Saturday, June 03, 2006
La Festa: Music & Murder
I took my children down to Little Italy in Manhattan today to attend the Feast of St Anthony, on Mulberry St. While there, I couldn't help thinking of the two "feast" scenes in The Godfather films. While both of these scenes were shot on the streets of Little Italy, one is clearly derivative of (and inferior to) the other. The first feast scene, which takes place in the turn-of-the-century portion of The Godfather Part II -- in which a young Vito Corleone walks along the rooftops of Little Italy, tracking a local Mafia chieftain he's about to assassinate as he attends the Feast of St Rocco -- is rightly considered to be classic. Every detail of the scene is genuine, and clearly comes from Francis Ford Coppola's personal experience of Italian culture. (Having attended many of these feasts myself, I can further attest to the authenticity.) But on closer examination, we can see that this is as contrived and as "movie" as a scene comes. With too much thought, you might begin to ask yourself "How does Vito know that the man he's following will end up back in his own apartment building? What if he decided to catch a ride uptown?" Nevertheless, the scene -- like all of the best scenes in The Godfather films -- works, NOT because of the logic of it, but because of the drama of it. When we're watching it, we're not thinking about logic, we're caught up in drama. The camera draws us in, as does the score. The sounds of the feast mixing together -- the drumming, the chatter, the applause, the fireworks -- all add to its realistic nature. Coppola's approach here is nothing less than brilliant! We can worry about logic later. During the scene, we're just along for the ride. On the other hand, the second "feast" scene, clearly meant to evoke memories of the one I just described, is perhaps the most disingenuous moment in The Godfather Part III. Forget Sofia Coppola's lack of acting skills, her father's "you-can-see-what's-coming-a-mile-away" approach to this feast scene in Part III, combined with a decision to have participants of a religious parade in the scene dress as Europeans might have dressed hundreds of years ago (think Klu Klux Klan hoods) was a gross mistake. It pulls the viewers right out the moment, in exactly the opposite way that the genuine nature of the early feast scene in Part II pulls them in.