"The rhymes I get plenty. Degrees 120." - Erykah Badu, Love of My Life Worldwide (Featuring Queen Latifah, Angie Stone & Bahamadia)
I'm maybe the last person my age born in America to see The Godfather and I mean like never seen a bit of it. Maybe a random shot or two from the wedding. Maybe a short clip of Marlon Brando doing his thing but other than that? Nada. Sure, I know the names of the characters and I know it is one of the best films ever made and all that but, yeah, I'd never watched it. I didn't know the key plot points. Didn't know much of anything. How I escaped into that little pop culture bubble, I have no idea.
I finally watched it last night. Probably not the best movie to start watching at 10:30 at night considering it is 8 years long but, yeah, it was pretty damn good. It is masterful film work. I was so impressed by one shot -- its an assasination in a car and the camera stays on the hood of the vehicle while the victim kicks the window out, his shoes going limp literally right in front of our eyes -- that I immediately rewound it and watched it again. Why don't I see that kind of shot in films these days? Did it become a popular camera trick in the 70s? I need to pay more attention. For me, the most successful aspect of the film is how real the characters and the world feel. I felt like I was peeking in on something I shouldn't.
There was an article a few years ago that I thought was on Slate but that I now can't find that tried to figure out why out of all the gangster flicks out there does Scarface hold sway over hip-hop. The writer was most curious about why The Godfather has more wide acclaim while Scarface posters adorned the walls of 95% of the rap homes that made it on Cribs. You would think that the focus on family, the idea of keeping things business and never personal, the inability to escape "the game" and other aspects might speak metaphorically to cats who rhyme obsessively about the hoods they love so much, the cutthroat necessities of their hustle and their internal desires to escape that life.
Yeah, no. And I don't get it.
Well, that's not true. I get how alluring Tony Montana's "unfuckwittable-ness" is. I get that he's getting by on all bravado and bluster and steely street gravitas and he takes that and makes himself a big time player in the game.
In the process, though, he flames out. He drugs out. He loses everyone he loves. He dies young and in a hale of bullets. He's Sonny Corleone with a slightly longer shelf-life. He's Christopher Moltisanti. He's Nino Brown.
I finished The Godfather admiring Michael Corleone. His razor sharp planning and decision making. His desire to keep his family together and to do what's right by at least some code of ethics. His real attempt to escape "The Game."
But maybe it doesn't have to do with the protagonists but with the level of violence. In Hokum, Paul Beatty argues that cruelty is almost always funny with a young black audience.
He remarks about seeing Coffy at the Lido in the 70s where you'd likely find every "Crip-in-Training":
The scene where pimp/dope pusher King George gets his comeuppance wasn't played for laughs, but when his mutton-chopped, white-turtlenecked, suit - that - looks - like - it - was - knit - from -a Mondrian - painting - wearing ass gets tied to the rear bumper of a Ford Fairlane and is lynched by being dragged through the winding streets of Holmby Hills at sixty miles an hour, hitting every eucalyptus tree, curb, and garbage can along the way, everyone but me cracked up so hard I couldn't hear the screech of the tires or the white henchman's own wicked cackle. But by the [end of the scene] I found myself rolling in the aisle...That was one of the blackest nights of my life.
Now think about the shower and the chainsaw in Scarface and Hector saying "Now the leg, huh?"
If you can't hear a hundred blunted brothas cracking the fuck up in your head right now, you just haven't been paying attention.
The Godfather has none of those moments of "vengeful liberation" and maybe that is what I find so compelling. I can't wait for part two to come in the mail.
But don't get it twisted, I will be watching parts of Scarface every time it shows up on USA or Encore just like I do with Casino and Goodfellas and Carlito's Way and the woefully underappreciated Donnie Brasco.
Negroes love Italians.