At the time, I had no idea who Marlon Brando was. To me, he was an old dude. I was so young and naive I didn't understand that the makeup department was making Brando look older than his true age.
This film not only became an instant classic and worldwide legend, but it rocked my world as well. Despite being a clueless little third grader townee.
You see: I'm an Italian American.
I've heard that when this movie was played in my hometown, Italian Americans were dressing up like mobsters and showing up in limos. I'm not so naive now, and so I can tell you that some of these mobsters were probably not in costumes at all...
Anyway, everyone loved these movies. Why? It's that simple bad-ass rule that dominates almost all cinema: if you were an Italian American, you could feel like a bad ass instead of a darker 'greasy' meatball. Sorry if that's breaking news to you, but that is how Wasps saw us at the time: kinda sorta black. Even some Italians flip their ravioli over darker Italians...
But then why did the Wonderbread types embrace this movie back in the day? With almost more enthusiasm than the likes of me? The same reason why legions of white kids today want to be appear like gangstas: it's bad-ass.
You see James Caan on the left. I see a dead-ringer of one of my cousins. Honest. You see Al Pacino in that uniform?
I see a nearly identical picture of my Uncle when he was in ROTC. And it's not just the uniform. In the third GODFATHER film Pacino is so identical to this same Uncle I suspect we're genetically related.
The other two guys? And the many other characters in this film? Childhood Christmas parties teemed with guyz like this, talking and grinning and patting each other on the backs with prideful loud roars of laughter. Pasta always within reach.
So when the Italian side of my family waxes poetic about the GODFATHER films, I hear something you likely don't. I hear them somehow talking about themselves. As if the separation between fiction and reality is gone. Most Italian American men from the Northeast a-d-o-r-e these films -- because they can feel as bad-ass as the characters on the screen.
I don't mean to pick on just Coppola. Martin Scorcese can be seen at the front of the same red tomato sauce gravy train with movies like RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS. Every Italian American knows guyz that like these guyz --
You look at any top 100 movies list -- and you'll find the GODFATHERS and Scorceses crowding the top. Any list. Even Spike Lee's recently published Essential Films list.
I submit to you, patient reader, that if a filmmaker doesn't adore the Italian bad ass films that Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorcese have so popularized -- you're not only considered confused but one seriously clueless motherfucker.
You know what these films really are? Exploitalian films. There. I said it. It's more politically incorrect to say this within the movie industry than it is to accuse Jesus of being gay within a house of worship. But there it is.
I have my own essential cinema list. I felt I had no choice but to include these cherished classics on my list. The problem was -- I don't really cherish them. So I didn't. I enjoyed all three Godfather films, of course, and I've seen most Scorcese films more than once, but my only keeper from this group is GOODFELLAS. It's the only one I've purchased as well.
I'm not saying the other films are junk. I'm saying they're way over-rated. Respected for 'artistic' reasons but the truth is these films broke cinematic violence boundaries and that is why they're mostly male fans adore them. Let's be honest.
I've never heard one woman wax poetic about RAGING BULL. Yeah, sure, they exist in film schools and do so to brown nose along, but RAGING is like all Godfather films: Italian men being exploited for particularly violent movie-making.
I'm not being politically correct here. I'm not defending my people and heritage. What I'm doing is calling a spade a spade, or in this case a goomba a goomba. These pieces are extremely well made Italian Sausage Grindhouse.
The reason I prefer GOODFELLAS is the degree to which is includes Italian women. An Italian film with wall to way guyz isn't an Italian film, sorry. (Mention Diane Keaton and you'll find a horsehead in your futon.) All those classic 60's films that starred Sophia Loren weren't made simply because Loren was built top heavy like the tower of pisa. The passionate beautiful half-crazy Italian women 'type' is the heart and soul of any Italian man. It's as essential as tomatoes in sauce.
Without the female element in the mix, what do you really have with any GODFATHER movie? Over two hours of tough talk followed by an operatic ending where all sorts of people get killed off in one beautiful bloodscape with Cirque Du Soleil grace. Right? Isn't that the payoff of these films? Not a love story. No message. Just a garlic laced snuff film.
Colour me anti-Barbarian (how's that for a vintage pun) but I don't consider myself a vicious little prick who's just ten seconds away from killing off everyone. And I seriously don't get off pretending as much for the price of admission to such films.
They kind of disgust me, frankly, and they're still being made by directors who want to exploit Italian American stereotypes to cash in on this extremely violent content.
Consider KILLING THEM SOFTLY on the left. See the 'pitch' at the top of the poster? Brutal/brilliant filmmaking. See the cast members below Brad Pitt? Ray Liotta (GOODFELLAS) and the late James Gandolfini (THE SOPRANOS). If it walks like exploitalian, talks like exploitalian...
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the film and really respect the filmmaking of Andrew Dominik. His ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES was one of the best films of that 2007. But this follow up? Twice as violent and half as classy exploitalian.
I know I have paisan out there. People who agree with me but haven't found a simple name for this very complex concept. Well I've given it a name now: exploitalian cinema. Feel free to mention it at your next film school premiere.
Speak up people... or forever hold your braciola.