The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone
From Apocalypse Now Redux to The Cotton Club Encore, Francis Coppola has never been reluctant to rework previous directing efforts, so it was likely inevitable that he would revisit The Godfather Part III. While Godfather III was a respectable hit by normal standards – conceptually bold, rich in visual and emotional textures and literary depth, and a financial hit with seven Academy Award nominations – the fact was that it wasn't a masterpiece like its predecessor, the film had one continuing reputation as a disappointment, and Coppola was always dissatisfied with the way it was brought to completion to meet a deadline for publicizing the holidays. Now the director has reconfigured the image as The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, and the new edition (available on both Blu-ray and digital platforms) clarifies and intensifies what has always been impressive about the film, and minimizes some of these controversial aspects. The Godfather Coda is not as extensive a revision as Coppola's various revisions of Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club or The Outsiders. Instead of introducing huge new chunks of previously unseen footage, as in these films, Coppola merely tightened the release version and mixed up the material to make slight accent shifts. However, if the changes are minor, their effects are not. By postponing a scene that originally appeared an hour after the start of the film to the opening and shaving a few frames away from the closing, Coppola changes both the personal saga of Michael Corleone and the history of political intrigues involving international finance and the Catholic Church are involved significantly. The new cut also shows how very simple optimizations can go a long way in solving big problems. At the beginning of the film, Coppola adds a serpentine line of dialogue to pass on his daughter Sofia's awkward demeanor as an intentional discomfort, and while the performance still seems a little lacking compared to the more elaborate work of her co-stars, it's no longer the embarrassing ones Critics it was in 1990.
At the time of The Godfather Part III's release, the overly malicious attacks on the younger Coppola's performance reflected one of the main themes of the film, which is the punishment of a father's sins imposed on his child and it is easy to see other aspects of Coppolas own to recognize story in Michael Corleones. Coppola has always been a director whom certain factions often inexplicably wanted to defeat. He was upset in the press about the financial excesses of the Apocalypse. At a time when many far less interesting and adventurous films (Star Trek, Moonraker, Raise the Titanic) cost about the same amount or more, he was ridiculed a few years later for trying to change the way where films were made, although a decade later virtually every innovation (digital editing, pre-visualization, etc.) had been adopted by the entire industry. By the time of Godfather III, a film he made to pay off debt, he had been largely dejected, and when the press smelled blood in the water after Coppola occupied his daughter, they pounced on Coppola as ruthlessly as Michael's enemies in the movie. As so often, however, time has confirmed Coppola. Whichever version of The Godfather Part III you prefer, in both iterations it's a monumental synthesis of popular entertainment and profound self-reflection. Just as he did in the first godfather when George Lucas convinced him to run it for the money, in Godfather III / Coda Coppola Coppola bends the requirements of a commercial contract towards his own complex and personal goals. If the Michael Corleone of The Godfather I and II was the empire-building Coppola of the 1970s and early 80s in his ambition and his accumulation of power, then the Michael Corleone of Coda Coppola is after the failure of his utopian American zoetrope dream and the tragic death of his beloved son – a man whose priorities and drives have been drastically changed by all that aging gives and takes away. The fusion of protagonist and filmmaker makes Coda a majestic, defiant, heartbreaking experience that culminates in an unexpected and poignant new closing shot.
If you're looking for something a little easier than a 157-minute meditation on mortality and regret, I recommend Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray of the 1981 comedy Continental Divide. The 1981 screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, who starred in the same Year he also wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and made his directorial debut with Body Heat. Continental Divide is a warm, snappy riff about Howard Hawks and Frank Capra with John Belushi and Blair Brown as inappropriate lovers. Belushi is a Chicago columnist who travels on assignment to the Rocky Mountains and falls in love with Brown, an ornithologist who lives in a hut and devotes her life to studying bald eagles. While the course of their relationship from hostility to reluctant respect for romance is predictable, the variations on the formula Kasdan's script cleverly uses are unique and often funny. Just as Body Heat plays both a commentary on film noir and a contemporary reinvention, Continental Divide takes the standard opposites of romantic comedies like Bringing Up Baby and It Happened One Night and breathes new life into them, with Kasdan incorporating the traditions and elements that he finds useful and understands others. There is clever role reversal and funny twists and turns in the dichotomy between town and country and a nifty romance for adults that really creeps up on the viewer – up to the climax, the actors, Kasdan and director Michael Apted have completely succeeded in bringing two people to the audience really wants to see them end up together, but puts them in a situation where it is impossible. That tension leads to a moving, fun, and deeply satisfying finale to a film full of treasure, from John Bailey's vivid photography to a gallery of colorful side appearances by Allen Goorwitz, Carlin Glynn, and Val Avery. Bailey's cinematography is particularly effective in terms of vitality and vibrant use of color. Chicago and Wyoming are each presented with dynamism and beauty in a way that makes it clear why Belushi could never leave town and Brown could never leave the mountains. The cinema's new CD features excellent audio commentary from film historians Daniel Kremer and Nat Segaloff, who convey a wealth of fascinating knowledge about the image's production history and contextualize it in Belushi's all-too-short career.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.