ning of the film itself, and direct­ly fol­lows it by defin­ing anoth­er bound­ary, name­ly that between the God­fa­ther and the rest of the fam­i­ly. By defin­ing this new bound­ary so close to the begin­ning of the film, Cop­po­la estab­lish­es it as a major the­mat­ic ele­ment that spans the entire film and its two sequels: it rep­re­sents the strug­gle of the head of the Cor­leone crime fam­i­ly to keep busi­ness and fam­i­ly sep­a­rate, and iron­i­cal­ly alien­ates its patri­arch from the chil­dren he spends his whole life try­ing to protect.

“Just lie here, Pop. I’ll take care of you now. I’m with you now. I’m with you.” — Michael Cor­leone to his father.

Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la was a big part of an era of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma in the 1970s dur­ing which a group of young direc­tors fresh out of film school made some of the best work in the his­to­ry of the screen. From start to fin­ish, The God­fa­ther is a mas­ter­piece of pac­ing and mood, and an excel­lent exam­ple of how the estab­lished rela­tion­ship between cin­e­ma and  archi­tec­ture can be upheld while being used in com­plete­ly fresh and excit­ing ways.

Sev­er­al scenes in the film are notable for their use of intel­li­gent edit­ing to invoke a sense of real­ism and place, or of sus­pense, mys­tery and romance. The film’s style is con­trolled, build­ing on a long tra­di­tion of film tech­nique, while breath­ing new life into the stale crime genre of its time.

Anoth­er mas­ter­ful exam­ple of the use of archi­tec­tur­al bound­aries in The God­fa­ther comes in the final scene of the film, one of the most famous end­ings in all of cin­e­ma. In case you haven’t seen the movie yet, go do it! Then come back and read the hid­den sec­tion below.

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This end­ing per­fect­ly coun­ter­points the open­ing scene of the film, and shows how two char­ac­ters enjoy lit­er­al­ly the same seat of pow­er, yet fill it in very dif­fer­ent ways. This is a chill­ing end­ing and a pow­er­ful use of archi­tec­ture in film to reveal the psy­cho­log­i­cal and social spaces in which these char­ac­ters live.

The God­fa­ther is dear to my heart because at its core, it’s about the love between a patri­arch and his son, and the strug­gles of a young man to car­ry on his father’s lega­cy. Both men put fam­i­ly before all else, but the ques­tion is at what expense.

Direct­ed by Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­laStar­ring Mar­lon Bran­do, Al Paci­no, James CaanRobert Duvall, and Diane Keaton

This sto­ry is from Mee­do’s upcom­ing book mon­tage­space: Cin­e­ma and the Mak­ing, Un-Mak­ing and Re-Mak­ing of Archi­tec­ture. Please feel free to con­tact us for more details and read relat­ed sto­ries here.

{ 6 comments }

mohamad May 17, 2010 at 7:02 am

i love how the godfather movies always start with a party...
great review on the greatest film ever made

Meedo May 17, 2010 at 10:31 am

True! The second one starts with a funeral...
And yes I agree The Godfather is possibly the greatest film ever made. By the way, Coppola went to my school (UCLA)!

moshibly May 18, 2010 at 6:44 am

waiting for the next coppola laken:)

mohamad May 18, 2010 at 6:58 am

well ya, i meant they all start with gatherings:)

The last 5 minutes of godfather II give me goosebumps, they remind you how innocent michael was at the very begining and how he wanted no involvement with the family business. shows you how human nature and family shaped his "career" path

Meedo May 30, 2010 at 4:11 am

Me too.

It is tragic how his father didn't want Michael to be involved either. I also get goosebumps in the scene in The Godfather (the first one) that I quoted in the review. When Vito is shot and is bedridden in the hospital, Michael promises to "take care of him now." This simply means that Michael is now in charge.

The heartbroken father can do nothing but to weep.

Meedo May 30, 2010 at 1:11 am

Me too.

It is tragic how his father didn't want Michael to be involved either. I also get goosebumps in the scene in The Godfather (the first one) that I quoted in the review. When Vito is shot and is bedridden in the hospital, Michael promises to "take care of him now." This simply means that Michael is now in charge.

The heartbroken father can do nothing but to weep.

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