Coppola Overflows

And to think The Godfather almost didn’t get made. Paramount had the rights cheap and was willing to turn Mario Puzo’s bestseller...

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: October 3, 2009 12:39:42 am

The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration

And to think The Godfather almost didn’t get made. Paramount had the rights cheap and was willing to turn Mario Puzo’s bestseller into a low-budget potboiler,but couldn’t get any of the big directors to sign on. Hollywood A-listers were horrified. The book was trashy. It glorified the Mafia. After going down a list,the studio zeroed in on Francis Ford Coppola,because hey,he was Italian,right?

Coppola came on board,but the film,hailed as the second most influential American film after Citizen Kane,was still far from getting stitched up. “My family did not talk-a like-a this-a,” he says,in the fascinating double disc of supplements that the just-out The Godfather trilogy comes with,and that was how they were made to speak in the gangster films of the 1930s and the ’40s.

Coppola,one of Hollywood’s Young Turks at the time,wanted to change the world. He wanted to make not just a gangster film,even if Puzo’s book was full of small-time Sicilian hoods with large ambitions,the secret covenants of the Cosa Nostra and bucketfuls of blood spilling from every orifice of the human body. What he wanted to do was to make the biggest home movie in the history of American cinema — the Italian Americans were nothing if not strongly family oriented,even if they were mobsters whose main job was to go out and shoot a body after burping the baby — and that is exactly what he did.

Coppola wanted classic,somber,operatic. And Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the leads. Paramount baulked: one of the executives famously said Brando would never work with them as long as he (the executive) lived. Another said if Coppola could get Brando to do a screen test and work for free and sign a no-trouble bond,they might consider him. Pacino was dark and small and not a star; Robert Redford,fair and blond,was in the reckoning. Coppola spent thousands of dollars on screen tests,and finally got his way. But all through the initial shoot,he kept hearing negative things. He was out,his cast was out,till one day,not too soon,says the director,he was in,so were they. And so The Godfather trilogy came into being.

The twin discs are made up largely of interviews (and some fabulous scenes that did not make it to the final cut) with the director and many of the stars and technicians of the first two films 20 years on,when the third Godfather begins filming. The personal journeys are as riveting as the films,all three of them.

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