Martin Scorsese on his favorite Francis Ford Coppola movie

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This article originally appeared in the June 1996 issue of Esquire. You can find every Esquire story ever published at Classic Esquire. Already a member? Upgrade to All access.

Martin Scorsese: My Favorite Coppola Film

There are certain films in the history of cinema that seem to capture the collective imagination of the whole world. They become milestones, reference points for all other work before and after. Their virtues lie in masterful storytelling as well as the epic scale of their subject matter. the Godfather saga, in its three parts, is one such creation, a monumental work that has haunted me for years. Constructed like a symphony and directed by a master like a great conductor directs his orchestra, it reaches its highest peaks of lyricism, for me, in The Godfather, part II—my favorite of the Francis Ford Coppola pictures.

I admire the ambition of the project, its Shakespearean scale, its tragic melancholy in its portrayal of the dissolution of the American dream. I admire its use of parallel editing to accentuate the paradoxes of historical analysis, Gordon Willis’s dark-toned photography, the performances of the actors, the accuracy of its period reconstruction. It was especially the film within the film, the story of young Vito Corleone and his journey from Sicily to the Lower East Side, that touched me in a deep and personal way.

Perhaps I saw my grandparents a little on this trip; maybe I recognized my old neighborhood; perhaps I shared the sadness of the dream turning into a nightmare, of the sight of the old patriarchal family unit trying to survive its own destruction from within. Maybe all of this and more – the rituals, the parties, the music, the supporting characters – struck a chord with me.

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Robert Duvall and Michael V. Gazzo in The Godfather Part II

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His use of language is extraordinary. The Sicilian dialect becomes more than a secret code for initiates; it is an umbilical cord connected to an archaic society which carries its ancient rules to the New World. By defining ourselves and them, we guarantee our survival.

This is why I find Frank Pentangeli – the character played by Michael V. Gazzo – so special in The Godfather, part II. His way of behaving, his tone, his language reveal someone old, someone who knows the Old World and who is sadly witnessing its evolution. No one knows how to play the tarantella anymore, he complains. His brother’s mere presence at congressional hearings is enough for him to recant as a government witness. It is the Old World, with its ancient and immutable values, which has suddenly reappeared to remind him of an atavistic code of honor.

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Robert DeNiro in The Godfather Part II

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In The Godfather, part II, we are also witnessing a different world from the old crowded neighborhood. Michael Corleone rules his empire from his fortress-like Lake Tahoe estate. He takes care of Cuba and Las Vegas of Batista. He has come a long way. His accumulation of wealth and power has cost him all human ties: wife, children, brother, associates. In fact, he lost his family, his primary reason for accumulating wealth and power to begin with. Unlike the Hollywood movie gangsters of the 1930s, he doesn’t die but lives, which seems like an even greater punishment.


Francis Ford Coppola: My Favorite Scorsese Movie

I have several favorite Martin Scorsese movies, actually – I love them average streets, The king of comedy, Who’s knocking at my door?-but angry bull stands as his towering achievement. I think it’s in this film that he orchestrates all the elements – the design, the acting, the visuals, the style – into something that tells a particular story (of Jake LaMotta) and goes beyond it. Ultimately, the purpose of art is to illuminate our times and the things that are important to us, and angry bull does it, seemingly effortlessly, in a way few films do, let alone. The good life and 8 1/2 have those kind of proportions, and so does angry bull. Every performance in it is excellent due to Marty’s use of improvisation within a dramatic structure, in which on the one hand he lets the actors feel the freedom of life, so they can say what they want. they want, but on the other hand it controls them so that everything they say and contribute to the whole film. It has spectacular visuals, wonderful use of music and rhythm, beautiful editing, and then those huge universal human themes.

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Robert De Niro and Cathy Moriarty in angry bull

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All of us who make films in this country are trying to figure out how to swim with the tides of being a viable director while dealing with personal feelings in our work. Being a director is a bit like being Christo, the artist: part of his art is in the wrapped building, but another part is in everything he had to go through to make it happen. Even after angry bull, no one said to Marty, “Hey, here’s the money to make the movies you’re passionate about.” If he was born into a family that had $500 million, he could make a movie at that level every year.

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