Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Godfather - SCAN Article

Living in a Cave - The Godfather

There are classic quotes that everyone knows: "Here's Johnny", "I'll never let go, Jack", "Bring on the wall"... but a lot of the time, I find myself quoting things without having actually seen the source material. The Godfather (1972) is one of the most quoted films in history, with classic lines like "My father made him an offer he couldn't refuse" and even though for years I'd been telling everyone that it was one of my favourite films, I'd never actually got around to watching it. (I bet I'm not the only one...)

People would ask me, "Do you like the bit when Marlon Brando does that thing?", "Oh, that's definitely one of the best bits," I'd reply, "in fact it's just a really good film in general." Then I'd go quiet and hope there weren't going to be any follow-up questions that might catch me out.

So, last week, after only thirty-eight years since it was released, I sat down to watch the film for the first time. There were a couple of technical hitches that might have affected my viewing pleasure; I'd fiddled with the subtitles (I do that a lot, I find that a lot of actors mumble far too much) and somehow managed to turn them off entirely, even for the painfully prolonged scenes in which only Italian is spoken. It turns out that these parts in Italian are pretty crucial, so I watched baffled as seemingly key plot points flew past, and I began to think that Francis Ford Coppola might have gone a bit potty while he was filming. It was only later on that I discovered it wasn't some kind of avant-garde filmmaking technique, and it was actually just thanks to me not being able to work my own DVD player. Without subtitles or at least a basic grasp of Italian, the film is particularly disappointing; but with subtitles, it's really rather good.

Marlon Brando gives a cult-classic performance as the ageing head of the Corleone crime family, his chin jutting out majestically from the rest of his body, giving his voice the raspy, locked -jaw effect of someone with a sore throat, trapped in a neck-brace. I can't help thinking that if the Corleone family were as close as they made out, they'd at least offer their old Pa some warm Ribena or something. But then again, they're not particularly close, and the film shows the struggles faced when running a Mafia crime family; the ups, the downs, the relationships and the attempted murders. What makes it so much fun is seeing a young Al Pacino turn from an innocent passive member of the family, into a killer, and ultimately, head of the Corleones.

The fact that The Godfather is nearly four decades old doesn't make it any less fun; the setting is authentic, the violence bloody and the cast are surprisingly recognisable, and even though I spent the first two hours telling myself that it definitely wasn't Al Pacino in the lead role, it turns out it was, and he's joined by Brando, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton. Good cast, good dialogue, good film. And at least I've seen it now, so I can quote with confidence. (Except the Italian bits; babada-boopie?)

The Wire - Article

My 200th post, and the first of my articles for Lancaster Uni's newspaper, SCAN.

Living in a Cave - The Wire

Over the next few issues, I’m going to introduce you to some examples of culture that I probably should have stumbled across sooner; things everyone else seemed to know about except me. I’ll be looking at things like The Sopranos, The Godfather, The Wire, Dr Dre, and, if we’ve got time, girls.

First off, I don’t really live in a cave, that’s just a metaphor, which I’m hoping you got. I actually live in a nice room in Old Grizedale, with lovely views of the sea, and where you only really notice the drilling if you’re lazy enough to want to sleep in after 8am. With all that daytime on my hands, you’d think I’d have been able to catch up on The Wire a little sooner than I did, but hey, I’m an incredibly busy philosophy student. I’ve been hearing about The Wire for a while, but I stubbornly kept myself to the old classics, like Diagnosis Murder and Time Team. On arriving into Third Year however, I discovered that I had so much free time, that I could finally dip into the series, films and music I'd spent so long forgetting to watch.

After watching the first few episodes of The Wire, I came to the conclusion that there’s no shame in turning on the subtitles. Even with the subtitles, I struggled sometimes to understand quite what was going on, but the plot is so engrossing that it carries you along, even if you’re not entirely sure what's actually going on. Most of the language is deliciously fruity, and the swearing is always horrifyingly inventive, and strong enough to offend even the most liberal of mothers; like mine who had a bit of a shock when she sat down to watch what she thought was her Miss Marple DVD.

The Wire shows both sides of Baltimore’s war on drugs, and on paper, isn’t far away from any other police drama out there. You see the life of drug barons, of the kids that work for them; but then you see things from the side of the police squad created to take them down. Each season focusses on a different institution of the city; the police department, the dockyards, a city newspaper, a public school, and City Hall, where the Baltimore politicians squelch around their offices, almost dripping with sleaze. What I found that The Wire does so well, is show how the rich professionals in the city are just as, and sometimes more, ruthless than the drug-slinging kids that stand out on the corner; the only difference is that one side claims to have a higher moral standing.

Since The Wire ended after its fifth season, now is the perfect opportunity to do what I did; buy all of the boxsets, lock your bedroom door, close the curtains, put the subtitles on, and sink into the corrupt world of the Baltimore drug economy. Give it a chance, and you'll find yourself love with villains, like Omar Little, and Stringer Bell, and when it's over, you may feel a significant sense of loss. It took me about three weeks to watch the whole lot, and when I finally emerged, pale and malnourished, I still managed to gangster lean down the flat corridor and call my flatmates c*** s****** mother******s.