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kottke.org posts about The Godfather

The stories behind the 100 most iconic props in movie history

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2017

Movie Props

Movie Props

Thrillist has a great feature on 100 of the best props in movie history and how the directors, production designers, and artists found, chose, designed, bought, borrowed, or stole them to be a part of their films. About the plastic bag from American Beauty:

“It was a very low-budget movie. A tiny budget, and I had a tiny portion of the tiny budget. When I talked to Sam [Mendes, director] about the shopping bag, he was very specific about it not having markings on it. No store name, no ‘thank you, have a nice day’ — he wanted a plain, white plastic bag.

“Back in 1998, it was the early days for internet shopping. Now I do most of my prop shopping online, but back then it was yellow pages and finding things. I made calls to various manufacturers but the only way I could get one unmarked plastic bag was to buy 5,000 unmarked plastic bags. Even though it didn’t seem like a lot at the time, it was still in the range of $500. Which with my $17,000 budget or about that, I couldn’t afford it.

“The bag was always going to be filmed separately. Sam was going to take the video camera [that Wes Bentley used] and go out with the special effects guys with lawn blowers. It wasn’t slotted in the schedule. So I started my prep and I said, I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. I’ll figure the bag out later. Towards the end of my prep, my assistant and I were in downtown LA and we’re buying all sorts of stuff from all sorts of stores for all the characters. We came back to my house, and we’re unloading my car, and we’re piling all these bags on to the table, and right in the middle of the pile, is this white plastic bag with no markings. And I’m like, THAT’S THE BAG. We didn’t know where it came from — we’d been to 55 different places. The receipts just say ‘item number whatever.’ I have no idea where that bag came from, but it came to me. It came from the prop gods who knew I’d never find one otherwise.”

The cup of water in Jurassic Park:

“I was at work and Steven [Spielberg] calls into the office. He goes, ‘I’m in the car, I’m playing Earth, Wind & Fire, and my mirror is shaking. That’s what we need to do. I want to shake the mirror and I want to do something with the water.’ The mirror shaking was really very easy — put a little vibrating motor in it that shook it. The water was a another story. It was very difficult thing to do. You couldn’t do it. I had everyone working on it. Finally, messing around with a guitar one night, I set a glass and started playing notes on a guitar and got to a right frequency, a right note, and it did exactly what I wanted it to do.”

Oh, and the red stapler from Office Space!

“I wanted the stapler to stand out in the cubicle and the color scheme in the cubicles was sort of gray and blue-green, so I had them make it red. It was just a regular off-the-shelf Swingline stapler. They didn’t make them in red back then, so I had them paint it red and then put the Swingline logo on the side.

“Since Swingline didn’t make one back then, people were calling them trying to order red staplers. Then people started making red Swinglines and selling them on Ebay and making lots of money, so Swingline finally decided to start making red staplers.

“I have the burnt one from the last scene. Stephen Root has one that was in his cubicle. There were three total that we made. I don’t know where the third one is.”

Ahhh, I could read these all day. Wait, the horse head in that scene in The Godfather was real?!

“John Marley, the guy who played the movie producer, was a pain in the ass because he was a complainer every time he was on screen. Now, we go to shoot the famous scene. We’re shooting out on Long Island on a winter day, which is cold, dark, and rainy outside. We’re down at an elegant old stone mansion, and John is wearing his silk coat and his pajamas, standing by the bed. Now, four grips walk in carrying this huge metal case. He has no idea what the hell’s inside. I’m not exaggerating — it was probably about 6 to 8-ft square with the latches on each corner. He stands by the bed, and they lower this thing on the floor. They take off the four latches, and he almost faints. He sees this fucking horse’s head with the tongue hanging out. Oh, Jesus Christ!

“The next thing we know, the head is on the bed, on the yellow sheets. So you know, the horse’s head was frozen with dry ice, so it was fucking cold. Francis figures, ‘This is my shot to get him.’ They put all the phony blood. John refuses to stretch his legs out. He’s got his legs pulled in so it doesn’t hit the horse’s head. Francis kept telling him to straighten out. His scream was blood-curdling. What you hear in the movie was not done later on. We were laughing at a certain point. We were fucking howling. He was freaking out. When that scene was over, he ran off the set, throwing the bloody shit on the floor. He was gone for the rest of the day.”

