The Godfather Family Album
Reviewed by Jef Burnham
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The Godfather Family Album is an enormous tome featuring over 400 color and black & white photographs taken by Steve Schapiro behind the scenes of The Godfather Trilogy, as well as selected articles about the series, retrospectives and interviews with the cast and crew. It is an absolute must-own for anyone with a deep love for The Godfather. And even if you’re a cinephile who’s just not that into The Godfather for whatever reason, you should still take the time to flip through Schapiro’s photographs for the wonderful candids of Brando and Pacino alone.
As for the various articles comprising the text portion of the book, I won’t delve too deeply into it, because the photographs are really the meat of the work. Still, the book features a solid collection of articles, essays and interviews, the highlights of which were the insightful retrospective by Mario Puzo that opens the book and the pile of wonderful interviews with Coppola (of which there are four), Pacino (two); and even one with Brando from Shana Alexander’s 1972 article for Life.
This book is huge. And I don’t just mean in terms of scope. The most recent release (and the first pressing to be made available at an easily affordable price) is 15” wide by 10” tall, hardcover, and 444 pages in length. As such, those images allotted two pages are printed at an oversized 15”x20”. With the size and the high quality of the paper stock, Taschen’s book allows for the best reproductions of Schapiro’s images possible at the $69.99 srp (and you can pick it up on Amazon for closer to $40). Honestly, you’re going to wish you could frame these things.
Now, onto the photographs! The entire first half of the book is devoted to the first film, which is as it should be, and there are so many wonderful photographs of Brando it’s almost obscene. An unbelievable seven pages are reserved of photographs of Vito scaring his grandchild alone! But three images of Brando really stand out in my mind: 1.) Brando playing with the cat between scenes is at once curiously cold and tender. 2) A series of four photographs of Brando in the makeup chair charts his transformation into the elderly Don. 3.) A stunning, black and white two-pager of the Don crossing the street to buy oranges.
From the first film, there is also a terrific triptych of Pacino playing handball between scenes, and a hilarious photo of James Caan as Sonny, standing on the set, riddled with bullet holes with wires attached to the squibs on his face extending out of the frame. The portion of the book devoted to the second film is a bit shorter, and the most striking of these for me was an image of DeNiro as the young Vito standing in front of the newly formed Genco Importing. The dynamic of this image is striking in that only the building and DeNiro, mixed in with the crowd, are completely in focus. The third film is only allotted about 40 pages and truthfully, I found none of these to be even remotely as powerful or cinematic as those that preceded them, which is, I suppose, why there’s only 40 pages of them.
For me though, the greatest images by far in this volume are the numerous images from the Corleone wedding that opens the first picture. In fact, 11 photographs from the wedding are given the full, two-page treatment and they are gorgeous (particularly one b&w image taken paparazzi-style, peaking down at the wedding over a wall, through treetops). These images stress the importance of the volume’s title. These images are complicated, real and deep, with family and friends engaged celebrating and conversing far outside the edge of the photographs’ frames. And just like the series as a whole, these photos are first and foremost about the timelessness of family, which is one of the main reasons these films still resonate with younger generations of viewers. As such, Schapiro’s wedding photographs are the quintessential images of the quintessential mafia movie.
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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