So I thought I’d seen The Godfather Part III

 

This has become a most unexpected slice of Shame. Having rewatched Godfather and Godfather Part II to brush up on my Corleone lore for the recently recorded Cinema Shame podcast, I kept right on rolling into Godfather Part III. Why not? The wife and I were invested, hip-deep, quoting the films and proffering our own community-theater Brando impersonations. Of course we would complete the cycle.

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But a funny thing happened shortly after beginning the final Godfather installment. I discovered none of this felt familiar. The wife began probing me for clues about the film’s outcome. I knew the crucial deaths and a few choice quotations. But how we got there? Not a morsel of information.

It’s not uncommon to begun watching a movie and realize I’d actually seen it, but not once in my movie-watching history (at least to my recollection, which I’ve just called into question, so… grain of salt) had I convinced myself that I’d seen a film when I actually hadn’t.

It’s a strange sensation.

My Shame has taken on a completely new twist. I went into Godfather Part III expecting re-evaluation. Only I had no initial evaluation to reconsider. I suppose latent images and trace memory from my readings had convinced me I’d seen the film. Frequently, the Cinema Shame phenomenon occurs because popular culture has hammered home particular aspects of a film, causing us to feel like we’ve already experienced the story. We already feel like we’ve seen it through the eyes of popular culture. The phenomenon is real and perhaps too powerful. I’m living proof.

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Let’s first put a few thoughts on the table before moving on. The Godfather Part III has a bad reputation. It’s considered a lesser film. Our frame of reference will dictate whether we consider it a lesser film or just a lesser Godfather film. The discrepancy is important. The critical mass has duly documented Sofia Coppola’s performance as legendarily bad. Movie-killing bad. As a direct result, this final installment just isn’t properly considered when discussing the Godfather saga.

I may only be merely one voice in a sea of film criticism, but I cannot abide this treatment any longer.

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The abandoned Corleone Lake Tahoe compound.

The abandoned and dilapidated Corleone Lake Tahoe compound opens the film, an affecting sequence of still images that sets the tone and propels our expectations. Before anyone sets food on screen, the audience has been primed for one ultimate outcome – the destruction of Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone dynasty. The Godfather Part III offers no misdirection; this film, unlike the first two chapters, promises only tragedy, it promises the end of our anti-hero Michael Corleone and potentially the entire Corleone family. It comes as no surprise to learn that Francis Ford Coppola wanted to name the film “The Death of Michael Corleone.”

The Godfather Part III embraces darkness. Perhaps this river of bleakness offers one reason that audiences failed to embrace the film. It entertains notions of mortality and regret rather than a celebration of machismo and initiative. There’s no measure of hope or optimism for the future. The aging and now ill Michael Corleone attempts to make amends for his familiar failures and repent for his crimes, to scrub clean the Corleone family name. He wants to rekindle the old world familial bonds that he’s eschewed in favor of money and power. The Don has lost sight of the tenant that his father, Vito Corleone, held most dear. Family first. If Don Vito Corleone represents the American Dreamer, Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III represents a cultural disillusionment with our greatest institutions. Capitalism. Religion. The nuclear family.

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The loss of the Godfather’s pro-active anti-hero from Parts I and II shifts the tone dramatically. Michael manages his diabetes, weighs the value of his life and attempts to return his misplaced focus to the family. His inaction and hesitancy to call for immediate retribution in the face of an obvious assault on the Corleone name takes on an air of defeatism, a far cry from the Michael Corleone that assassinated Sollozzo and McCluskey and launched his career in the family business. He’s staring down a modern world stripped of its moral compass and opting out.

In Michael’s stead, Part III instead provides Andy Garcia’s Vincent (Sonny’s illegitimate son) as the Corleone representation in this new world order. Leather-clad, brash and hyper-reactive, Vincent accepts the bestowal of Godfather status from Michael – an unthinkable development in the Corleone business model. Vincent isn’t even a Corleone. Management of the family business has been outsourced. Plus he’s having sex with his cousin Mary, Michael’s daughter. The corruption of the family from within.

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Vincent (Andy Garcia) striking back against a couple of low-level hitmen. 