Ok, that’s enough, go read the whole thing already.

Coppola, Pacino, De Niro, Keaton & others reminisce about The Godfather I & II

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2017

For the 45th anniversary of The Godfather’s release in movie theaters, the Tribeca Film Festival gathered director Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Talia Shire for a back-to-back screening of The Godfather and The Godfather Part II followed by a panel discussion. Tomris Laffly highlighted some of the high points of the discussion.

“I found it a very emotional experience. I forgot a lot about the making of it,” said Francis Ford Coppola, who viewed the two films for the first time in many years. “This film could be made today, but it wouldn’t get a go ahead from a studio. The first film was made for about $6.5 million; the second was made for $11 or $12 million. They would never get a green light today,” he stated, briefly touching upon the dire state of the industry today. Diane Keaton, who said she watched the films on a computer quite recently, built on Coppola’s sentiments. “I hadn’t seen it in about 30 years. I couldn’t get over it,” she said. “It was so astonishing, Francis. It was so beautiful,” she continued. “And everybody is so great in it. Every choice you made was so authentically brilliant. I just kept crying, and that damn Talia. I am not kidding…. Everything was astonishing to me and I didn’t expect it.”

Every time I watch The Godfather, I’m struck by how much Pacino reminds me of Matthew Broderick in the first half of the movie. It’s gone by the end of the film and in every subsequent movie he made. Broderick, on the other hand, still seems very much the same, not so much the adult Ferris Bueller eventually became but more like a Ferris that never grew up at all.

Above, the original trailer for The Godfather.

Update: A video of the entire panel:

(via @nph)

The Godfather Epic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2016

This month, HBO is airing a special edition of The Godfather that presents scenes from the first two movies in chronological order with some deleted scenes mixed in for good measure. It’s more than 7 hours long. It’s not listed anywhere on HBO’s site, but supposedly it’ll run all month on HBO and their online and on-demand services.

The Godfather shooting locations

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2014

Great post by Nick Carr on Scouting New York comparing the movie locations in The Godfather to what they look like today.

Because the film is a period piece, The Godfather actually presents a fascinating record of what 1940s-era New York City locations still existed in the early-1970s. Sadly, many of them are now gone. What still remains? Let’s take a closer look.

Arrested Development = The Godfather!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2011

Basically, Arrested Development is a sitcom version of The Godfather. Michael = Michael, G.O.B. = Sonny, and Fredo = Buster.

Fredo Corleone is the second oldest son of Don Vito Corleone, but is unfit to run the family business. His stupidity, lack of confidence, and otherwise child-like behavior prevent him from being taken seriously by any member of the family. Despite his attempts at success, integration into the family usually comes to no avail. He is often humored by deciding family members (Michael), and given menial business tasks (i.e. casinos, whorehouses) for the family.

Buster Bluth is the youngest son of George, Sr., and is unfit to run the family business. His stupidity, lack of confidence, and otherwise child-like behavior prevent him from being taken seriously by any member of the family. Despite his attempts at success, integration into the family business usually comes to no avail. He is often humored by deciding family members (his mother), and given menial tasks (i.e. learning cartography) to distract him.

(via mlkshk, sorta)

Dinner with the mob

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2009

After that great piece about how The Godfather got made was published, Vanity Fair got a call from the daughter of a reputed mobster who wanted to tell the magazine about the time the cast of The Godfather came over to her house for supper and some cultural exchange.

The doorbell rang at seven p.m. at the family house in Fort Lee, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. “I opened the front door and there was Marlon Brando, James Caan, Morgana King [who played Don Corleone’s wife], Gianni Russo [who played Don Corleone’s son-in-law, Carlo], Al Ruddy [the film’s producer], and my uncle Al [Lettieri],” recalls Gio. “We all went downstairs into the family room, where the table was set and where we had the pool table and the bar.”

