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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.

11:36 pm


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