Godfather Part III also benefits from Connie (Talia Shire) coming into her own as an invested and active member of the family rather than just a failed homemaker. She too represents a modern dynamic. The women were once relegated to a shadowed, maternal existence. Willingly naïve of the family business. Connie emerges as a strong central figure, giving orders during Michael’s incapacitation. One could write an entire book on Connie’s journey to investiture in the family business and how that represents the emergence of feminism in the Godfather narrative. She becomes perhaps the most interesting figure in the entire saga.

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Connie rise to power charts a fascinating course through the Godfather Trilogy.

The obvious criticism of Part III remains Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of Mary. It is unfair to judge the Godfather Part III on Sofia Coppola alone. Yes, she’s distracting. She’s an amateur acting alongside Diane Keaton, Al Pacino and Andy Garcia. She was destined for failure. Context is important, however. Winona Ryder dropped out of the production at the last minute. Coppola, fearing that Paramount would pull the plug on the whole film, asked his daughter to fill the role as an emergency measure to preserve the production. Without Sofia there might not have been a Godfather Part III at all. Just something to think about.

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Sofia Coppola is not an adequate scapegoat. This is no Christmas Jones, people.

There’s so much more to the film than Sofia Coppola’s performance that relying on that as criticism feels patently lazy. Intricately woven themes of redemption and mortality remain in play throughout the film. Part III offers a complex and multifaceted analysis of the ways in which power and money has corrupted not only Michael Corleones of the world but the greater institutions designed to protect us.

This sense of total corruption snowballs into a thirty-minute white-knuckle finale that rivals the baptismal conclusion of the first Godfather in terms of complex, layered cross-cutting. The opera assassination sequence features the most tense and thrilling moments in the trilogy. It is masterful filmmaking.

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George Hamilton photobomb at the opera.

Only a small bit of comic relief (supplied by Connie) breaks the persistent tension. And rightly so. This is the climax of the entire trilogy. The reckoning for past misdeeds coming to call on Michael in the form of a reaper-like assassin sent by his powerful enemies. The opera house becomes the gateway to the future of the Corleone family. The Corleone hopes and dreams, the plausibility of redemption all hang in the balance.

The film shocked me. I thought I’d merely forgotten, but aside from certain culturally accumulated catchphrases, I’d never really known it at all. The accepted and perceived order of the Godfather films clouded my judgment and distorted my conception of the film. I know now that many of these criticisms had merely been formed based on overly critical and small-minded comparisons.

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The Godfather Part III was not only worthy; in many ways it surpassed its supposedly greater elders. It’s not the cinematic perfection of its predecessors, but it tells a very human story, a very relatable story – and perhaps as a result it cuts too close and too deeply. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II allowed the viewer a measure escapist distance. The violence and human horror framed in otherness. As part of the mafia, as part of a narrow band of Italian immigrant experience. The Godfather Part III is the human condition – it is all of our stories.

 

 

oh, the shame: a confession by @midairalmacita

I’ll admit it.  I’m stubborn.  A bit of a rebel.  When people tell me to do something, I mostly do the exact opposite.  Because I’m an adult, damnit.  Only I was like this as a kid, too.

When people tell me I just have to do this or that, I mostly just roll my eyes.  I’ll do what I want, okay?

So, this way of being has led me to a lifetime of watching really obscure, bizarre movies or hopeless romantic comedies (that are really quite bad) while missing all the “classics” of my generation.  I also attribute my lack of exposure to certain films to my sheltered childhood.  Growing up with very little, we never got to see films in theaters.  I can only really remember watching Crocodile Dundee.  Most of the time, we were stuck with what was on TV.  Basic TV, at that.  (I think we had cable for 3 months during all of my childhood).  By the time I was a teen and could rent movies, I had pretty weird taste in movies. And well, everything.

Now that I’m 35, I’ve realized that I kind of missed out on some pretty fun stuff.  Or seemingly fun (since I haven’t seen these things, I can only assume…people look like these things make them happy).  I’ve also found myself in many conversations where I have no idea what the Hell people are talking about.

