Every time the American Film Institute puts out a new edition of its top 100, The Godfather climbs a few notches higher. I’ve heard two different deans of college film departments speculate that it will pass Citizen Kane in their lifetime. So timeless greatness. Not just the Best Picture of 1972 (no small achievement when Cabaret and Deliverance were among the nominees) but a masterpiece audiences have come to appreciate more over time. I just had the marvelous opportunity to see it on the big screen and discovered moments, echoes, and nuances I’d never seen before. It is simply a triumph of storytelling, and a triumph of movie-making as a storytelling medium…
That’s art talk. But it was a triumph in another way. A triumph in the standing-over-the-bullet-riddled-body-of-your-enemy way, because Francis Ford Coppola had to fight a small war to get the damn thing made. The studio didn’t want Brando. Laurence Olivier or Ernest Borgnine, they said. Anthony Quinn or Danny Thomas, anybody but Brando. They didn’t want Pacino either. First because he was too short, and then later, once they saw the dailies… They hated just about everything they saw in the dailies. I don’t know how many memos were circulated after the famous wedding scene monologue about the bandleader, but the studio wanted Pacino out. They wanted Talia Shire out, they wanted most of the cast replaced at one time or another. It became a running joke on the set: had you been fired yet? A battlefield mentality came in: having as much fun as you could and doing the best job you could, since every day might be your last. Sinatra was incensed about the Johnny Fontane character, said to be pulling all kinds of strings to get the part minimized. The mobs didn’t want the film made at all, at first, and once a deal was struck, the head of Paramount’s parent company had a screaming fit when the news leaked that the word “Mafia” had been cut from the script.
Is there a lesson in all this? Yes. Francis Ford Coppola had to be one stubborn son of a bitch to make the movie he wanted to make in the way he wanted to make it. He was, he did, and it might just be the best movie of all time. Let’s put a pin in that.
Two weeks ago, Warner Brothers released a photo from The Dark Knight Rises—the first official photo of Anne Hathaway playing Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. We have no idea if what we saw is her Catwoman costume or if the goggles she’s wearing might have something to do with the fact that she’s riding a motorcycle—but the Internet had a collective seizure because the goggles-and-zip-up-biker-chick ensemble looks nothing like Catwoman.
Now, I’ve been saying that longer than anybody, but I’m waiting to see more before I jump to any conclusions. If I want to use the dreaded p-word, I would say the photo release was practical, because that day they were filming a stunt in Pittsburgh with a stuntwoman in that costume riding that batpod. So all Warner Brothers did was show us what could no longer be hidden. And that is movie-making in 2011, where everybody on the street has a phone in their pocket, every one of those phones has a camera, and at least 60% of them are pre-linked to share the goods on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter before a PA can shout “HEY, YOU SHOULDN’T BE BACK HERE!”
The famously practical goggles did not prevent the stuntwoman from barreling into an IMAX camera, which duly appeared on TMZ. There are videos on YouTube of Bane characterizing his voice as “a mix of exasperated old man and douchey 19th century British Lord.” There is set-dressing snow from the streets of Pittsburgh for sale on ebay.
(We’ll get back to The Godfather in a minute, I promise.)
Anne Hathaway took a moment out from the premiere of her new movie to comment on the controversy about her Catwoman costume. She said we had only seen 10% of what the catsuit could do. When the fandom responded that “all the suit is supposed to ‘do’ is make you look good and make you look like Catwoman [and what] we saw last week leave doubts about both,” she amended the phrase. Now we have only seen a tenth of what the catsuit is. She went on to say that she finds it frustrating and “I know he (Chris Nolan) finds it frustrating.”
I don’t blame him, anybody would, and my first thought for this article was to plead with the fanbase to let the man make his movie. I was going to liken him to Santa Claus and all of us to impatient children sneaking downstairs to catch him at his work. I had the analogy all worked out: Santa, appreciating our childlike enthusiasm and indulging our impatience by letting us glimpse a corner of one of our wrapped presents—and all of us snarling our displeasure and calling him names.
Then I saw The Godfather again over the weekend—and it was just so damn good. And I remembered all those stories about the challenges Coppola faced. I thought how stubborn he had to be, knowing his vision was right, trusting it when nobody else did. Fighting month after month, battle after battle. And I realized none of this is new. Facebook is new, Twitter is new. But highly opinionated people making a lot of noise: not new. Highly opinionated people who know nothing about a director’s vision, about his process or about storytelling in general, people completely blinded by their own agendas—they’ve been plaguing movie directors for a long, long time, and the artists of other media for long before that.
So Christopher Nolan, let me make you an offer you can’t refuse. Ignore us and make a great movie. I know you knew that without me spouting a thousand words on the subject, but first, take a look around. Look at that whack-job blogger (you know the one I’m talking about) and consider in this case “whack-job” is a pejorative and not a literal job description. Forty years ago, it was Joseph Colombo, Sr. railing against the contents of a script he hadn’t read. Take a look at the counter-intelligence operation you’re running to keep the good people of Pittsburgh from spoiling your second act—and consider that Coppola and the Paramount execs were swapping cars with members of their staff to lose tails from scary-looking hoods leaving notes like “Shut down the movie—or else” on their dashboards.
Fanboys, I’ve got one for you too. That Joe Colombo I mentioned, he was the head of one the Five Families. He had a sit-down with the producer Al Ruddy who gave him the chance to read the script for The Godfather to alleviate his concerns. Between having a problem with his glasses and not knowing what FADE IN meant on the top of page one, he didn’t get too far. He tossed the pages aside and said “Wait a minute! Do we trust this guy?” When his men said yes they did, he said, “So what the fuck do we have to read this script for?”
Fanboys… Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, “Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded…”
Do we trust this guy or not?