Wedding scene in 'Godfather' - a primer in filmmaking
This article is devoted to the ‘Godfather I’.
His Excellency Sir Francis Ford Coppola. Respect. Saadar charan sparsh.
The scene in ‘Godfather’ where Don Corleone’s daughter is getting married, the very second scene in the Film, is a virtual primer in filmmaking IMO.
It is a film within a film.
I am presuming that you have read Mario Puzo's 'Godfather'. Perchance if you haven't, I hope this interests you enough to read the book now.
See how the scene has been constructed.
Open with two shots of people coming in through the gate. Why must these be long shots? Because as the audience, we are already inside, being members of Don Corleone's family. Contrast this with a case where the protagonist was a cop, or for example, James Bond. We would be at the gate, trying to sneak in somehow, pretending that our name is on the guestlist.
There’s a band playing. The band’s music forms the primary background scene in the entire scene. We keep returning to actually SHOW the Band performing, otherwise people would forget where this lively band music is coming from.
In the book, the Don instructs Tom Hagen, 'to keep Bonasera at the end' among the 3-4 people scheduled to meet the Don that particular day. However, in the film, Bonasera is the first to meet the Don. I think this choice was made because Bonasera's story is the most dramatic. Also, there was/is the possibility of setup and payoff. When Sonny is killed, his bullet-riddled body is brought to Bonasera to be stitched before burial, sort of like a payoff for Don Corleone's gesture in the first scene.
The Don is seen alternatively at the Party and in his office attending to his work. He is a very busy man and must attend to official (unofficial?) matters even on the day of his daughter’s wedding. Yet, there is not a single cut of him going out of his office, entering his office, entering the party or exiting the party. This is part of the complex web of perfection woven by His Excellency Sir Francis Ford Coppola. We do see Tom Hagen once saying, "Got to get back to work."
The Don’s immense power is established. ‘Senator xxxx apologised for not coming personally’. ‘Some judges have sent their apologies too.’
Don’s elder son Sonny’s promiscuity and hot-headedness is established.
Michael’s cool demeanour is established – "My father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse". So eventually when he takes over the mantle of Don Corleone, it does not come as a surprise.
Tom Hagen is suggesting to the Don that an appropriate time must be found to meet Solozzo. Godfather answers, “We will do that after you come back from California’. Tom Hagen is taken totally by surprise, “When am I going to California” (note he is not really asking, because asking the Godfather a question would be sacrilege. This is why I have not used a question mark at the end). Again establishes the Don’s immense power.
However, the point of the post is not the above, which is just the context. It is what follows. The film may have been based on Mario Puzo’s novel, but it does not help in composing this scene.
The point at which the Don promises Bonasera that he will do justice, is the exact point when the wedding band's celebratory music kicks in. Simply superb.
In Scene 2, we see some people having Lunch. Indeed, this is a longish event, maybe from 11 am - 4 pm so people can eat at different times. We see a photographer walking towards screen left. In the next scene we see him walking in from screen right to click the group photograph of the family. The scene wouldn't work without this detailing.
We have to also remember that these are the days before Steadicams and Bodycams, smaller digital cameras, certainly before gopros and Drones. In fact, I think even the Video Assist wasn't around in 1972 when the film was released.
Luca Brasi is practicing what he is going to say to the Don. He is a very tough guy but must practice hard to say 3-4 prepared lines to the Godfather. We see 2 cuts of him practicing. When we see him the 3rd time, we see Luca Brasi and Michael and Kay in the same scene, although obviously they are in different clusters. Kay notices Luca and enquires from Michael about Luca. This is when Michael tells Kay about Luca and the iconic line ‘My father made him an offer, etc.’..’ In the same scene, Tom Hagen comes to pick up Luca to bring him to the Godfather. Before this we have seen that the Don has called for Luca even though he is not on the list of people going to meet the Godfather that Day. Tom Hagen comes to pick Luca, meets Michael and Michael tells Kay about Tom Hagen and how Tom Hagen is his brother even though they have different names. A lot of information which the audience must know too.
We see most people, the essential members of the family and Don’s gang, at least twice. Indeed it is very important to establish that the audience's eye is flitting from here to there, exactly what we do when we are attending a wedding. When we see a character at least twice, we know that he or she is important to the story and we will see more of them in the film.
Sonny gives a peck on the cheek of Lucy Mancini. A couple of scenes later, he whispers something in Lucy’s ear. Meanwhile, Sonny’s wife is discussing Sonny’s xxxx (if you have read the book, you’ll know, it's X-rated) with her friends. As she turns around, she sees Lucy getting up to go somewhere and she (Sonny's wife) gives an expression which can only be called ‘knowing’. Why is it important for Sonny's wife to turn around and see Lucy? Indeed it is, to serve as a glue and connection. Interestingly, this part of Sonny's wife, in the book is not part of this scene and is mentioned as happening at an earlier date.
The Don sends Tom Hagen to look for Sonny. Tom Hagen is standing outside a door inside which Sonny and Lucy are making out. Tom Hagen gives a knowing smile and leaves. Then we cut to the Don's office and see Sonny arriving.
Two scenes have been woven in involving Don Vito Corleone's main rival Barzini. He is at the Wedding too. One where the Don is greeting him. Why is it important that the Don is shown greeting and welcoming his arch rival, when the Don has not been shown greeting other guests? Indeed, it is important. In the second scene, Barzini spots a photographer taking his photograph, asks his henchmen to bring over his camera and himself takes out the reel and destroys. Why must it be so that there are only two scenes including Barzini ?Indeed it is part of the grand construct of the Wedding Scene. The second scene is important to establish Barzini's own power, leading up to the confrontation ahead with Don Vito Corleone.
How will the scene end because at some point it has to? Godfather, “What time does my daughter leave with the bridegroom’. Hagen,"As soon as they cut the cake"..., etc’. Then we see a longish shot of the Don dancing with his daughter. Indeed, it is apparent that this signals the close of the scene.
Sure, this is not the full story. There is more to it.
I am in total awe of the scene.
What do you think ? Agree ? Disagree ?