The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - In Which I Wish Don Corleone Would Put A Hit Out On Holly Golightly
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In Which I Wish Don Corleone Would Put A Hit Out On Holly Golightly|
So this week, Gini and I watched two old movies: Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Godfather. Sadly, all the violence was in the wrong film.
Don’t get me wrong, as Breakfast at Tiffany’s is fascinating from a historical perspective: you can see its proto-hipster DNA in every quirky indie movie made these days. Unfortunately, while for many this is like discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls, for me it’s like uncovering the lair of the Alien Queen.
Yes, Holly, you’re so forcefully odd! You do such whacky things! What a bold character you are, rebelling against the system by attending thrift shops and leading your childish little life! It’s endearing that you’re so purposefully irresponsible that you have to keep annoying the horribly stereotyped Asian because you can’t be bothered to carry your fucking keys! By the time she tossed the cat out into the rain I’m like, “YOU DUMB BIMBO, YOU’RE KILLING YOUR CAT OUT OF PIQUE! I HOPE YOU DIE IN A GREASE FIRE, YOU STUPID CAT MURDERER!”
On the other hand, I now see who Zooey Deschanel writes her royalty checks to. So that’s something.
Watching the Godfather, on the other hand, makes me think of how the horrifically fucked-up 1970s monoculture led to the glamorization of gangsterism. Because let’s be honest: at that time in American cinema, there was no way you could have a major motion picture about just an Italian family. It wouldn’t sell! America only likes looking at white people! So you had entire categories of ethnicity who only got shown in the margins – Italians, Jews, Mexicans, you name it, they only showed up as secondary characters, and often played by a white guy smeared in startlingly bad makeup.
So Coppola was smart: he threaded his Italian heritage into the movie, making The Godfather as much about everyday Italian lifestyle as it was about gangsters. It’s no error that the movie starts off with a long wedding sequence where not much gangstery happens at all – there’s some negotiations and stories, but mostly it’s a lot of random relatives dancing and food and people interacting with each other in a unique way. The movie is entirely about family, but one of the reasons it’s so effective is that family isn’t just held together by the mob, but it’s held together by all the cultural ties that held Italians together at that time. You think it’s an error that there’s actually a cooking lesson in the middle of the movie, on how to make good sauce?
If Hollywood had allowed a lot of stories about Italian families, well, Godfather probably wouldn’t have had its moxie. But because Godfather was notable for not one, but two elements being introduced to the mainstream, suddenly you had the love of tight-knit Italian clans AND the epicness of the mob, both of which became entwined to be interminably romantic. People were like, “Hey, this is actually kind of heartwarming!” not realizing that what they were reacting to was largely the Italian-ness that white producers had conspired to keep off-screen for years.
I wonder: if Hollywood hadn’t been so bleached in those days, had dared to show Italians as families without gangster ties, would Godfather have even made a dent? And if the Godfather hadn’t romanticized the mob, making it seem glamorous and appealing, would we have ever encouraged a culture that now glamorizes crime in the mainstream? In other words, did the enforced Anglo-ness of filmmaking back then lead, in a complex fashion, to the rise of the thug lifestyle?
I’m not attached to any of it, really, but… food for thought. Delicious Italian food.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/217666.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
I think people would've glamorized mobsters with or without The Godfather, much like they always have with Pirates on the High Seas.. it's a "power with disregard for authority" thing, I suppose, that appeals to so many -- and I think "thug culture" would've arisen with or without it, as it's an appeal to the same baser instincts.
(And really, aren't mobsters and pirates just thugs of another era?)
Edited at 2012-06-07 02:04 pm (UTC)
Hollywood was glamorizing gangsters well before The Godfather.
Hell, popular culture was glamorizing gangsters well before The Godfather.
Woody Guthrie wrote "Pretty Boy Floyd" in 1939.
Frank Sinatra was famously letting himself be photographed with Sam Giancanna back in the late 50s/early 60s.
In Atlantic City there is a fucking statue of Enoch "Knucky" Johnson - and in City Hall they have a photo on the wall of him walking down the boardwalk with Al Capone.
Also if you want to see really early glamorization of The Mob, read "The Glass Key" by Dashel Hammett.
|Date:||June 7th, 2012 05:23 pm (UTC)|| |
It's funny you should mention Frank Sinatra in particular since he's thinly fictionalized in The Godfather.
Not even that thinly - I mean could anyone watch that movie and not get that that character is Frank?
You are strangely unaware of the work of Edward G Robinson and James Cagney. The Godfather didn't glamorize the mob. It demystified the mob, if anything.
I just commented above that The Roaring 20s - with both Cagney and Bogart - did a lot more to glamorize that mob a lot earlier than The Godfather.
Great minds run in the same ruts.
