When Paramount Pictures releases The Godfather tomorrow, it will be both honoring itself and perpetrating a crime. The honor is that one of the greatest and most influential films ever made is being re-released on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. The crime is that Paramount, according to a studio spokeswoman, has "no immediate plans" to re-release The Godfather, Part II, which deepens the meanings of The Godfather and is probably the greatest sound film ever made in this country.
I would have been very happy with just a re-release of these two, but, of course, Paramount also has no plans to bring out The Godfather, Part III, which is far below its predecessors but not without its own majesties.
What's going on here? When I asked Paramount why The Godfather, Part II wasn't being re-released on the heels of The Godfather, I was informed that only the first film was having its 25th birthday. Technically, that's correct; but you'll notice the Star Wars trilogy is playing in theaters across the country even though only Star Wars is twenty years old. I guess these birthday celebrations have a lot to do with how much merchandising you can squeeze out of them. (Also, The Godfather, unlike parts II and III, was a mega-blockbuster.)
When The Godfather came out in 1972, it was not conceived as a trilogy, but with the three films now available to us, what is the sense in sitting on the other two? The Godfather, Part II was made partly in response to the criticism leveled against The Godfather that it sentimentalized the Mafia. It works in combination with that film as richly as the answering point and counterpoint in a Beethoven symphony. Seeing The Godfather, Part II directly after The Godfather would reveal the grand design and extraordinary resonance in these films. Would a publisher reissue Proust by bringing out only Swann's Way? Or, to make a movie analogy, would even the most craven movie distributor think to honor Satyajit Ray and his Apu trilogy by releasing only Pather Panchali? Does the studio that is having such a high old time promoting Howard Stern's Private Parts really think it necessary to take a "wait and see" attitude regarding the re-release of its crown jewel?
Even the publicity effort behind the re-release of The Godfather has been halfhearted. Compared to the buildup of not only Star Wars but just about every atrocious current studio product, the promo for The Godfather has been marginal at best: few -- if any -- billboards, TV spots, magazine features, tie-ins. Advance press screenings have been few too. Perhaps this 25-year-old film was tied up in last-minute postproduction? Was Jabba the Hutt being computer-fitted into the Corleone mansion? The Academy Awards are soon upon us. Did anyone at Paramount even consider an Oscar tie-in for a series of movies that brought in 28 Oscar nominations and nine awards, including two Best Pictures?
Forget about the ethics of the situation; I don't think the embargo on the rest of the Godfather movies even makes commercial sense. Audiences are hungry for great films, and the experience of seeing The Godfather can only lead to an appetite for its sequels. I was told by Paramount that the studio might conceivably bring out Part II "in a few years" -- that's an awfully long time to curb your appetite. And even if The Godfather re-release is a hit, there has been no advertising-publicity machine gearing up for the re-release of its sequels. The best we can hope for is drive-by distribution: a quick dump at the multiplex.
That's still better than nothing. The point, after all, is to see these films. They have, of course, been available on cassette and laser disk. But it's especially galling that Paramount has been comparatively unadventurous in restoring The Godfather relative to the full-scale restorations of such films as Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia, and the Star Wars trilogy.
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Still, to see the films, especially the first two, in sequence and on a big screen is to be exposed once again to some of the finest art ever created in this country. The greatest crime connected with Paramount's no-immediate-plans policy is that young audiences who have never seen The Godfather, Part II will be deprived of an experience that could change their lives -- and possibly inspire a few of them to become filmmakers and transform our movies once again.
Anybody know where I can find a good horse's head?
Written by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo from Puzo's novel; directed by Francis Ford Coppola; with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Richard Castellano, Sterling Hayden, and John Cazale.