The making of The Godfather

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2009

A fascinating article from the March 2009 issue of Vanity Fair describes how The Godfather got made, even though the producers, the real-life Mafia, Frank Sinatra, and Paramount executives all fought against it.

The studio executives wanted Laurence Olivier, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Conte, Anthony Quinn, Carlo Ponti, or Danny Thomas to play Don Corleone. Anyone but Brando, who, at 47, was perceived as poison. His recent pictures had been flops, and he was overweight, depressed, and notorious for causing overruns and making outrageous demands. WILL NOT FINANCE BRANDO IN TITLE ROLE, the suits in New York cabled the filmmakers. DO NOT RESPOND. CASE CLOSED.

But Coppola fought hard for him, and finally the executives agreed to consider Brando on three conditions: he would have to work for no money up front (Coppola later got him $50,000); put up a bond for any overruns caused by him; and-most shocking of all-submit to a screen test. Wisely, Coppola didn’t call it that when he contacted Brando. Saying that he just wanted to shoot a little footage, he arrived at the actor’s home one morning with some props and a camera.

Brando emerged from his bedroom in a kimono, with his long blond hair in a ponytail. As Coppola watched through the camera lens, Brando began a startling transformation, which he had worked out earlier in front of a mirror. In Coppola’s words, “You see him roll up his hair in a bun and blacken it with shoe polish, talking all the time about what he’s doing. You see him rolling up Kleenex and stuffing it into his mouth. He’d decided that the Godfather had been shot in the throat at one time, so he starts to speak funny. Then he takes a jacket and rolls back the collar the way these Mafia guys do.” Brando explained, “It’s the face of a bulldog: mean-looking but warm underneath.”

Coppola took the test to Bluhdorn. “When he saw it was Brando, he backed away and said, ‘No! No!’” But then he watched Brando become another person and said, “That’s amazing.” Coppola recalls, “Once he was sold on the idea, all of the other executives went along.”

More on The Godfather restoration

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2008

Slate has more on the restored Godfather films I told you about last week.

Luckily, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a print of The Godfather that was in perfect condition. (This was the approved master print that Technicolor stored with the academy when the film was complete. It had never been shown in a theater.) So, when Harris & Co. did the digital color correction, they could use this print as a reference. They also worked side by side with Allen Daviau, a brilliant cinematographer who, in turn, consulted by phone with Willis himself. (Harris is a stickler for this sort of thing. When he restored Hitchcock’s Vertigo, he asked Jaguar to send him a color chip from the 1957 model of one of its cars — the same car that Kim Novak drove in the film — so that he could match the shade of green exactly.)

If you don’t want to buy/rent the films, Film Forum in New York is playing the restored films through next Tuesday with other theaters around the country to follow.

Gorgeous restored Godfather trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2008

The three Godfather films have been restored, remastered, retouched, unscratched, and cleaned for release on Blu-ray and DVD.

By all accounts, the original negatives of the first two films were so torn up and dirty that they could no longer be run through standard film laboratory printing equipment, and so the only option became a digital, rather than a photochemical, restoration.

The final product, which the studio is calling “The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration,” combines bits and pieces of film recovered from innumerable sources, scanned at high resolution and then retouched frame by frame to remove dirt and scratches. The color was brought back to its original values by comparing it with first-generation release prints and by extensive consultation with Gordon Willis, who shot all three films, and Allen Daviau, a cinematographer (“E.T.”) who is also a leading historian of photographic technology.

The article goes on to say that the Blu-ray version is like a “pristine 35-millimeter print projected in perfect focus” in your living room. Must get Blu-ray player. Amazon has the Blu-ray version for a whopping 50% off the retail price…it’s almost the same price as the DVD version.

Update: The author of the Times piece has two before-and-after stills from the first film on his blog. Wow.

Classic quote from Shaq comparing the three

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2006

Classic quote from Shaq comparing the three guards he’s played with to Vito Corleone’s sons in The Godfather. Penny = Fredo, Kobe = Sonny, and Dwyane Wade = Michael.

Brando’s annotated Godfather script fetches $312,800 at auction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2005

Brando’s annotated Godfather script fetches $312,800 at auction.