/Signed. I think it is correct that the Godfather ascribed humanity to mobsters, far more than earlier films concerning them... Little Caesar is most certainly not a film with a lot of(what we'd call) humanity to it. Though I certainly love it.
You said it before I could. Robinson and Cagney are the best. I love both of them and neither of them are Italian - but I love their style and their acting. I think you're right too - The Godfather demystified things and made them more human than ever.
I'm basically just going to plagiarize another comment I once made: crime has always been glamorous because criminality has historically been the single alternative to being a component in a machine somebody else owns. The concept of inside-the-system liberty is an extremely new one and really cannot be said to have been proven out.
The concept of inside-the-system liberty is an extremely new one and really cannot be said to have been proven out
This is a fascinating insight. I've never come across it before; I think you're really onto something. Thanks!
My thoughts exactly. It goes back to Robin Hood, people know that thye are being fucked over and they like it when someone says fuck the system I'm doing what I want to do.
First - on Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's not even close to one of my favorite movies. I own it because I'm a little in awe of what they did to it, and not in a good way. Talk about whitewashing!! Yes, there's the obvious crime of Mickey Rooney but the movie only hints at some of the racier parts of the book and elminates others altogether (if I remember correctly, Holly should be at least bisexual). God bless Truman Capote.
As for The Godfather - I think it's a good film whether Hollywood was good at accepting various ethnicities or not. It's less about the Mob and more about family. As others have said, you see their humanity more than their guns. And yet, the casualness of some of some of the violence is still jarring (and my favorite line will always be, "leave the gun, take the cannoli" - it's clear what's really important to us here!). In fact, it is so infused with family, several members of the Coppola clan are in it (Talia Shire is Francis' sister and the baby in the baptism at the end is Sophia).
Ugh...not surprisingly, I could go on all day about the Godfather though :)
Interesting post and discussion!
Yeah, I never liked what I saw of the Holly character--she bored and alienated me not too far into the movie, and I never gave it a second try. It's funny how stylized past eras' ideas of the devil-may-care pixie dream girl are.
Breakfast at Tiffany's had an early MPDG, but there were earlier ones..
Oh, and I loved South Park for redoing Mickey Rooney's caricature as someone running a grocery store, as it made me go through the following steps:
1) Fuck, SP is so racist.
2) In fact, that reminds me of MR's role in BaT.
3) Wait a sec, that is bang-on, that really is MR's role! OMG!
4) Mind Blown. SP is Brilliant.
Incidentally, my issues with Breakfast At Tiffany's have less to do with Holly Golightly's self-destructive mental illness... she reads to me like she's in dire need of medications that didn't really exist back then. I have a bigger issue with "Fred's" co-dependent-to-the-point-of-controlling, long-suffering doormatism. And it bothers me so much because I've been That Guy, and it was unhealthy and destructive. Which doesn't so much make Breakfast at Tiffany's bad, as it does make it painful to me to watch.
Yes, she is the prototypical Manic Pixie Dream-Girl. And he's... horrifyingly White Knight. It's a bit terrifying.
(The Apartment is probably a somewhat better movie, for being slightly less tropy, and moving more towards health)
The Apartment is a WAY better movie. I'm biased being both a huge Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon fan but...yeah.
I saw The Apartment on TCM a while ago and adored it - it really was an intriguing movie with a lot of depth to it.
Thank you, I've always felt bad for not lurving Breakfast at Tiffany's like all the other girls I know...
breakfast has so many taboo themes, audrey and peppard smoking heroin before their arrest, child marriage of audrey at 14 for virtual child slavery, prostitution, a drug ring, gold digging, a war death, andy rooney playing an awful stereotype -- this was right after world war 2 so he looks like he came right out of an army propoganda film, the sad case of yet another writer who can't possibly make a living by writing, and probably the most disturbing of all, a cat left out in the rain to die, it is all tied together, it's a comedy that is meant to have all these really dark themes.
Really like that movie. It has all these dark sublimated desires sneaking out in the open, and could only have been done as a comedy. Audrey Hepburn is left to play in her words an introvert playing an extrovert and she delivers a wonderful performance.
Zooey Deschanel has wonderful hair and eyes, gets a lot of work, but doesn't seem to be much of an actress.
...Breakfast at Tiffany's was sixteen years after WWII...
The novella it was based on was written in '58, and set in '43.
Been a few months sine I saw the movie. Can't remember if they updated it from '43 to '61 for the movie-story.
The Rat Pack predated THE GODFATHER, and, while it didn't have the family life part, they did have some of the "romance of being Italian".
1.5 years after my father died, my Italian step-mother decided we were no longer family and banned us from her family functions - basically the only extended family we'd ever known. This concept of a close-knit Italian family is always lost to me.
|Date:||June 8th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)|| |
You aren't giving Puzo enough credit, I don't think. Those lavish depictions were all in the novel as well.