The Rear-View Mirror: The Godfather (1972)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

You could easily forget how reluctant Michael Corleone initially is to take over the family business. There are many reluctant heroes in the movies or in literature; reluctant villains are much rarer and often don’t see themselves as villains. They are set to do what seems necessary, blaming the times or the circumstances, acting for the greater good – and it’s their definition of ‘necessary’ that movies like Coppola’s The Godfather are really about.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Dispatches (1977)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Michael Herr’s Dispatches is a slim book, but it’s so densely written that I couldn’t get through it in one day. It’s his own personal diary from the Vietnam war, condensed into such sparse prose that you will have to set it down eventually. Herr throws you into the the mess of war and explains only what is crucial for the rest of the text so that the reader is set to feel very much like a newly drafted soldier joining the conflict – you have basic training, but no clue about the area they drop you in. The reason for that immediacy might be that Herr is not really a novelist, but a journalist. He volunteered to go to Vietnam, joined the reserve there in 1967, returned to the US, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t write anything for five years and finally published this book in 1977.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #12: Twin Peaks – The Return

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 12 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture, in which we finally return to the quiet (or is it?) town of Twin Peaks, say hello to Special Agent Dale Cooper and talk about death, nostalgia and David Lynch over a slice of pie and a fresh cup of joe. Did Twin Peaks – The Return deliver what we wanted or did it give us what we deserved? We also briefly visit the Civil War US and the land of the dead in Lincoln in the Bardo, experience the horror, the horror in Apocalypse Now Redux (now with more Playboy Bunnies!) and answer that age-old question – can a used condom be art? – as we chat about The Square.

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Godfather of Funk

Last night we watched The Godfather Part III, for completeness’ sake. When I first watched it, I’d been prepared for something abysmal, so I ended up thinking it wasn’t very good but neither was it that bad. Rewatching it, though, I hardly could believe that it was made by the same people who’d worked on the first two Godfather movies.

Enough has been said about Sophia Coppola’s horrible acting in the film, and it’s a good thing that she’s decided to continue her movie work on the other side of the camera. What struck me this second time was how un-cinematic the film is. Both The Godfather and its first sequel are beautiful films to behold. They have an “Old Masters” glow to them. They look like they come from Hollywood’s glory days.

The Godfather 3, by comparison, looks dowdy. They’ve got some nice sets (or they were allowed to film in gorgeous interiors) – but they’re all presented very flatly, and this flatness is heightened by the often pedestrian editing. Granted, there are scenes that look good and that are edited well, but then there are so many others (especially in the half of the film before they go to Sicily) that feel like ’80s television. Especially dialogues are edited with no feel for tension or flow: character A has a line, finishes it, cut to character B doing his or her sub-standard line, cut to character A again. Yup. Bad television editing.

Checking out IMDB, I find it amazing that the film was nominated at the Academy Awards for its cinematography and editing, and I can only believe that the nominations were the Academy’s form of commiserating what had happened to the venerable series and the equally venerable craftsmen working on it.

But I have to wonder: what happened to the Francis Ford Coppola who directed the first two Godfather movies? Or Apocalypse Now? Or The Conversation, a masterfully told tale of paranoia?

P.S.: I don’t get the praises and nominations for the writing either. If the previous Godfather movies were Shakespearean, this one was largely day-time soap… and its attempts at political intrigue were muddled, implying larger schemes but ultimately feeling like so much sound and fury signifying nothing.