A mob film clas­sic re­union at fes­ti­val

Cape Breton Post - - Arts / Entertainment - BY JAKE COYLE

Debilitating studio bat­tles. One mirac­u­lously still cat. Moon­ing con­tests be­tween James Caan and Marlon Brando. These were the mem­o­ries shared, 45 years later, on the mak­ing of “The God­fa­ther” in a rare re­union of the film’s cast and di­rec­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall.

With the stage dec­o­rated to re­sem­ble the li­brary of Brando’s Don Cor­leone, and a por­trait of the ac­tor hang­ing above, Cop­pola and cast mem­bers Al Pa­cino, Robert De Niro, Robert Du­vall, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire, gath­ered to­gether once again on Satur­day. The night was or­ga­nized by De Niro as the clos­ing evening of his Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, which pre­ceded the af­fair with a grand dou­ble fea­ture of “The God­fa­ther,” parts one and two.

That made for a long day the event spanned nearly nine hours - but one of giddy delight for devo­tees of Cop­pola’s mas­ter­pieces.

While both films are widely viewed as among the finest ever made, Cop­pola and cast spoke again and again about the films’ hum­ble ori­gins, when Cop­pola was a young, untested di­rec­tor, Pa­cino was an un­known the­atre ac­tor who the studio, Paramount, was loathe to cast, and few thought the source ma­te­rial Mario Puzo’s best­seller - was the stuff of great cin­ema. Even Cop­pola, him­self. “I was dis­ap­pointed in the book when I first read it be­cause it’s very long,” said Cop­pola, who called Puzo’s book “a bit of a pot­boiler.”

“Much of the book - about a third - is about Lucy Mancini’s anatomy,” he said.

Cop­pola’s bat­tles over cast­ing Pa­cino as Michael Cor­leone have long been Hol­ly­wood leg­end. To help con­vince the wary studio, Pa­cino said he did more screen tests - in­clud­ing af­ter he ac­tu­ally got the part - than he could re­mem­ber. Pa­cino even sug­gested Cop­pola shouldn’t fight so hard for him, telling him, “It’s OK. We’ll work again. There are other things to do.”

But Cop­pola was en­am­oured with Pa­cino. Af­ter meet­ing him in San Fran­cisco, he couldn’t shake the im­age of Pa­cino as Cor­leone. “I just saw his face,” said Cop­pola. “Ev­ery­where we went, all the girls lit up for Al, for some rea­son.”

Still, Pa­cino was skep­ti­cal. “I thought, ‘Gee, it’s not a re­ally good role,” said the now 77-year-old ac­tor of the part that earned him two Os­car nods and made him a movie star. “Sonny is the part I can play,” he said, re­fer­ring to the hot-headed Sonny Cor­leone, played by Caan. (De Niro, who ended up play­ing young Don Vito Cor­leone in Part II, also au­di­tioned for the part of Sonny.)

When the shoot got off to a rocky start, Pa­cino lost his al­ready shaky faith. “It’s over,” he re­mem­bered think­ing. “This is the worst film ever made!”

But Pa­cino said he was straight­ened out af­ter a pep talk from Cop­pola, who showed him early footage of his per­for­mance and told the strug­gling Pa­cino “to get your chops to­gether.”

There were many such sto­ries shared Satur­day. All mar­veled at the cat, roam­ing nearby, that was thrust into one scene where it calmly bur­rowed in Brando’s lap. Af­ter the lengthy wed­ding scene, Pa­cino said, he and Keaton “got so loaded, we were on the floor.” Dur­ing the same scene, Du­vall said, “We were all moon­ing each other and Brando took it very se­ri­ously.”

Brando, of course, wasn’t the only one miss­ing Satur­day. John Cazale (Fredo) was spo­ken of fre­quently, as was cin­e­matog­ra­pher Gor­don Wil­lis.

The event was mod­er­ated by Tay­lor Hack­ford and live streamed on Face­book. The con­ver­sa­tion some­times got bogged down and some on the panel hardly spoke, as many watch­ing grum­bled. De Niro said lit­tle un­til nearly an hour in.

But if it was an im­per­fect evening, it only high­lighted the al­most in­hu­mane per­fec­tion of the movies Cop­pola et al pro­duced. Hav­ing re­cently watched the films for the first time in decades, Keaton could hardly con­tain her amaze­ment.

“Ev­ery choice you made was so au­then­ti­cally bril­liant,” she ex­claimed to Cop­pola. “It’s so un­usual!”

With time run­ning out, Cop­pola tried to take ques­tions from the au­di­ence, ask­ing for the house lights to be raised and urg­ing au­di­ence mem­bers to holler out. But af­ter a few ques­tions, a voice an­nounced over the speak­ers that the night was over and “The God­fa­ther” got the hook.

Cop­pola and the group gath­ered to­gether on stage to em­brace each other while the crowd, ea­ger for more, took pic­tures of the leg­endary “God­fa­ther” team, draped arm in arm.


In this May 22, 2016 file photo, di­rec­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola poses for pho­tog­ra­phers as he ar­rives for the pre­miere of Verdi’s “La Travi­ata’’ at the Rome Opera House, in Rome. Cop­pola and the cast of “The God­fa­ther” re­united for one evening and a dou­ble fea­ture Satur­day at Ra­dio City Mu­sic Hall to cel­e­brate the film’s 45th an­niver­sary.

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