I have a thing called a Mighty List, and–at some point–I decided that I wanted to watch a bunch of movies.  I really wanted to expose myself to new things and get out of my comfort zone.  So, this is part of that.  My list is mostly based on other people’s shock when I tell them that I have no knowledge of said films.

Without further ado…

  • Labyrinth (1986) – I attempted to watch this once, back in 2004. My then-fiance was completely perplexed that I hadn’t seen this movie.  He was a big science fiction geek who tried and tried to expand my horizons.  (He once gave me every Kurt Vonnegut book ever simply because I’d never–gasp–read anything from that guy).  I was actually trying really hard to watch the movie–even though I had a hunch I probably wouldn’t like it.  I’m not much of a science fiction/fantasy person, to be honest.  But it was weird, and there was David Bowie–and ooh, Jim Henson.  Yea…totally fell asleep ten minutes in.  Like dead to the world asleep.
  • ET – The Extra Terrestrial (1982) – This is another one my ex-fiance tried to get me to watch…that I tried to watch.  I passed out about 15 minutes in.  This one really took some doing to get me to agree.  I’ll admit–I avoided it on purpose my entire life simply because people said it was an Alma film.
  • Star Wars Original Trilogy (1977) – I think this is the one I get crap about the most.  I’ve had past boyfriends try to convince me to watch it, telling me all about the mythology (which does seem cool).  But I always refused.  I had to draw a line somewhere, and I just couldn’t go there.  I guess I am now a bit more curious about all the fuss.
  • Indiana Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – It just never occurred to me to willingly watch this movie.
  • Inception (2010) – Another movie that all my friends said was an “Alma” movie.  I just could never go there.
  • The Matrix (1999) – I once had a friend who would talk for hours about this movie, and I had no clue what they were even talking about.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – Absolutely no excuse. They do midnight showings every weekend at the theater in my neighborhood.
  • The Godfather (1972) – I have absolutely no good reason for avoiding this one all my life.  I actually love a good mob flick.
  • Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – I actually think I’ll like this one.
  • Bull Durham (1988) – I adore Susan Sarandon, so I pretty much have to see this one.
  • Road House (1989) – For me, Patrick Swayze began and ended with Dirty Dancing.
  • Die Hard (1988) – I still have no clue why this is a Christmas movie.

There you have it.  Make fun of me.  Share awesome romantic comedies.  (I swear I’ve seen all the good ones, and everything else is just terrible).  I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

My Cinematic Hall of Shame by @hollye_h

So here they are — the movies I really should have seen by now, or at least I feel I should have seen. There are still gaps. Really, there should be at least one Tarantino film on here, and some Fellini. Should I have added Tod Browning’s Freaks? The original Halloween? And if it stars Tom Cruise, should it bother me that I can’t feel much shame over not having seen it?

Note: These are not necessarily listed in order of Maximum Shame.

1. Network

Probably not a lot of people are walking around saying “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Network!” But I’ve come across enough references I feel like I should have seen it a long time ago. William Holden tells people to yell out the window, right?

2. Dracula (1931)

As a classic horror fan, I should’ve seen this by now.

3. Psycho

Probably the one I’m most embarrassed about. I sat through Torn Curtain. I own Shadow of a Doubt on DVD. But I haven’t seen Psycho?

4. Taxi Driver

Almost as embarrassing as Psycho.

5. Aliens

With an “s”. I’ve seen the first, but everyone keep referencing the second. Plus, I like Bill Paxton.

6. Godfather & Godfather Part II

I don’t know how it happened either.

7. Breathless

All the cool kids have already seen it.

8. Fight Club

Ah, references!

9. 2001: A Space Odyssey

Like Network, it was in the air when I was growing up. And if I don’t watch it now, I probably never will.

10. Repulsion

Rosemary’s Baby has been in my personal top five since I was in my teens. And I loved Knife in the Water when I finally saw it.  So why haven’t I seen Repulsion?

11. The 400 Blows

See #7

12. The Rules of the Game

See #7 & #11

Optional 13th: Last Year at Marienbad. So I can finally justify referencing it on Twitter.