The big hoopla this weekend is that HBO is airing the so-called GODFATHER EPIC, a 7-hour version of the first two Coppola classics that is loaded with extra scenes (thankfully they have decided to avoid the final picture, most remembered for Sofia Coppola impersonating a bowl of spaghetti while getting into some freaky incest with her bastard cousin). Of course, anyone in the know should understand that this is not new territory. In fact, it speaks to how bad things are at HBO when they are scraping the bottom of the barrel and re-airing things that ran on network television back in 1977.
That’s right, this is actually quite an old tatarella.
Back in that once upon a time of the late 70’s, before the VCR made home videos of theatrical films the norm, the world was a darker place. Not only was it impossible for your toddler to watch their favorite Disney film 9,000 times per week, there were three television networks and PBS, which tended to actually be the most entertaining channel of all because they ran footage of a British mental asylum titled Monty Python‘s Flying Circus. In such a universe, people listened to music on vinyl and 8-tracks while best-selling books had television advertisements. “Those were the days!”
For some reason probably due to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola had decided to throw tons of money into a fiery pit of madness that he called Apocalypse “My film isn’t about Vietnam, it IS Vietnam” Now, the folks at American Zoetrope needed cash quick. Little Georgie Lucas had just hit the jackpot with his silly little space movie about gay robots but not even a loan from that nerd was going to save the day.
So in a bout of absolute brilliance, he went to NBC with a 2-for-1 deal. He said they could have the broadcast rights for the two GODFATHER films and re-cut them into a chronological super-film to broadcast over four evenings, calling it “A Novel for Television.” And, to make up for the cuts made by the censors, he threw in a pile of cut footage. Over the years, as Coppola has proceeded to not produce anything watchable, he has gone back to this routine several times, releasing on video cassettes of the Corleone epic refashioned and re-spliced to appease the absolutists who must see every frame he ever shot for these movies.
But there are two things at play that no one dares mention: this is a complete money grab at the expense of good taste and you must be absolutely bonkers to actually want to sit for 7 hours to see all this. Honestly, is there anyone stupid enough to sit on their behind for 7 hours of anything? Baseball games don’t last that long! Women have given birth in shorter lengths of time! I have been to weddings and funerals that had a quicker pace, and I say that as an Italian whose patriarchal grandmother’s maiden name was DePasquale (no relation)! Don’t people who are thinking of watching this have lives?
Of course, the other problem I have is that this whole thing is the storytelling equivalent of a decapitated horse’s head.
Let’s begin with the idea that you should rip apart GODFATHER II, which won Best Picture for a reason. Coppola and Mario Puzo did something that was truly groundbreaking with that film, they told two totally different stories divided by 50 years and an entire language! You could almost call it dialectical (I suspect Coppola is more of a Lefty than he lets on) with what they did, creating a thesis of the rising Corleone crime family under a young Vito (played by an Italian-language only DeNiro) juxtaposed with the anti-thesis of that family’s fall under a morally-decrepit Michael (played by Pacino). The film itself as a whole is a synthesis. But by splitting them up, you get an oddly-paced, over-long soap opera.
Of course, the original film is a more traditional picture. It is tightly edited and paced so that its 3 hours pass quickly. By re-inserting scenes that were left on the cutting room floor, the entire thing is thrown off kilter. Why bother? Is it absolutely necessary to listen to every burp and fart Luca Brasi makes before he meets his fate? Before there were the Star Wars Special Editions, there was The Godfather Epic.
No thanks. Instead, I prefer my own creatively-edited fun.