CineMathematics or CinemaThematics. Your choice

Friday, April 06, 2007

Great Cinematic Speeches - The Godfather

It's one of those films that's buried deep into the American subconscience. I cannot think of a film that is referenced as much as this one, or one that has so many pieces that could be referenced. It's practically a rite of passage. You are not a man until you have seen The Godfather. And everyone has seen it, which is more than can be said about Casablanca or Citizen Kane, the other two in the Elite Three of American Cinema. I exclude others like 2001 or Vertigo because those aren't nearly as popular as those three. But The Godfather has something for everyone. For those looking for allegory, it's not hidden from them. For those looking for a great story, it's there. For those who are there for the bloodshed, this one is not lacking.

I got a chance to see The Godfather on the big screen last night, and it blew me away like it never had done before. Some shots that I never noticed before announced their beauty so simply that it knocked me off my feet. Like the simple shot of Tom Hagen walking down an alley in a Hollywood backlot before first meeting Jack Woltz. It could have been a simple throwaway shot, but it echoes with the past and future of cinema while showing how Tom Hagen has much less influence when he's in L.A.

There are a number of quotable lines, most notably, "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." But the film scholars note a different one. The first words of the film. "I believe in America." These words are spoken by Bonasera, a man pleading for Don Vito Corleone to give him "justice," when he really wants vengeance. This speech sets up the entire dynamic of the film, showing just how America works. America will not give Bonasera justice, so he comes to Don Corleone. Bonasera, like most of the other characters in the film, misuses the word justice. He envisions a Utopia in America, but that Utopia should only apply to him.

One of the fasinating aspects of the speech is how it sets up a duality to be later established with the complaints of Jack Woltz. Jack also complains about a beautiful woman who was defiled by an arrogant man. Jack has the power to get his own justice, yet the Corleone family stops him. The difference here is whose justice the Corleone family looks out for. The Corleones have an interest in Jack Woltz's affairs because the guilty party here is Vito's godson. The Corleones set up their own type of favoritism to counter that of America.

The speech also sets up the fall of Michael by showing a man who desperately tried to avoid becoming involved in the mob. Bonasera eventually falls before the power of the mob, just as Michael must. Also, the speech is given in a single shot. During that shot, we get our first look at Vito. Our first glimpse is of Vito's back, just as our first look at Michael is of his back. The link here shows that Vito is Michael's future, that Michael will fall and be the eventual Godfather.

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Blogger Damian said...

Excellent choice, Dan. I can't believe I forgot about this one! It's one of my favorite speeches from one of my favorite films. Good job!

It's also, I think, one of the greatest opening shots of any movie. The fade in on the close up on Bonasera's face sitting in the dark relaying his tale of woe, his gradual "shrinking" on screen as we slowly pull back to reveal the figure he is talking to (BTW did you notice the camera zoom stops thr second he says the name "Don Corleone?"), the simple little gesture of the hand that the Godfather makes to get Bonasera a drink, etc. All great stuff!

6:50 PM


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