‘The Godfather’ is an epic movie based on Mario Puzo’s novel ‘The Godfather’. It is deemed a masterpiece of art and has been used as a template for developing other ‘gangster’ movies. The movie draws us back to the era in which mafia groups controlled some of the major towns in the United States and Italy. It also reminds us of the atrocities such mafia groups could commit in order to maintain their influence and grip the power. The movie’s director Francis Ford Coppola has received numerous awards for showcasing the ‘gangster’ character in the movie. The goal of this essay to do an aesthetic analysis of ‘The Godfather’ movie. Specifically, it will focus on its cinematography, lighting techniques, editing style, sound, camera techniques, and acting. Hopefully, this will further improve our understanding of the movie and help appreciate its unique filming techniques.
Undoubtedly, the cinematography of this movie was done to perfection. It was done by Gordon Willis, one of the most influential cinematographers in America. It effectively fortifies the themes of the movie. For instance, Michael Corleone is depicted as someone calm and always in thoughts. Behind his calmness, there lies a very strategic person who calculates his steps before making a move. The cinematography blends various scenes acted in different parts of the world without creating a conflict. To specify, the movie takes us to Sicily, Los Angeles and then back to New York. The post war era, in which the events of the movie take place, has been beautifully elucidated by the use of old generation cars and old mansions. In some scenes, our view is entirely focused on a single character as, for example, when Luca Brasi dresses up to go and visit one of the night clubs owned by the Tattaglia family where he unfortunately meets his death. As the camera trails Luca, we notice his consciousness of his security. He puts on a bullet proof vest because he knows the type of danger he is getting himself into. In other scenes, our view is made to alternate on many different characters as, for example, during Connie Corleone’s wedding. It seems in this way the viewer is saved from the boredom brought about by the monotony of plot. He/she is allowed to focus on many different actors, carefully distinguishing their roles and character in the movie. Cinematography is excellently controlled through the majority of scenes being cast in almost entire darkness. Sepia tones form the basis of photography in the initial scenes. They draw viewers back to the post Vietnam War era. The sepia tones used also align our feelings and expectations with the mood associated with a particular scene.
Light has been used to a lesser extent in this movie. Most of the scenes are engulfed in almost entire darkness. This has created a unique visual and artistic impression. Lighting keeps changing from scene to scene allowing us to interpret the emotions of the characters in a particular scene. It provides a reflection of mood, and allows foretelling the events which are about to happen. Especially, low-light photography has been utilized to a much greater extent in this movie. It has effectively contributed to the complexity of the cinematography. Apparently, scenes illuminated with light are meant to show us the jovial and positive side of Corleone family. They depict Corleone family as a generous family, always willing to help those in need. A classic example of this is the situation at Connie Corleone’s wedding. The scene is bright and the Corleone family have invited many people to the wedding. Amerigo Bonasera, Johnny Fontane and Nazorine came to Don Corleone with their problems. The latter wishfully and willingly obliged these people and solved their problems.
However, some scenes contradict the light associated with them. For instance, it happens when Don Corleone dies. We expect the scene to have been cast in a dull place such as a hospital. On the contrary, the scene is cast in a garden where the sun is bright and everything seems okay. Don Corleone is jovial and playing with a child just before he meets his death. It is worth noting that very low light scenes are associated with looming danger, death, war or some strategic meeting. A classic example of this is when Luca Brasi gets killed in the nightclub owned by the Tattaglia family. Other examples include the scenes where Don Corleone is shot and at the restaurant where Michael shoots down Sollozo and the police captain. Some scenes contradict the darkness associated with them for instance the scene of the reconciliatory meeting organized by Don Corleone in his house. People are to be jovial and in a celebratory mood in this scene, so the lighting should have been bright.
