The Godfather: Review
For more than thirty-five years the argument has been brewing - Citizen Kane vs. The Godfather, and for most of those years the answer has been an easy one in favor of the Orson Welles classic. However, now that time has passed and both films hold a place of reverence in motion picture history, it's easier to acknowledge The Godfather for the absolute, and "uber" cinematic genius that it is.
Yes, Citizen Kane did it first, and laid new ground, and set new standards, and presented a whole new style of story telling and cinema. But didn’t The Godfather do the same - and then some? I have always been of the mind that Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane should hold the coveted title of being the best that Hollywood has to offer. However, honestly I think that was the film school talking.
I was too young to understand Coppola’s mafia epic upon its initial release, and therefore did not appreciate the impact it had upon audiences and young artist. Now, enough time has passed for there to be a true and unbiased evaluation that will not allow the sentiment surrounding the so-called golden age of cinema to cloud any judgment. In fact, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, represent what could be deemed as the second golden age, or even the platinum age of cinema from the 70’s. After all, never before, or since has a sequel won an Academy Award for best picture, let alone been deemed (arguably) better than it’s predecessor.
When considering either film it easy to see how both established new levels of quality and perfection in an art form that is extremely subjective. And frankly, The Godfather could not exist without Citizen Kane. Obviously Coppola studied his film history and used that knowledge to the best of his ability. Direct nods to greats such as Welles (the long single shot opening scene), and Ford (the Italian sequences) and even Hitchcock (the suspense of the hospital scene) appear through out the film. But always as homage and with reverence, for art forms are meant to grow, to change and even challenge, otherwise they die. And as sadly as some aspects of the art form have degenerated into less than honorable examples of the medium (fill in your own horrific example here), it is an inspiration when the art reaches new heights. The Godfather is truly one such example, if not “The” example all others now strive to match.
I challenge anyone to watch the latest restoration and not be moved by the absolute beauty of the story, the images, the performances and the direction. The actors carefully and lovingly bring every moment created by the director to the screen. These performances are highlighted and enhanced by the gorgeous cinematography, very much like Citizen Kane. In both films every aspect is designed to expose the American Dream at its best, AND most distorted. Both films play out as fables that can inspire us to reach our dreams, and also warn us of the costs that must be paid when abusing those dreams.
When considering the two films it’s really almost a case of six on one hand, half a dozen on the other. Some may even say the restoration gives The Godfather an absolute, if not unfair advantage in presenting the modern classic in a mode unlikely to benefit an older film developed and created with an inferior system and less refined tools. But this is selling Coppola’s masterpiece short. The base qualities are already there to begin with and cannot be argued away by mere technicalities. No, the restoration only helps to make it very clear - when all is said and done, The Godfather takes its rightful place as the new American standard. I think Orson Welles would agree and be proud of his contribution in advancing the achievements in the medium he helped define.