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11.19.08

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Phaedra

The Godfather:
The Coppola Restoration

Five discs; Paramount; $69.99

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


I hadn't seen the Godfather films for a long time when this marvelous set arrived. The 1972 original, casually described by Coppola himself in an extra as the "biggest home movie in history," is beautifully, seamlessly constructed, without flab (a neat trick for a film that is nearly three hours in length). The acting ensemble is unmatched—James Caan's testosterone-fueled Sonny, John Cazale's weaselly Fredo, John Marley's movie producer, Robert Duvall's tightly controlled family insider/outsider—all anchored by the Old World weariness of Brando's patriarch and the edgy conflict of Pacino's Michael. The prequel/sequel, from 1974, adds layers of complications to Michael Corleone's burden, although the bifurcated flashback structure to Robert De Niro's young don stalls some of the narrative drive. About Godfather III (1990), it's not as bad as the critical consensus but is by far the weakest leg in the tripod. The gain in this set is the meticulous restoration of the original prints, so that the full range of Gordon Willis' cinematography can be appreciated. Much of the films' power depends on the use of deep space plunged in rich shadows pierced by the glow of low-watt lambs and a palette of almost sickly browns and yellows—a filmic chiaroscuro and sfumato similar to old master paintings. It's no wonder that Willis was often dubbed "The Prince of Darkness." I've seen some clips of what the previous available prints look like, and it is deplorable how much deterioration they have endured. Even Coppola is moved to say that the restoration reveals a film "much more beautiful" than he remembered. This set comes with two discs full of extras, some from the 2001 rerelease and some brand new. Of special interest is art director Alex Touvalaris' memories of how the early 1900s scenes were filmed on location; a tape of Coppola brainstorming with composer Nina Rota; an interview with Willis, in which even he admits that he may have gone too far in using underexposure in some scenes; reproductions of the storyboards; a look at the restoration process; and lots of Coppola's garrulous reminiscences—that was real horse's head (from a pet-food supplier) and it had to be kept on ice all through a day's shooting.


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