I watched The Godfather one night, then my wife went to bed and I picked up my remote control, pressed ENTER, and watched it again, all 2 hours and 55 minutes. Like with The General and Fanny and Alexander, and Cries and Whispers, I didn’t completely get why it's great. But, the first two hours of the film - which are almost pedestrian - when combined with the third hour, make it one of the ten greatest films of all time. So, I watched it again.
I’m allowing for the fact that I’m approaching the film with the mindset, “Impress Me!” This better be as good as I remember it, which is that it is a great (and it is, it’s magnificent, and it ranks with other great films like Lawrence of Arabia and Citizen Kane), fantastic (which it also is, with a plot that is enthralling and engaging), brilliant (also, a yes, because the filmmaking in all departments is excellent, all crafts, the very top of the tree) film.
No, it’s not. But which film is? For example, I love Citizen Kane (157/42, 18.5%/12%) and it moves me every time I see it, and the filmmaking thrills me at times, but I noticed the effect wearing off about 15 years ago. It was probably my 6th time seeing it and I thought it was brilliant, in all aspects, but not my favourite film anymore. The same thing happened with Some Like It Hot a few years ago. It seemed to me then, that it contained some flaws, while remaining excellent entertainment. The last time I saw Vertigo, about 15 years ago, I thought it was amazing. It literally amazed me because of its darkness. Like Notorious, it disturbed me at a certain level, and like Notorious, I think it is one of Hitchcock’s most serious films, and has many layers which reveal different aspects of the film’s overall depth and dimension. Popular Hitchcock films like North by Northwest are, I think, marvellous. Ingenious even. But there’s also a shallowness to it. It’s brilliant filmmaking (for the most part) but it’s not very weighty. I think it is less than the sum of its parts but, still, I would watch it every year if someone asked me to watch it every year. I think by virtue of the fact that the word greatness is used in the list of 100 films published by Sight & Sound every ten years since 1952, weight should count, to a degree.
The Godfather was ranked by 358 film directors as the second best film ever made. Do I agree? No!
Did 358 film directors actually rank it the second best film ever made? No, actually, they didn’t! What did 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors say about The Godfather? They thought it was excellent, generally.
After watching The Godfather for a second time in 36 hours (all2h55m), and yes, I’m saying I watched it all again, because I didn’t skim it) I realised this time much more of the humanity in the film than the so-called greatness. More of what the achievement actually is, was apparent. Essentially the film is Coppola’s film as writer and director, despite the fact that the author of the novel was also the co-writer of the screenplay. When Coppola came on board, with his experience as a writer, attested to by an Oscar for his screenplay for Patton (1970), it gave his ideas and views credibility. Robert Evans, Head of Production for Paramount, acting in the role of Producer or Executive Producer (but uncredited) wasn’t impressed by his track record as a director which had three consecutive flops.
As I went looking for some reviews from the period (1972) I came across one of many forums where people discuss the merits of different films and there were perplexed posts from people who were trying to understand why The Godfather is one of the ten greatest films ever. Poor makeup on Marlon Brando to age him, plot holes, perceived unclear plotting and mumbling (Brando again) were some of the barbs it received.
But the main problem lies in the fact that no one actually said this was the greatest film ever. Of the 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors polled by Sight & Sound, only 5% ranked it in their top ten film list, just 43 people, making it equal 21st with L’avventura (1960) and Le Mepris (1963), both of which also received 43 votes out of a possible 846. Of the 358 film directors, 9% voted for The Godfather (31 votes, so actually slightly less than 9%).
The media takes the votes of one thousand two hundred and four people in the film industry from 73 countries, calculate the number of votes for each film mentions, and voila! – they publish an accurate, certifiable, fact: that Tokyo Story is rated by film directors as the best film of all time (48/358 [13%] vs critics, 107/846 [12.5%]) whereas critics think Vertigo is the best film of all time (with 191/846, 22% [directors 31/358, 8.5%]).
The Godfather Part II commanded 38/14, with critics/directors votes which gives a combined total of 81/45, 9.5%/12.5%, as voters were clearly torn between voting for the first or second Godfather movie.
What does this tell me about The Godfather? I realised that I would have to look at the film from another different angles to judge its worth. Or to even see it as film comprising many different layers, taking into account that historically it may be amazing, but in terms of storytelling, it could be so outdated, it doesn’t work as a watchable film. Or it could be staggeringly inventive or innovative, and be appreciated on those terms, but not work as a watchable film anymore. Or it could be so good that it excels on every level still. So, I sat down and started working on some categories.
Did I think The Godfather was?
Great (emotional), it was very good, well done, enjoyed it on many levels
Wonderful/Magnificent/Epic (emotional), it was terrific, range of emotions, sometimes epic
Story (cerebral/emotional) how amazing, entrancing, engulfing? Excellent.
Brilliant/Fantastic (emotional), it was good, very good. top notch, tour de force.
Extraordinary/Exceptional (cerebral/emotional), definitely exceptional, it was top notch for all aspects of craft and execution. Absolutely extraordinary – changing cinema (length and scope).
Amazing/Incredible (cerebral/emotional), it was amazing on many levels and for its time
Directorial/Visionary (cerebral/emotional), very good, director did something exceptional conceptually
Multi-faceted (cerebral), very good
Craft/Excellence (cerebral), all areas 10/10
In History (cerebral), one of the most important films ever, it inspired a thousand films.
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