A wide variety of camera techniques were used in this movie. In some scenes, deep focus was used. This type of technique needs a small aperture and encompasses the area in focus as well as its surroundings, as, for instance, during the reconciliatory meeting organized by Don Corleone. This focus makes it possible to showcase the largesse of Don’s reconciliatory meeting and expose the wealth of the Mafia heads. When the filmmaker needed to trail a specific character in the movie, he used the following shot technique. For example, this technique was used to trail Luca Brasi on his way to the Tattaglia’s nightclub. Thanks to this camera technique, attention is drawn to a single character and the anxiety of the viewers is build in a slow manner. In addition, shallow focus was used in some scenes. This type of technique allows for the demonstration of subjectivity. To illustrate, this is especially effective in the scene where Michael is left alone on the bench after having discussions with his father. We see Michael in this scene as being rational and strategic. Also, racking focus was used to highlight romantic relationships between various characters. A classic example of the use of this technique is the dinner meeting between Kay Adams and Michael. This technique is used to shift viewers’ focus and attention away from the main story. Finally, canted framing is evident in the scene where Michael readies himself for shooting the police captain and Sollozo. This type of camera technique draws viewers’ attention towards an impending doom.
Don Corleone and Michael are perfectly portrayed by Marlon Brando and Al Pacino respectively. Both Don and Michael are portrayed exceptionally as being rational and reserved. They keep their calm even under pressure. Marlon Brando and Al Pacino succeed in making us believe that they are the real Don and Michael. James Caan and Al Pacino were selected to portray their roles as sons of Don Corleone. It seems James Caan portrays Sonny in a bit unconvincing manner, because his physique does not meet the expectations. From the book by Mario Puzo, we expect Sonny to be powerfully built and very arrogant. It seems, James Caan failed to bring out this character. At the same time, The portrayal of Tom Hagen, Kay Adams and Sollozo by Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton and Al Lettieri lives up to the expectation. The actors enable the viewers to identify themselves with the characters and relate the personality of different characters with the story line.
Two basic ways can be used to edit motion pictures: continuous action and parallel action. Continuous action is used to showcase chronological events, while parallel action is used to depict simultaneous events. The main difference between the two ‘Godfather’ films is that that the first ‘Godfather’ film uses continuous action while the second part of ‘Godfather’ employs parallel action as its preferred editing style. In the first ‘Godfather’ film, events occur in a chronological sequence. One event leads to another. To illustrate, the development of Michael Corleone from the son who preferred not to participate in his father’s ‘dirty’ activities to a fearless and ruthless successor of Don Corleone is shown. In this type of editing style, the characters’ actions tell us many things about them. In some scenes, however, the parallel action has been employed. A classic example is the meeting organized between Vito and Sollozo. The meeting is also attended by Sonny and Tom. We are given brief flashes of the events that led up to the meeting. The parallel structure in this scene portrays Sollozo as a double-dealing man and Vito as a skeptical person. Another scene is where Sollozo gets murdered by Michael which is related to the Mafia wars that erupt thereafter.
In the second ‘Godfather’ movie, the scenes revolve around two different themes. The parallel action hugely manifests in this film opposed to the initial ‘Godfather’ film where parallel action is sparsely used. The movie begins with a servant kissing the hands of Michael, the new ‘Godfather’. Almost immediately, the movie takes us back to the Sicilian countryside to show the place of birth and the early life of Vito Corleone. The first scene announces that it will not progress forward like it was the case in the first ‘Godfather’ film rather it will move us back and forth by linking the past with the present.
Most of the soundtracks were composed by Nino Rota. It is worth mentioning that sound is widely used by Coppola to create suspense, for instance when the second part of the ‘Godfather’ movie begins we hear the piercing cries of a baby inside a quiet and otherwise calm church. These two different sounds make the audience feel unsettled and eager to know what happens next. In the scene where the priest is blessing the baby, the soundtrack increases slowly in texture as one of Michael’s assistants prepares to kill one of the characters. The tense tone increases the suspense and anxiety among viewers. All in all, thesoundtracks used in the film correctly highlight the mood in a variety of its scenes.
In conclusion, it is evident that the unique camera techniques, lighting and cinematography employed in the ‘Godfather’ film have greatly contributed to its status as one of the greatest ‘gangster’ movies ever produced. Up to date, many producers and directors use ‘Grandfather’ movies as a template for directing their motion pictures.
- Lebo, Harlan. The Godfather Legacy. New York: Fireside, 1997, p. 38. Print.
- Simon, William. “An Analysis of the Structure of Godfather, Part One”. The Cinematic Text: Methods and Approaches. Ed. R. Barton Palmer. New York: AMS Press, 1989. 101-117. Print.