Some moviegoing experiences change your life: “2001: A Space Odyssey” at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome; “The Tree of Life” accompanied by a 100-piece symphony orchestra; “The Shining” restored and retrofitted for IMAX. And for the more than 1,000 people at Radio City Music Hall yesterday, it was watching “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II.”
Francis Ford Coppola’s crime saga closed out the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival with a 45th anniversary celebration that included restoration screenings of the first two parts and a conversation with Coppola and the cast, including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Diane Keaton. While the chance to see the cast reunited was a once-in-a-lifetime event, so was the opportunity to experience the full power of “The Godfather” surrounded by cinephiles. And after 45 years, a few things have become abundantly clear.
People Love Michael Corleone More Than They Should
The Corleones have become one of the most respected families in movie history, but that doesn’t mean their actions are worth celebrating. The moment where Sonny publicly beats Connie’s abusive husband, Carlo Rizzi, in the middle of the street earned a massive applause, but it’s one of few Corleone acts that actually deserve it. Part of what makes “The Godfather” so great is how the respectability of the family’s choices becomes increasingly ambiguous.
This is especially true for Michael, whose tragic arc proves that coming out on top doesn’t deserve a standing ovation. He makes self-destructive business decisions, almost all of which earned applause. When he lies to Kay about giving the order to kill Rizzi, the audience went crazy. They clapped even harder when he shuts the door in her face at the end of “Part II,” an act that puts Michael firmly on the dark side. After 45 years, people want to validate and celebrate these decisions because … well, it’s Michael. Ironically, that opinion is one “The Godfather” refuses to share — and that’s what creates so much of its impact.
Nino Rota’s Score Deserves A Concert of Its Own
Rota’s original score became iconic long ago, but hearing those melodies in a venue like Radio City Music Hall was more jaw-dropping than you could even imagine. Before “Paramount Pictures Presents” appears at the start of the first film, Rota’s “The Godfather Waltz” begins with its signature trumpet. The audience erupted into an applause so thunderous you would’ve thought a famous musician had taken the stage. Those notes hold unmatched power for cinephiles, and hearing them blasted in Radio City is something nobody will forget.
Supporting Characters Are Rock Stars, Too
Every Corleone family member received massive cheers when they appeared on screen, but so did a handful of supporting characters: Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana), Sal Tessio (Abe Vigoda), Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo), Virgil Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), Amerigo Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto). The audience clapped when Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano) was introduced at Connie’s wedding, but they went even wilder when his younger self (Bruno Kirby) debuted in “Part II.”
What’s interesting is how quickly you notice that none of these characters have much screen time, nor are they particularly fleshed out by the script. It’s a testament to the actors that these supporting players are just as memorable as any Corleone. Their personalities are so well defined and feel so organic to the world Coppola and author Mario Puzo created that they become just as integral to the movie as Michael, Sonny, Fredo, and the rest.
Kay’s Abortion Reveal Packs the Biggest Wallop
Of course, most of the audience knew it was coming — that Kay had an abortion, not a miscarriage, as Michael believed — but that didn’t stop the reveal from eliciting major gasps. Coppola’s script is at its very best here; there aren’t many moments in either film where Michael doesn’t have the upper hand. Even when he’s being interrogated by a senate committee in “Part II,” you know Michael will find a way to get out untouched. That’s not the case here. For once in his life, Michael is not in control of what has happened (the abortion) or what’s about to happen (Kay is leaving him), and seeing the rage that develops injects the character with a terrifying dynamic. People actually jumped out of their seats when Michael snapped and hit Kay. It’s the point of no return.
You Don’t Just Know “The Godfather” is One of the Greatest Films Ever Made, You Feel It
You’ll find “The Godfather” on nearly every list of the greatest films ever made, but there’s a difference in fully experiencing that assessment. Watching “The Godfather” in this setting brought more than 1,000 people together and hooked them in its cinematic spell. Few films have that power.
You could feel it after every immortal one-liner (“I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” “Leave the gun, take the cannoli”) and every legendary scene (the climactic baptism of Connie’s son). You could feel every heart break as Fredo set out on Lake Tahoe for one last fishing trip and swell as Don Vito put an orange peel in his mouth and chased his grandson. Nobody moved as Michael prepared to assassinate Sollozzo, and everyone flinched as Sonny got ambushed at the toll booth. This film took hold over every single person in Radio City Music Hall; top that, Netflix.