Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro and others attended nine-hour screening and talk in New York on film’s 45th anniversary
Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall, Francis Ford Coppola, James Caan, Al Pacino and Talia Shire at Radio City Music Hall. Photograph: Kevin Mazur/(Credit too long, see caption)
The Godfather is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films in Hollywood history. At an epic night at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday, director Francis Ford Coppola and members of his cast – including Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire and James Caan, with Robert De Niro, who appeared in the 1974 sequel – gathered for the film’s 45th anniversary, discussing its legacy on the closing night of De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival.
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The event lasted a whopping nine hours, as fans watched restored versions of The Godfather I and II, followed by a panel discussion moderated by director Taylor Hackford, the theme being how difficult it was to get the classic made.
According to Coppola, he ran into roadblocks at every turn, as studio Paramount looked simply to cash in with a quickie movie based on Mario Puzo’s runaway bestselling novel.
“Without Francis, where would I be?” said Pacino, remembering how Paramount fought to cast someone else as the infamous Michael Corleone, a career-defining role for which Pacino would eventually collect two Oscar nominations.
“Once I called [Pacino] after he had tested six times,” Coppola remembered. “His girlfriend came on the phone and I said, ‘I just need Al to come in one more time’ and she said, ‘What are you doing to him? You’re torturing him!’ She yelled at me and berated me.”
When Pacino got the part, he considered it at length. “I used to live [in New York on] 90th and Broadway and used to walk to the Village and back everyday and I did it thinking about this role,” he said. “I was trying to figure out where I could go with it.”
Even casting Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the Godfather himself, was a headache. Executives were adamant that casting Brando wouldn’t be “commercially beneficial”, at one point even forbidding Coppola from even bringing up Brando’s name.
“After that I fell on the floor in a faint,” Coppola said. “I said, ‘If I can’t even talk about him, what am I supposed to do?’ Fred Roos, who was involved in all of the casting, said, ‘All right, if Marlon will do a screen test, will do it for nothing, and will put up a million dollar bond that he won’t cause trouble during the production, you can have him.’ And I said, ‘I accept.’”
Even when filming had started, Coppola’s problems were only beginning. Many at Paramount wanted to can the director. Early in the process, even Pacino was skeptical.
“The whole thing had a surreal feeling,” he recalled, remembering a night drinking with Keaton, after filming a scene. “We were talking about, ‘Where do we go from here? We’re gone. It’s over. This is the worst film ever made.’”
For many of the cast and crew, the Radio City screening was the first time they had seen the first two Godfather films in years.
“I tend not to see the movies I’ve worked on,” Coppola said, after, for at least some of the time, sitting in the audience. “I forgot a lot … I found it very emotional experience.”
Keaton said she recently re-watched the series on her computer. “I hadn’t seen it in about 30 years and I couldn’t get over it,” she said. “It was so astonishing.”
Despite the incredible success of the two films – academy awards, status as one of the highest grossing movies in Hollywood history, a lasting cultural impact – Coppola issued a warning.
“Today it wouldn’t get a go-ahead,” he said. “The first Godfather cost $6.5m and the second cost about $11m or $12m. If you convert that, it would take a major studio (to make it), but it would never get through the process of getting an OK.
“Nothing can get a green light unless it’s a movie that they can have a whole series of, or a Marvel comic.”
Former MGM owner Kirk Kerkorian, Coppola said, once asked him how to make a film that would be successful financially as well as artistically.
“Risk,” Coppola said. “Nobody wants the risk.”