The Godfather: BFI Film Classics
by Jon Lewis
Reviewed by Jef Burnham
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Jon Lewis’s analysis of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is a slim book packed with engaging readings and historical contextualizations of the film. The book is easily a single-sitting read, despite a troublesome first thirty pages or so.
The opening third of the book, accounting for the majority of the substantive analysis of the film, proves to be a slightly difficult read due to transitional oddities, which is to say that it often lacks transitions entirely. Although Lewis makes some interesting points (in particular regarding Coppola’s use of space and setting to depict the mafia as an imitation of corporate capitalism), he lunges from one topic to the next, only occasionally (and even then, just barely) seeing an idea through to its logical conclusion, leaving us to fill in the blanks. I certainly appreciate the credit he gives his readers, assuming correctly that we will reach the same conclusions he has in these readings, but these leaps stymie the logical flow of the piece. Again, this becomes a non-issue thereafter and it’s well worth soldiering through.
From the analytical reading of the film, Lewis turns then to the film’s cinematic predecessors, such as Scarface (1932) and The Big Combo (1955) to examine the origins of the Corleone family, a fiction which Lewis informs us inspired the mafia more than the mafia inspired the fiction. Lewis’s history of the film production is the most engaging portion of the text. He begins with the circumstances that brought Coppola and Paramount together in the production of The Godfather, subsequently relating with equal respect for both men an unbiased account of the battle for artistic control of the film’s production between Coppola and producer Robert Evans. There is also a thorough exploration of the turmoil that characterized the casting of the film in the final chapter. And the book appropriately wraps up with a discussion of the film’s actual mafia ties, including the filmmakers’ concessions to the Italian-American Civil Rights League, who insisted that “mafia” and “Cosa Nostra” be omitted from the film’s dialogue.
Jon Lewis’s text is ultimately a quick and fascinating read, one that will most interest those Godfather fans unfamiliar with the production history and the film’s relationship to the real-life mafia.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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