Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
As I don't think this is of any interest to many of you, I am not going to split it up any further and am just putting up the rest of the essay and bibliography.
C’e La Luna
Back to the wedding and there is more “roughage”, while the minor storylines like Sonny and his wife’s marital tensions is continued with evidence of his affair with one of the bridesmaids. One of the most memorable of the non-narrative “roughage” elements is the song—C'e la luna mezz'o mare, and the performance of the actors, especially Morgana King (Carmella ‘Mama’ Corleone) in it. The song is entirely in Italian and is fairly lengthy for something that the audience is not expected to understand; but it does two significant things. By showcasing something captured with verité style photography (multiple cameras and quick zooms), coupled with splendid performance making this naturalistic and therefore very enjoyable, it endears the audience with this “very real family”. The second thing it does is to foreshadow the idea that in this movie, language (in the dialogue) is not only for meaning generation, but also for sheer mood—as it would in the scene in the restaurant where Michael kills Solozzo and McCluskey (Michael and Solozzo have a protracted conversation in Italian shown without subtitles). Ordinarily, the presence of any unintelligible element would draw attention to itself. But if it is presented in such a way that the meaning is very apparent or really unimportant, spoken word plays the role of “musical” effects.2 (This can also can be used to explain Brando getting away with his “mumbling”)
Before the entry of Johnny Fontane, Tom and the Don’s dialogue about senators and judges being part of their circle, further establishes the connection of the family with “the outside world” as explained by Mason (2002: 130). After screams are heard outside, the dialogue mentions where Johnny is from and this immediately tell us that he is a movie star. Here, to be noted is the performance of Talia Shire (Connie Corleone). She is the bride, and the centre of attention at the wedding, but with the arrival of the star, she makes these exaggerated welcomes, hugs and runs with him, and while running turns back and looks at her peers with a childish sense of pride showing him off; and showing herself off as the one who is acquainted with the star.
The arrival of Johnny Fontane also allows the film to go back to Kay, who is also exited on seeing him. Johnny’s song, in English (and thereby the cheesy lyrics being intelligible) still plays the role of sound effect or music and not “words”, when it is relegated to the background as Michael speaks to Kay about Luca, Johnny’s bandleader and his father. The original script explaining Luca to Kay had details of Luca chopping off the legs of Al Capone’s men. This for one, is too gruesome and two, seems to be exaggerated and therefore possibly being an urban legend; but the story of the bandleader, though less gruesome, is much more believable. This makes the Don and Luca appear scarier than they would have with the first story. The director as writer can take credit for this. Eventually, the dialogue confirms Michael’s “outsider” status in the family when he says, “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”
The story immediately shifts to the bandstand area where Johnny finishes his song, is feted by the crowd, and is received by the Don who seems to have an uncanny suspicion of his elder son’s whereabouts. This “cutaway” from the emotionally charged expressions of Michael and Kay helps keep the cut “on a high”, and because the “cutaway” has its own storyline and interest for the audience, enables the return to Michael and Kay at the table, but this time with them being in a lighter emotional state when Fredo is introduced as the drunk and weak brother.
Unlike all the other seekers of favours, Johnny is dressed in white and sitting on the table, he is the godson—The favoured one, who in the entire film, has the least problems with the Don. But the star of the previous scene is whining and complaining. It looks almost comical. This is intercut with Sonny playing “comedy with the girl” (according to the Don). After Tom leaves Sonny and Lucy banging against the door, there is a brief cutaway to the exterior where a formally dressed woman is operatically singing. Then we cut back to Johnny whining at the table. But the Don does not like opera or melodrama. (The cutaway to the opera also functions as “roughage” in between the nutrients) The Don mocks melodrama and imitates Johnny. He prefers the stricter, less freewheeling family life when he indirectly chastises his own son for his sexual intransigence (Chown, 1988: 68). The sounds in the background are family sounds. When the door is opened for Johnny, one can see family activity and hear a baby crying as well. This is the domain of Don Vito Corleone.
The End of the sequence
Outside, the marriage continues with Nazorine the baker paying his dues with a huge cake. It is evident from the fact that the cuts to the wedding are shorter and shorter, that the sequence is about to end. In his office, the Don is discussing future plans, also signalling the end of the sequence. As originally scripted, the muted sounds of five hundred forks hitting five hundred glasses are heard outside. The sequence ends with a family photograph, (with the WASP girlfriend) (Chown, 1988: 81). And the last shots where the father and daughter dance are from the same angle as the first shot of the mall. This time the sound is also the first sound we heard in the film, but a cheery version of the Godfather waltz. Bringing everything to a circular close.
