HOW FILM MAKERS RECREATE MEANING AND VALUE FROM THE LITERARY TEXT
Legendary American producer & director, Francis Ford Coppola is recognised as one the best in his field, but recent viewing of his famous film trilogy led me to ask critical questions of the director.
My probing of the craft of Coppola, and how he dissects author Mario Puzo’s original novel, led me to Coppola’s more daring collaborative enterprise of reinterpreting Joseph Conrad’s controversial turn of the century novel, Heart of Darkness. It also led me to his work on the re-make of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
I will unleash my thoughts on Fitzgerald’s great American novel and Conrad’s controversial take on colonialism in a later post.
In The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola began his process of de-constructing gangster mythology by convincing nervous studio executives that he would instead be creating a family drama rather than a violent gangster epic. He persuaded the executives that his film would endear studio audiences. He convinced the bean counters that audiences would be able to relate to his characters.
When The Godfather hit the silver screen and broke most box-office records (for its time) the murderous blood-letting gangsters of the powerful Corleone family had certainly found a place in most American hearts. But what of its consequences? Showtime’s successful modern-day ‘hit’ series of The Sopranos indicates how the gangster myth is glamorised way out of proportion.
Today, in many, mostly poor, villages around the world, not just in lower-class neighbourhoods around the USA, male teenagers, in the face of danger, are attracted to the allure of success, wealth and prestige. Such aspirations come about as a result of the perceived lack of opportunities in other conventional areas such as education and free enterprise.
Did Coppola create a monster rather than a hero?
Since the era of Al Capone the American gangster was justifiably frowned upon. Both authorities, particularly the bent J Edgar Hoover, and society recognised that these gangsters rebelled against the American ideals of progress, and were rightfully portrayed as villains.
The golden era of nineteen thirties (black and white) films produced a surplus of gangster movies with actors James Cagney & Edward G Robinson probably emerging as the industry’s most prominent villainous icons.
Mario Puzo originally wrote The Godfather as an epic on gangsterism in the context of poor Italian immigrants’ monumental migrations to the United States of America in search of a better life, following the American dream and the pursuit of happiness as enshrined in the US constitution.
Coppola’s intention as director is to de-construct negative connotations and myths of the Italian-American gangster and transpose an epic drama into an ambitious story about one family. His films, The Godfather, The Godfather II & The Godfather III were adapted from the literary work of Mario Puzo.
Coppola’s version of The Godfather romanticizes the gangster icon as an American hero.
Immortality on the silver screen reigns not only for the gangster, whether Italian, Latino, or African-American.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, American film producers seized opportunities to capitalise on history and create an effective tool of propaganda that is still prevalent today in light of the anti-Islamic trends seen across media platforms.
Hollywood blockbusters were created to highlight the bravery and heroism displayed by soldiers fighting on the side of the Western allies. German soldiers, alongside their Nazi bosses, were cast as ineffective villains. Today’s belligerence by the American regime in opposition to the axis of evil, as proclaimed by George W Bush, is no different.
The modern era of film making has seen the production of stories which are far more understanding & balanced in revising the events of the Second World War & what has followed it.
Film critics believed Stephen Daldry’s interpretation of Bernhard Schlink’s novel, The Reader, was controversial & inaccurate. Daldry was heavily criticised for his direction of prolonged sex scenes between the story’s protagonist & his Nazi lover. Conservative critics believed that the use of a teenage boy, or a young actor who closely replicates the original story character, was offensive.
Critics felt that lengthy graphic love scenes were unnecessary, irrelevant & not essential to the original story. Stephen Daldry’s film, The Reader, was adapted from Bernhard Schlink’s novel, originally written in German.
Such negative criticism of vivid cinematic scenes depicting nudity & sex between a teenager & an older, ‘experienced’ woman is unwarranted. The visual imagery does not deviate too much from Schlink’s original novel.
Such imagery is poignant. It highlights the non-sexual intimacy between the two actors, David Kross & Kate Winslet. It highlights the problems associated with illiteracy. And it highlights the reactions of Germany’s educated youth to the revelations exposed during court trials of Nazis accused of crimes against humanity.
In such stories there are no heroes, nor are there villains.
Next week: Robert Redford, All the President’s Men & Successful Collaborations.