On March 24, 1972, Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece hit theaters. Now, almost exactly 49 years later, “The Godfather” still holds its place as the pinnacle of cinema. As we crawl our way closer and closer to the 50th anniversary, check out the photo above, which shows Coppola directing behind-the-scenes.
Everybody has written about this film so much that I don’t feel I have much to add. It’s that good. Every time I watch it I am blown away once again by how perfect every beat is laid out. How complex and beautifully developed each character is, and how their arcs never feels rushed. But, when talking about “The Godfather,” I can’t only mention story and acting, for it was also a great technical achievement in its own right.
Starting with the lighting. Gordon Willis did the lights, and he even earned the title “Prince of Darkness.” His use of darkness was revolutionary. Not that he invented darkness, but how he elegantly brought it to color film. Without him, studios today would not have been confident enough to utilize shadows in such intense ways. At the time, Paramount was concerned the film was too dark.
Some may argue they have gone too far—did you see the “Game of Thrones” battle of Winterfell? No, neither did I—but it was Willis who laid the groundwork. Check out this video essay about how revolutionary the film’s lighting was.
And then there’s the score. Its soundtrack feels relatively simple. It’s three themes that get repeated for most of the movie, with a couple of other pieces cropping up at different, unique moments. It’s also the first moment of the movie. Before we see any people, we hear the movie beginning. Much of Nino Rota’s score feels quite care-free and maybe even cheerful. But in the context of the film, it’s almost creepy. Check out the famous “Love Theme” below.
There’s so much more that could be said about this nearly perfect film. But, 49 years later, all we need to know is that modern cinema is forever indebted to how far “The Godfather” moved the artform forward. From the lighting, music, acting, storytelling, cinematography, you name it, “The Godfather” changed it.
“The Godfather” deserves all the praise it gets.