2Walter Murch in his lecture Dense Clarity - Clear Density, classifies sounds on a spectrum ranging from violet (encoded) sounds to describe language, to red (embodied) sounds to describe music, with all other sounds falling within this as orange, yellow and blue-green (“linguistic” effects, sound effects, and “musical” effects).
Bazin, A. (1967) What is Cinema? (essays selected and translated by H. Gray), Berkeley: University of California Press
Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, London: BBC
Chown, J. (1988) Hollywood Auteur: Francis Coppola, New York: Praeger
Clarens, C. (1980) Crime Movies: From Griffith to The Godfather and Beyond, London: Secker & Warburg
Hayward, S. (2000) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, 2nd edn. London & New York: Routledge
Kael, P. (1975) Deeper Into Movies, London: Calder & Boyars
Kolker, R. P. (1980) A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese, Altman, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press
Mason, F. (2002) American Gangster Cinema: From Little Caesar to Pulp Fiction, Hampshire & New York: Palgrave MacMillan
McCarty, J. (2004) Bullets Over Hollywood: The American Gangster Picture from the Silents to the Sopranos, Cambridge, Mass: Da Capo Press
Murch, W. (2001) In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd edn. Los Angeles: Silman-James Press
Nelmes, J. (ed) (1999) An Intriduction to Film Studies, 2nd edn. London & New York: Routledge
The Godfather Screenplay third draft from March 29, 1971,
http://www.awesomefilm.com/script/THEGODFATHER.txt (22 December 2004)
The Godfather film transcript,
http://www.scenariusze.stopklatka.pl/pdf/Godfather.pdf (22 December 2004)
C'e la luna mezz'o mare Lyrics and translation,
http://members5.boardhost.com/italfolk/msg/170.html (19 January 2005)
Murch, W (Undated) ‘Dense Clarity – Clear Density’, http://www.ps1.org/cut/volume/murch.html (10 January 2005)
Imdb Entry on The Godfather,
http://imdb.com/title/tt0068646/ (10 January 2005)
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Analysis Part II and III
Been a little under the weather—explained here.
Therefore no post yesterday, and hence here is a post worth two.
The wedding outside
The screen abruptly brightens with loud Tarantella music. Most of the exterior wedding scenes are shot verité style (Chown, 1988: 66). And the idea of an “Italian realism” is not very unlike what the audience would see in the works of Federico Fellini or more recently of Giuseppe Tornatore. The use of multiple cameras and cutting on the same axis are certainly reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa. The brightness of the scenes works in contrast with the dark interiors, and Pauline Kael (1975: 421) even compares this to the Catholic dualism of innocence versus knowledge. There is some form of music running throughout the wedding scenes, helping to maintain continuity over the random visual cuts, while a change of song is used to signify time lapse.
The device of the gathering for a family portrait gives the audience a clear idea of who’s who. This also sets up the scene with the absence of Michael: the black sheep in the family. The initial parts of the wedding scene also function as a sort of a roll call of characters—the “extended family”, and their acquaintances. Each person is introduced doing something typical of the character, and somebody or the other mentioning him by name. Yet, this does not come across as being tedious because of the choreography and the performance in the interspersed bit of “reality”. It looks almost as if somebody took a movie camera to an actual wedding. In dietician’s parlance, these non-narrative elements could be called roughage—that does not contain any nutrients, yet essential in digesting the other more substantial food.
The idea of the absent Michael, and the inherent tension between the Don and his son; the infidelity of Sonny and a tension between him and his wife; the hierarchy of Don, Caporegime and Buttonman; the looming presence of the law—the FBI; the arrival and presence of Don Barzini; the greed of Pauli Gatto; the Sicilian ritual of the seeking of the Don’s favours, and the anxiety of the seekers of favours; and Sonny’s hotheadedness are all explained with succinct dialogue or in quick snippets of action. The economy of the direction and the sensibility to spread these narrative/expository elements among the “roughage’” is fascinating. Also to be noted is that the flurry of activity on screen catches the audience in such a fast moving stream, that no one bothers to find any of this exposition trite. When talking about pacing, Pauline Kael (1975: 425) says that it is only the “clever and careless director” who goes too fast, thinking that the audience would catch up; the assumption being that “complexity will engage the audience”.
