It’s a rare film that offers for its subject and thesis a Theory of Art, but Coppola probes the roots of Postmodernism then aborning.
Dementia 13 is of course an homage to Psycho, and is characterized by a modulatory chiaroscuro that regulates transitions. The spectator will note a fittingly brief allusion to The Battleship Potemkin in immediate conjunction with a model for The Shining. There is a beautiful reference to Welles that mockingly encapsulates his close-up-and-deep-focus (a good deal of the technique similarly puts Hitchcockian English on the ball).
This film also here and there anticipates Godard’s Montparnasse-Levallois and Hitchcock’s Marnie and Family Plot, and is amazingly close to certain aspects of Russell’s Women in Love. To all this is added a feeling for locations carried to the point of personal charm, and a feeling for narrative that is akin to Edgar Allan Poe.
The Rain People
A masterful analysis of Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein on an Italian marriage gone bust in New York for a brain-damaged college football player down in Tennessee and a motorcycle cop in a Nebraska trailer park.
The beautiful equation is reckoned from the start in Wilmer Butler’s color cinematography of small-town America, correctly.
Variety, “an overlong, brooding film incorporating some excellent photography.” Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), “the mirror image of Easy Rider.” Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “strained and weird by the end.” Tom Milne (Time Out), “curious admixture of feminist tract and pure thriller.” TV Guide, “confused, not very sympathetic, and not clearly motivated.”
The Godfather is mainly derived from, say, Touchez pas au grisbi, and its close proximity to Get Carter suggests a coincidence. All three films concern themselves with the Second World War in a gangster framework and from an American, French and British perspective, respectively. Furthermore, Coppola has studied Bonnie and Clyde for certain effects, and there are others with a more recherché derivation, such as the lightly billowing sun canopy in Don Corleone’s death scene, an echo perhaps of the flapping sail in Knife in the Water, an effect from Hitchcock (Rich and Strange).
The underpinnings are Scarface, From Here to Eternity (which also figures in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point), Citizen Kane (visibly) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (explicitly).
The method of working is most like Frank Capra’s. All the work is done by the script, the director has only to shoot. Shots are heavily ablated by cutting, thus shorn of æstheticism in a kind of pun. The camera is thoroughly capable, but kept strictly to the point. “Sharp focus is inessential,” says Stieglitz. A draft script shows juggling the action by flashback to have been discarded.
The fairy-tale brothers are too masculine (Sonny), too feminine (Fredo) or neuter (Tom Hagen). The crooner Johnny Fontane is structurally equated with Michael Corleone (just as the womanizing Sonny with the wifebeating Carlo, who betrays him). The main action is represented as the westward movement of the Corleone family from the olive oil business as a front for union graft, gambling, prostitution and liquor, to the legitimate sphere in entertainment. This involves a war against the heroin trade and a distancing from the New York families. The theme is thus closely related to Dementia 13 (and Gardens of Stone) as a theory of art.
The mise en scène is designed to throw the elements of composition into abstraction. The most remarkable instance of this is the celebrated baptism scene, during which Michael eases himself of his adversaries by intercutting while reciting the renunciation of Satan and his works and pomps.
Marlon Brando’s performance brings to mind Gielgud’s four things an actor thinks about onstage. There is an homage to Joseph Wiseman in it, and a bit of mimicry, amongst a faceted characterization. Sterling Hayden is of this mind, in one of his most paroxysmal inventions. Al Pacino faced a difficult problem portraying a character out of sync at various times and in various ways, but without the novelist’s indications. John Marley, Al Lettieri, Alex Rocco and Vito Scotti contribute freshness allied with the script. The cast is uniformly at the top of the game, and there is a remarkable meeting of actress and director in the character of Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), who in more than one shot resembles Myrna Loy strikingly.
Coppola’s erudition is thoroughgoing and complete. The evocation of the past is uncanny.
The critical response was oddly mistaken in regarding The Godfather as signifying the return of Brando, who had made since his masterful performance as Fletcher Christian (after directing One-Eyed Jacks) no fewer than ten films: The Ugly American, Bedtime Story, Morituri, The Chase, The Appaloosa, A Countess from Hong Kong, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Candy, The Night of the Following Day, and Queimada (in the same year as The Godfather, he made The Nightcomers and Last Tango in Paris). The blackballed actor in The Godfather is a semblance of the treatment he received after Mutiny on the Bounty, which in turn explains his refusal of the Oscar with a joke.
Leslie Halliwell and Stanley Kauffman misvalued his performance and the film according to their separate lights, whereas Judith Crist sought an understanding as irony (“the criminal is the salt of the earth”).
Its model is Blowup, and it has the finest dream sequence yet put on film (better than Polanski’s in Rosemary’s Baby, and Bergman’s in Wild Strawberries). One of the great films of its period, a work of art thoroughly inspired from first to last.
The work is unfinished, but not incomplete, or the other way around, in that it gives indications of rescission, but extant footage supplies the lacunæ. A thinskinned critic like Vincent Canby bristles, as he did at Apocalypse Now. There is a sense of indeterminacy on the intermediate plane between scenes executed with great precision (they are dressed and lit in great detail, and set off by the actors’ declamation—the birthday party on the hotel balcony is said to have taken a week to shoot) and the overall structure, which is pellucid.
The manner of working is very different from, even diametrically opposed to that of the first film. Deep underlying structures based on earlier models are eschewed. If anything, there is an approach to Antonioni in an avoidance of the clipped rhetoric of the original, which appears by comparison as a masterpiece in the guild sense. Here, in the indeterminate sense of a film unfinished (and thus resembling, very oddly, so many films mutilated in post-production), is the direction of Coppola’s style, through a veil, as it were.
