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The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

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Most of The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is slow moving and very character driven. The exception is noticed when the film portrays scenes of violence. As Peter Cowie explains, “the appalling abundance of blood, combined with the impression of relentless physical power sustaining each outrage, undermines our defenses as viewers. ” The scenes of violence ring through the film in stark contrast to the majority of Coppola’s 1972 release.

Specifically, during the scenes in which Luca and other members of the Corleone ‘family’ are murdered, very deliberate stylistic elements such as camera movement, camera angles, and mise en scene are used by Coppola to reinforce his attack on the viewer’s defenses, and to separate those scenes from the otherwise romantically depicted image of the gangster. Luca is inherently a part of the Corleone family by manner of association, and is fulfilling his duty as such when he meets his demise. “Have yourself, a merry little Christmas” is playing in the background as Luca is preparing his gun for the deed.

Seeing the gun is the first warning to the audience about what is about to come; the audience is presented with what is generally very cheerful music but Coppola introduces an element of danger nonetheless. The audience sees Luca’s feet until the camera tilts up to reveal an elegant hallway he must travel through to get to the family he is meeting with in order to kill; this is another similar set of contradicting ideas as the audience is presented both with beauty and some sort of looming danger.

He passes by the camera in the form of a dark shadow and turns into the room where the men are awaiting his arrival. For a brief instant before the camera location is moved into the room with the men the audience can see Luca through an art-covered window. Interestingly, the art on the window is in the form of fish, and it is the first indication that Luca is the one in danger, as he will eventually “swim with the fishes. ” The mise en scene also suggests an allusion to the film noir form of cinema, as the audience is an observer and is often forced to see the action with an obstructed view of what’s going on.

The camera joins Luca as he discusses the two families’ differences with the men; they greet Luca with an overwhelming sense of hospitality but the audience is clued into their potentially questionable motives via their wry smiles and hints of anxiousness. Coppola is very patient with the length of each shot, creating tension between the characters and within the audience members; each cut seems to come one frame too late for a scene of such impending doom. The close up of Luca’s hand on the counter, and of Bruno’s joining it initiates a surprise the audience that they were probably waiting for and subconsciously aware of.

There is a quick cut to the man pulling his arm back to gain force and another quick cut back to Luca’s hand being pierced and pinned to the countertop. “While Luca Brasi struggles in vain against the silk noose flying around his neck, Coppola’s camera gazes at his protruding eyes like some mesmorized onlooker. The absence of music, and the studied realism of the soundtrack … reinforce the vicious shock of the murder. ” It is a shock because the only reference to Brasi as being the one in danger (the fish) is extremely vague, and other hints at danger are juxtaposed with elements that suggest generally positive images.

At the conclusion of the scene the Christmas music resumes and subsequently frames the scene, completing it; Coppola gives the audience a chance to find their comfort zone again. They are not likely to succeed, however, because the shooting of Don Corleone immediately follows. The positively connoted music comes to a halt again to make way for more danger. Two men emerge at the market with pistols hidden in their pockets. They pick up speed and the audience is left with a feeling of doom after they are shown close ups of both the men’s feet as they run and their guns that are ready to be fired.

The shock of this scene is not in the surprise, but in the manner of how the violence is depicted. The men catch up to Mr. Corleone and the camera assumes an overhead position; flames burst from the pistols as the men unmercifully fire at the helpless old man. Throughout the entire film up to this point Mr. Corleone is shown as a relatively respectful man, and even refused to endorse the trafficking of drugs in his territory. He lives a grandiose life of large parties and infinite power, but here he is reduced to a pile of bloodied clothes on the side of the street.

The violence in this case does not come as a surprise, but it is shocking in how it shows such a stark difference between the extremes of the gangster’s lifestyle. In the scene when Sonny is gunned down at the toll plaza a total of 7 men fire at him from all angles with automatic machine guns. The element of surprise is still present, as the men appear out of the car that was traveling in front of Sonny and from inside the adjacent toll booth, but the true shock of the scene is again achieved via stylistic techniques but in this case to show the excessive nature of the violence.

This is best exemplified when Sonny has fallen dead on the ground and one of the opposing gang members stands over him. There is a medium close up of Sonny’s body as an array of bullets – enough of them to have killed him in the first place – are shown piercing his clothing and entering his already lifeless body. Presumably the gang wanted to make sure Sonny did not survive the hit like Don Corleone had previously, but that does not account for the realism that Coppola brought to the scene.

According to Cowie, The Godfather makes “the original Scarface and Public Enemy tame by comparison. Color, of course, and the dramatic improvement in special effects over the years, contribute to the visceral impact of scenes like … the slaughter of Sonny at the tollbooths. ” The violence in this film is excessive and excessively bloody. Cappola uses deliberate filmic techniques such as mise en scene, music, or location to create a sense of contradicting ideas during moments of looming danger.

This creates a sense of “impending doom”, which “sucks his audience, as well as his screen victims, into a trap. ” He surprises the audience with not the number of violent scenes, but rather the excessive and over-the-top nature of the violence within any one scene and the way in which each is shown on screen. These techniques are used specifically during scenes of violence, separating them from the rest of the film in a manner that brings its romanticized characters back to the reality of their filmic existence.

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