Nazorine the baker
The second time we see the Don’s office, it somehow appears more cordial. A light music is heard in the background. It seems brighter and the Don is smiling. The ensuing dialogue has two words, “friend” and “Godfather”, two words that Bonasera could not come to use. The Don also moves to the window and raises the blinds towards the end of this scene, signalling a lightening up.
Michael is introduced, as again somebody mentions his name. He is dressed as an all American hero, in his army uniform, in the very form of the forces his father is so disdainful about. His WASP girlfriend is in red, and they dance, not to Italian music, but to a very American “Everytime I look into your Eyes”. Significantly, this happens as the Don looks at his son through the blinds in his office thereby reinforcing the tension set-up between father and son.
The conversation between Tom and the Don in the office is cut between this brief introduction of Michael and Kay, and the more elaborate dialogue sequence with them. This not only allows for the time lapse between them dancing and them eating, but also acts as a bridge to introduce Luca Brasi, who is a part of the conversation. Michael and Kay mention each other’s names in the conversation more than once. Tom Hagen is also properly introduced, but before he exits he talks about his father looking for Michael—further strengthening the father-son confrontation.
Back in the office, Luca Brasi stands before the Don seriously, pours out his rehearsed lines and does not call him godfather. The Don was initially reluctant to see him; there is obvious tension in the air; and there are no other background sounds: it was intended to be shot this way in order to show Luca’s character as a cold-blooded and dreaded assassin, but Lenny Montana’s (the actor) lack of confidence in front of Brando, served the director with the image of a bumbling character. The facts of the improvisation made while shooting this is explained in Jeffrey Chown’s book (1988: 79). The idea of Luca rehearsing in the earlier scene (shot later to accommodate the eventual realisation of the scene in the office), and the children running in disturbing the seriousness of this adult-word, makes this comical—standing testament to the improvisation skills of the director.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
I have submitted my essay on The Godfather and here is the first segment. It has been ages since I properly reviewed a film; and that explains why Lazy is leading and I was nowhere in contention here. So I have to put up a couple of reviews too. Until then, you'll have to put up with my Godfather essay.
So here is the first section. (I intend to post one a day)
Note: The essay has been adapted from its original academic version. Bibliography and web links will be provided along with the last section. Footnotes dont work well online do they?
Analysis of the Mall Wedding sequence from The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather has always offered a lot for the film theorist, but what is interesting is that it also offers a lot to the filmmaker and the film student. Pauline Kael (1975: 420) refers to the film as a “great example of how best popular movies come out of the merger of art and commerce”.
The opening sequence of a movie is generally expected to give a clear indication of what to expect from the rest of the film while establishing the genre. The opening scene of The Godfather – The Mall Wedding sequence, is discussed scene by scene focussing on the story and character exposition, with references to dialogue, mise-en-scene, sound, performance, editing and intertextual references. Though the scope of this essay limits the discussion of all these elements in detail, the emphasis is on their contribution to the exposition of plot, and character development.
Bonasera, the undertaker
The scene, and the film opens with the sound of the first bar of Nino Rota’s theme and a man’s face fades-in from black as he speaks. The mise-en-scene is immediately discernable with characteristic lighting reminiscent of the later Rembrandt paintings1. This isolation of voice and of an emotive face immediately hooks the audience onto the character, what he has to say, and effectively the film. The camera slowly zooms out to show the dimly lit room and finally the back of the Don’s head, and his hands. The interest in this shot is held by the story of brutality that is being narrated, with the mise-en scene reinforcing this starkness. The very first shot of the movie tells the audience to be hooked onto the violence of The Godfather. When the Don does talk, he is only seen from behind. Andre Bazin (1967: 49) talks about holding spatial integrity by not cutting to a reverse shot. François Truffaut, in Les Quatre cents coups (France, 1959) holds the emotional integrity of the shot by not cutting to the psychiatrist when she interviews the character of Antoine Doinel. The shot of the Don from behind also makes him more enigmatic and godlike in his position of granting boons and favours.
