Monday, February 21, 2011

Motion Studies: Across the Tenements

(Robert DeNiro in The Godfather part II/Paramount Pictures)

          The Godfather films are the stylistic apex of a director who had been dead more than twenty years before they were made. D.W Griffith created films with a static camera, characters entering and exiting the tableaus, if they weren’t bursting out of the frames, the camera only moving when people moved. He was the first filmmaker to utilize intercutting in a bombastic form, demanding that his parallel narratives be seen and believed. He moved his camera alongside klansmen on dust-kicking horses and exotic performers in ancient Babylon; he set it steady on a rich businessman drowning in a waterfall of wheat.
            The Godfather films, too, were crafted from a static camera trained on tableaus of characters, colors, objects, and people overflowing from the screen, and a moving camera when someone was on the go. Francis Ford Coppola intercut with tension and  frenzy. Yet the films also had the moral beckoning of Griffith, which—unlike Griffith’s films—was kept at a cool distance.
           Watch, then, as the camera races with Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) across the tenement rooftops of Little Italy, at a crouch. A street fair is taking place below. Watch the cut to Don Fanucci (Gaston Mosich) as he swivels his plump, tuxedoed body away from a display of knights in golden armor, and makes his way back to his apartment. Vito has a pistol in his hand; he leaps down a short stretch of wall, finds the back door of Fanucci’s home, and lets himself in. He wraps his pistol in a white towel; as white as Fanucci’s suit. Fanucci waves to admirers and acts merry; he walks in the door. Vito hides in the darkness of Fanucci’s living room, glancing down the stairs for a moment. Fanucci makes his way up the stairs and opens his front door. Vito steps out of the shadows pointing the toweled gun at his head. Fanucci asks, bewildered, what he’s got there. Vito fires, just as the crowd erupts in applause and fireworks go off. Another shot; the towel blazes with flames in front of Vito’s face; he rips it off. He shoots the dead and bloodied Fanucci in the mouth for good measure. Vito gets out of the building, disassembles the gun, throws the pieces down a chimney and runs back to his family on the stoop of his home. Now watch as he tells his baby boy, in the stasis of Griffith and the moral irony of Coppola, that he loves him very much.