The Truth About The Godfather

| By Gordon Mott , Marvin R. Shanken | From Francis Ford Coppola, Sept/Oct 03

They say that the reporting of a news event is the first draft of history. But sometimes it takes years, even decades, for those first impressions to be distilled down to their essence, and, for those involved, to put the event in context. It often takes that long for the rest of us to really understand what happened.

In this issue, Francis Ford Coppola takes us back to the making of The Godfather, one of the most important events in American cinematic history. There's been a mountain of articles and books written about the movie, and its impact on the entire film industry. And there have always been plenty of hints in the public record that the film's creation wasn't without controversy and conflict. But this is the first time that the man behind the scenes has stepped forward to fully reveal the contentious struggles he had with Paramount Studios.

Coppola sheds light on the inner workings of Hollywood, illustrating how the forces that have led to some of the really bad movies being made today have been in place for decades. It's popular today to criticize the film industry for the lack of great movies. Studio executives, scriptwriters, directors and even actors are all blamed. We like to think that there were many great films in the '50s, '60s and '70s. But the same conflicts between the artistic and business sides were prevalent back in the '70s. Coppola struggled to get enough money to make The Godfather in the way he wanted. He had to fight to get the right actors in the right roles, and he had to resist the casting choices of studio executives simply because they were good box office draws. In the end, Coppola's vision won out.

What's sad, however, is Coppola's revelation that the experience of The Godfather soured him so completely on the entire subject of the Mafia that he not only was reluctant to make the sequels, but he won't ever revisit the subject again. It's sad because as we demonstrate in the two stories that accompany the Coppola interview, Americans are fascinated by the entire Mafia culture. We are not only curious, but we seek understanding of that world, in part, to better understand ourselves. To lose the analytic insights of Francis Ford Coppola is a loss for all us.

The good news is that the success of The Godfather liberated Coppola to go make other great films, some box office successes and some not, even though they were compelling cinema that touched viewers' souls. Anyone who hasn't seen Patton, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club, Tucker or Bram Stoker's Dracula should rent them. They are all great stories. They each tell us a little more about the things that make the world go around. For that, we can thank Francis Ford Coppola.