This scene is clinical in the way that it keeps out everything including the light and sounds from outside. The dialogue between the Don and Bonasera indicates the ideas of justice and righteousness the Don practices, and his magnanimity despite the sheer illegality of his work. The disdain for the police and the law is accented by the adherence to a more glamorous kind of law as practiced by him
Towards the end of the scene, the ominous sounds of a ticking clock ironically accompany images showing a resumption of cordiality between the Don and the undertaker. This shows the potentially Faustian implications of the deal between the two. But the don is immediately shown as a gentle person sniffing a flower, remarking about the undertaker being mistaken about them being murders. This repeated interplay between danger and familial security, good and evil is a constant motif throughout the first scene and the rest of the film.
1John Berger (1972: 112) talks about the later work of Rembrandt being stylised, and hence unlike regular Oil Painting that focussed on realism. This makes his work, toying with the plastics of the image, much more of a masterpiece—a better use of the medium of oil painting. This can be read analogous with the quest for “realism” in filmmaking as explained by Bazin (1967: 21) and the status of The Godfather as a filmic masterpiece.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
My MA project has been announced. I will be the Sound Designer on the film. This is rather interesting because I come from a film industry in India in which sound plays a very very different role. There are elaborate technical and logistical, if not creative processes in the making of songs in movies. The music director takes care of the creative use of sound for most of the rest of the film too in the form of the background score. "Effects recording" is a technical process which does involve creative use of sound, but mostly restricted to irritating footsteps and creaking doors. The idea of a sound designer leading the aural narration of the film has been absent because the director, the effects technician and the music director take care of this job in pieces. Only very recently have proper sound designers been employed, and that has mostly to do with films using "live sound". In an industry weaned on the "Flour Mill" Arriflex and Nagra combo, location sound recording seems to be an activity lacking in any discipline. Plus most of our actors can't talk for themselves. So the experienced Sound Designer has now been used to get "clean" location sound in India.
But recording clean location sound is an almost taken-for-granted activity here. It is in the aesthetic design of sound and its mixing that the Sound Designer is expected to show maximum creativity and expertise. Though, learning to record clean location sound is a big task in itself. The aim is to master it and get it out of the way.
I "might", and the might comes in double inverted commas, blog the film production process from the point of view of the Sound Designer. Pre-production starts now with a dry run / script-test shoot scheduled for the week after next. Production will be in April/March and post-production is scheduled immediately after principal photography ends.
(Rubs hands in anticipation)
Monday, January 10, 2005
The start of the Spring Term in the middle of the winter
Finally, my department has decided what they should make of me. My script has not been chosen for production. This means that I can maybe discuss it in my blog in detail. But that has to wait while I finish my essay on The Godfather. Which brings me to thank everybody who pitched in and gave their opinions about the movie.
My department also has decided to let me specialize in three areas: Direction, Sound Design and Independent producing and Production Management. So if I am really lucky, I could direct one of the four graduation films from my batch.
During the course of my research I came across some really good books that I wish to suggest here.
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch; yes THE Walter Murch.
Qu'est-ce que le cinéma? by Andre Bazin (What is Cinema? Tr. Hugh Gray); a definite classic that I get to read here in full. It even has a little bit about anthropomorphism in film. So if CC wants to know if you can have a detailed study about the Rama Narayanan brand of cinema, the answer is yes.
Having read Murch, I was even more interested in watching Coppola's Apocalypse Now: Redux, and I saw it essentially for his theories about layering of sound. But this time I watched it with headphones on. It felt like a totally different film compared to the truncated, fuzzy, chopped up affair I saw last on broadcast TV. It goes on to show how a film made for the big screen is meant to be watched on the big screen. BTW Here is a link to Murch's lecture Dense Clarity Clear Density where he talks about mixing sound for Apocalypse Now and The Godfather. A must read even if you are only remotely interested in film sound.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
This Year's First Post: For the Marina
A lot of firsts. For the first time, I made a bunch of Europeans eat a South Indian style Christmas dinner. For the first time, I got to work part-time here. For the first time, in my memory, my city has been hit this bad. Distance only seems to worsen the pain. But I do have to thank so many bloggers who have helped me get the right info in time and more importantly, to have enabled me to pass on something to others here. The BBC too has been doing a great job.
I am not daftly superstitous enough to think that I should not start a New Year's worth of posts on a gloomy note, but I do feel that it is only testament to our spirit as people on this world, to bounce back and make a difference today.
Good luck and godspeed to all those who are helping out in the relief work!
I sure miss my beaches now! Take care of them for me will you?
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