John Cassavetes paid it the supreme compliment of walking out (in a figure of speech) after the first reel to make Gloria. The theme is perhaps not, as The New Yorker thought, anything so terribly finical as “the corruption of America,” but more cogently the past as represented locally by Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), and more generally at the very end as a summation of action in reflection (the conclusion is widely misunderstood as unfortunate, rather than a patient settling of accounts).
Again, Canby is ultrasensitive to the stylistic instability of the final cut that’s less than final. Scenes move toward the buffo (Fanucci, leading to the Godfather as comic strip hero) or the melodramatic (Kay, leading to abstraction) with an exciting sense of floating structures within the larger one (this is Coppola’s modernity), but without an exact formal relation, even a floating one. This may be a quibble, or a moot point in view of the ideal Trilogy, it is entirely secondary (as an indication of the working method) to the actual, conditional print as released or partially restored.
The vision of Hyman Roth in Miami organizing “a real partnership with the government” in Cuba, as between dictator and business, is the central focus. This entirely slow revelation, making clear the forces at play, is what turns the monumental structure on a ball bearing effortlessly, and makes the structural point. The new economic system is portrayed as exactly that. “It’s what we have always needed,” says Roth. “It’s one small step to finding a man who desperately wants to be President, and having the cash to make it possible. Michael, we’re bigger than U.S. Steel.”
Second to this, all in all, is the very ambiguity precipitating, necessitating or even forgoing the real form of the present work. Roth’s “history-making” plan is founded on deceit and vendetta, etc.
Criticism at the time seems to have reflected the truncated state of the film. Both are now improved in Apocalypse Now Redux, but there is still much missing, indicated by dissolve montages and burbled critiques.
Additionally, the major problem is that Apocalypse Now was at least ten and even twenty years ahead of its time. As a Vietnamese writer has observed in the Guardian, it’s not really about Vietnam (the fawning photojournalist is not a creature of the jungle but of Washington, D.C., where the press corps consistently referred to President Clinton as “a genius” even though his public utterances were invariably so much bushwa).
The essence of the task is to create a large enough structure to set off the simple revelation at the end, which is nevertheless shocking: Kurtz’s mind is capsized, and it’s received the best education and training America has to offer.
We are now used to academics and politicians with similar qualifications formulating theories similar to Kurtz’s “Commitment and Counter-Insurgency”. The meaning of the sacrificial bull is a religious one.
The existence of a five-hour workprint leaves one in hope that a finished film will be established by the director at some point, but it is truly functional in all respects, and sets a standard in any number of respects, notably in its editing and sound. Its use of special effects exposes Saving Private Ryan as a PR campaign.
Under duress, Coppola is said to have complained that too much money was available and spent in production. On the contrary, the expenditure looks absolutely correct, and nothing is lost in the released film.
On the other hand, Vincent Canby’s accusation of “intellectual muddle” is entirely without merit, and embarrassingly so. The pellucidity of the film is a temptation to elision, but there is something else to be considered. Some critics sniggered at the graffiti in Kurtz’s camp, “OUR MOTTO: APOCALYPSE NOW”. It is silly, of course, but the precise calibration of that silliness hit the bull’s-eye of think tankers now, if not then, and hardly a political press conference takes place nowadays without a motto.
The major influence is Herzog’s Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes. There is an exhaustive background of films (including South Pacific) leading up to the French sequence, which also resembles more than one episode of Combat!
Lord of the Flies, Lord Jim, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Mutiny on the Bounty and Orson Welles’ The Trial all figure more or less as citations for the monumental structure.
In view of Andrew Sarris’s assertion that there is “nada” in this film apart from the magnificent sequence of Kilgore’s aerial attack, one wishes to point out (if nothing else) the ambience of the scene in which Capt. Willard receives his orders, a great sense of time spent in transit, subtleties like Col. Kilgore’s character, which is not so much sad at the prospect of the war’s eventual end as relieved of responsibility by it, and of course the whole point of the whole film, which is that a capitulated mind is unfit to wage a war.
Capt. Willard’s journey reflects that of Col. Kurtz, and the two are mirror images at the end, but as Dali says, “the only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.”
It has been observed that no Huey ‘copter could lift a patrol boat as shown here. But, as I surmised, a Philippine military Chinook was sought for the production and found to be unavailable.
The selected theme (rival teen hoods in Oklahoma) is arranged along the lines of The Last Picture Show and American Graffiti to give a fair picture, albeit typified by sleight of hand (Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is cited, for example), of an ambience west of West Side Story.
The American public, which patronizes the worst films ever made (if you believe Hollywood’s accountants), is most deserving of this.
Gardens of Stone
Not even Coppola can stop the self-destruction of Hollywood, but he can expose it. He sets up The D.I. in reverse to posit a gung ho geek who just can’t wait to get his damn fool head shot off.
This fellow, whose name is Jack Willow, is played by one D.B. Sweeney. Around this hopeless case Coppola arranges actors of the stature, ability and experience of James Caan, James Earl Jones and Dean Stockwell. The result is so blistering that you would think no nebbish would ever again be paraded as an artiste for our inspection. Maybe not, here’s a satire of the industry, on a theme remotely drawn from The Entertainer.
It was a hopeless venture, offering the moviegoing public a mirror of its muses, so it was reconciled as a reading of the director who made his films for ten-year-olds, as faithfully reported in TIME, or of the other director whose puppet plays Mel Brooks made fun of. Nihilism is the key to understanding imbecility’s attraction for the multitudes, and despair. Here it is, and speaking for itself. If you do not flock to it, you must get quite enough of that at home.