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The Godfather Part II - The Coppola Restoration
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The sequel to The Godfather shows us the world of Don Vito Corleone before and after the story in the original film. Pacino is his son Michael, who struggles to bring the family into the modern age. In the film's extended flashback sequences, DeNiro is the young Vito as he gains power in the New York City Mafia.
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Back in 1973 grandmother heard from a friend that the producers of the Godfather Part II were advertising in the Italian neighborhoods for extras, and given that she was a full blooded 66 year old Sicilian and up for a fun time with a friend, she managed to get cast as a non-speaking extra in the film. I remember that she spent several weeks going way downtown to the street in lower Manhattan where they had set up their very elaborate and true-to-period street scene circa 1915, complete with pushcarts. It's a scene that would have been familiar to her from her youth, as she and her mother used to shop on the Lower East Side all the time.
Grandma had a great time during the filming, but she complained about not being able to wear makeup as the production staff said that it would not look authentic enough for the time and place. One evening, toward the end of filming, my parents, (who worked in Manhattan at the time) went to have dinner with her on the set. The extras were lined up to get food from an outdoor food truck that was specially arranged for them, from which my father said he had the best sausage and pepper sandwich he ever had and probably ever will have (he is now 85). My only regret is that I somehow was unable to come with them that day, and because of that I have been kicking myself for 40 years ever since. It would have involved getting on the subway and meeting them there as we lived in the Bronx. If I knew then what I know now about what a huge classic this film was going to become in the future, I definitely would have made that trip!
For years, my grandmother downplayed her role in the film (probably because she was hung up on being on the screen without makeup, LOL). She never told me that her face is as large as life right behind Vito and Genco in the vaudeville theater scene where "Peppino" laments leaving Naples and his mamma for a "no good tramp". I didn't see the film until years later on VHS on a 20 inch tube TV so I never noticed her. Then one day 7 or 8 years ago I was flipping channels and found myself watching the theater scene. Of course, by then I had a much larger tube TV and I was able to see my grandmother's unmistakable face with no problem. Because the dialog went on for a while I kept seeing her face again and again. There was a moment of recognition where I could not believe my eyes - There she was, immortalized forever in one of the most classic films of the 20th century! Of course, by then my grandma had been dead for 20 years.
I don't know why, but it's taken me until now to actually own a copy of the film, but I'm actually glad I waited. This restoration is so good that grandma is larger and crisper than I have ever seen her. I compared this version with my friend's older, non-restored DVD, and this one is far superior, especially on a HDTV. If I ever get a blu-ray player I will definitely get that version as I am all about seeing better quality versions of this film.
I was never into the gangster movie genre. I appreciated the Sopranos from a distance but was never able to really get into it. Same thing with the Godfather trilogy. I suppose that because I am half Sicilian it somehow bothers me that Sicilians are always identified with organized crime and boneheaded "tough guys", when most Sicilians are not like that at all nor have anything to do with organized crime. That said, after so many years I am finally appreciating the Godfather films for the masterpieces that they are, and as period pieces depicting another time and place. I suppose being a teenager when they came out, I was not ready for them yet. Now that I am, I am totally amazed at their authenticity and greatness as works of cinematic art. I am proud that my grandmother is "immortalized on the silver screen". She was a beauty when she was young and in my mind and heart still beautiful in this movie with or without makeup. It's a shame that I never knew just how prominently her face appeared in the film until many years after her death. Thanks to the "miracle of modern technology", I am able to appreciate it now for the rest of my life.
got his name and came to this country and became the Godfather
The film wonderfully juxtaposes the Corleone family in more or less the modern age, circa 1965, against the early immigrant Vito Corleone as he flees the local mafia boss in Corleone, Sicily as a child, and seeks his fortune in early 20th Century New York City. The Italian ghetto of New York, filled with hopeful immigrants, is incredibly well done, and the viewer feels transported to this brawling, bustling, and formative era of American history. This is a great film.
Like The Godfather, although the protagonists, most of whom are criminals, are portrayed with some sympathy, this film shows the mafia and organized crime to be ultimately futile and self-destructive institutions in no way worthy of emulation or aspiration. This adds to, rather than detracts from, what is a truly great story of the American immigrant and social experience.
The DVD features excellent sound and brilliant colors, and constitutes a very good value. Any film afficianado will want to own this one.