There is no greater tribute to the quality of a film than the fact that it resonates with audiences many years after it was first shown to them. The Screening of “The Godfather” that I attended on Friday, is basically a commercial for the 4K transfer and Blu-ray that is being released next month. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the film and it continues to be among the finest movies ever made, if not in fact the best film ever made. Our screening was packed. That’s right, a fifty year old film, that is available on multiple platforms and formats, is still able to draw an audience to a movie theater and that is the miracle of this movie.
Five years ago, at a similar screening, I offered thoughts on the film that mentioned two scenes that again stood out. I will let you go back to that post for those details, instead let me offer two other moments to focus on for this screening. The very first scene with Brando is spellbinding. He speaks in a passive voice and he is not really focused on the supplicant who wants him to do murder, he is fondling a cat. Famously, this was not scripted but was a result of the stray animal being on the set and Brando improvising. It fits in perfectly with the persona of Don Corleone, who is only half listening to the undertaker seeking vengeance, but is also confident enough to hide his thoughts in this playful moment.
Later, when he is taking the meeting with Sollozzo, he looks like a mildly interested man who wants the meeting to be done with but is polite enough to be slightly more attentive. When he moves over to speak to Sollozzo more intimately, he dusts off his conversation partner’s knee in a familiar fatherly gesture, even at the moment he is turning down the proposal. It is clear that Vito Corleone has a personal charisma that is not loud and overpowering but rather soft and subdued. The only time we hear him raise his voice is when he is mocking Johnny Fontaine, his Godson, and most of that volume is exaggerated for their relationship, not real anger. This is a man who knows how to influence people and woo them to his patronage. That it fails him with the “Turk” is just a catalyst for the story.
Once again, anyone who has not seen this film on the Big Screen is missing a marvelous chance to be absorbed into one of the greatest films of all time.
The very next night, we also traveled back to a critically acclaimed Best Picture winner, that I have loved since I first saw it when I was nine or ten.
Just as the Godfather experience I wrote about above had a five year precursor screening, it has been five years since we had the same sort of performance for “West Side Story”. This was not your typical screening but rather a presentation of the film with a live orchestral accompaniment. Back in 2017, we saw the film with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Having relocated to the Austin area almost 18 months ago, it was taking me a while to get back to live Orchestra performances. Two weeks ago we saw the Austin Ballet Company perform “A Midsummer Nights Dream” it was a lot of fun but the orchestra was in a pit and the focus was on the dance. Last night the stage was filled with a hundred plus musicians and a large screen above them for the movie to play on.
I found the Austin Symphony Orchestra to be a powerful ensemble who played excellently. There was not a dominant section that stood out because all the instruments were solid and the scoring matched the design of the film. I was happy to be listening to live concert music and it simply doubled the pleasure that it was with a great movie.
Again, I will refer you to the earlier post for a complete discussion of the film, but for this post I do want to take time to talk about a couple of things. All props to Rita Moreno and George Chakiris who deserved their awards back in 1961, but it is frequently overlooked as to how effective Natalie Wood was in the role of Maria. It is true that she did not do her own singing and she was not of Puerto Rican heritage, but she looks wonderful on screen. Woods dances elegantly in several of the numbers that require her to be light on her feet, and her visual performance in close ups is completely in keeping with the character.
Live Music, a classic film musical, and the recent Spielberg remake to stoke interest was enough to get me out for this.