The Godfather is a remarkable film which is placed among the most celebrated and famous films of all times. As Louis Giannetti mentions in his book Understanding Movies, (2010) “The Copolla’s Godfather is a virtual recapitulation of the history of the genre, spanning three generations of characters”.
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The first part of the movie was met with a tremendous commercial success, as well as with wonderful critique. A young Italian director, Francis Ford Coppola, managed to create a great movie starring such actors as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino. The film is famous for its numerous bright and thought provoking scenes. One of the greatest scenes is the Baptism scene which, “opened new ground in technique, dramatic subject or the social aspect of their subjects” (Giannetti, 2010).
The scene is not only the most remarkable for its effective use of new film techniques, but for its deep psychological, social and religious context. The scene of baptism is based on oppositions and comparisons of the universe themes, such as love and hate, desire and duty. It is introduced into the movie in order to emphasize the most important moments, describe the character of Michael and show a juxtaposition of two worlds: the world of family (shots in the Church) and world of mafia.
The story of the film develops in the 1940s. It depicts the rise, life and laws of the Italian mafia in America. The techniques created by Coppola became the icons of the film making and these methods were adopted by other directors in order to produce scenes in films of different genres. In the scene of baptism, the director depicts moral of the society. It is a socially specific for its historic context and a moral drama at the same time.
The scene of baptism captures the audience’s attention at once. Only a five minutes sequence produces the deeper effect on public than the rest scenes of the film. The action takes place in several places at the same time, however, the main venue is the Church where the baptism is performed. The scene shows several parallel episodes: the baptism, scene at the barber’s and in the hotel.
First, all these episodes seem to be not related to each other, actions are different and every person lives with one’s own life. However, as the priest begins to pronounce the prayer and a holy ritual is performed, a number of cruel killings are happening in the town: the men of Don Corleone kill the heads of other New York criminal organizations. The audience does not understand what is happening from the very beginning and who kills all those people.
But, when we see that those murders are accompanied with the shots with Michael, we understand that all the scenes with violence are not accidental and when Michael exit the Church, he will become a new head of the Italian mafia. According to the book by John Lyden, (2003) “the irony of this scene and the vows to “renounce Satan and all his works”, even as we see the violence he (Michael) has ordered, brings us to the point where we are asked if we can go all the way with Michael in his protection of the family.”
First of all, many film critiques call this scene a masterpiece and one of the greatest and skillful works of the directors of all times. The combination of numerous artistic elements in it creates a new vision of the main characters and main idea of the film. One of the newest techniques used by the director is the cross-cutting between the scenes of the murder and the church service. Exactly this method produces the effect of suspense and tension.
This montage editing is used in order to unite and, at the same time, separate the baptism, which is symbolic, and the acts of murder. As we know, becoming a godfather is a holy action, thus, the director plays on contrast of the holiness of becoming a godfather for a child and head of the mafia. The director used this scene in order to show that kindness and evil can be equally united in one person. Thus, the sequence of cut-shots shows the complexity and contradictoriness of Michael’s character as well.
Furthermore, during the cuts, the camera is stationary and it is used in order to produce the emphasis. The priest pronounces the prayer in Latin and sometimes in English when he talks to a “new godfather”. The answers of Michael are crossed with the shots of the murders and it seems that he gives his approval for this killings.
We almost cannot see the real killers with the guns, but we all hear the Michael’s voice. This technique has a deep context. Answering to a priest, Michael agrees that he will be loyal to God and that he will serve to Church, now he should protect his nephew from all ills of the world, and at the same time, he swears to the world of mafia to be honest on his new position. The cry of a child accentuates the act of killing. It seems as if the baby felt that something evil happens behind the door.
In addition, apart from the work of camera, the tension of the scene is supported with music and language. The Latin language creates the atmosphere of holiness, but, paradoxically, it creates the feeling of horror because we feel that something should happen. In addition, the director used Bach music which also supports the atmosphere of tension.
The music begins with low and tranquil melody, but as the action develops and tension rises, the music becomes louder and more energetic (which is a characteristic feature of Bach’s music). It creates a powerful artistic effect. The scene attains its climax when Michael reinforces the Satan. At this very moment, the music also riches its climax and the sequence of murders begins. It is a very powerful mixture of vision with words and music.
Finally, one more important juxtaposition is used in the scene is the juxtaposition of a purity of a baby and cruel reality of the world in which the baby will enter after the baptism. The director gives a hope that God will protect this innocent child against cruelness which it will meet in future.
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Thus, summarizing all mentioned above, we can say for sure that The Godfather is one of the best films of all times. It is full of great scenes that evoke our emotions and feelings. One of the most impressive scenes of the film is the scene of baptism at the end of it.
The director used new techniques of camerawork and cross-cutting in order to emphasize a juxtaposition between two situations: murders and baptism, Christianity and sin. Coppola used this method in order to create a different presentation of the theme and message of the film. With these juxtapositions, he plays with the audience’s emotions and thoughts. Thus, one cannot deny that this film put the filmmaking on a new step of its development. He invented new techniques of film making in order to show a hidden context of themes and motifs.
Giannetti, L. (2010). Understanding movies. 12th ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon, Incorporated.
Lyden, J. (2003). Film as religion: myths, morals, and rituals. New York: NYU Press.