Editorial: Under the Sicilian Sky

Stories of Sicily.
Editorial - License to Shoot - The Godfather 

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or essays about the world of cinema

While in Berlin several summers ago, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant and I realised, by the accent, that the waiter was Italian. Eager to exercise my Italian after I had found out, to my despair, that my German had become rustier than I had expected, I asked him if he was indeed Italian. “No, Sicilian,” his answer came promptly and proudly. I ended up by apologising to him for calling him an Italian and struck up a nice conversation. Here is the simple truth: there is nothing higher to Sicilians than the ties of blood, heritage and honour.

“You see, Sicily was always invaded, and over the centuries, the Sicilians discovered the only way to survive the invasions was to trust only their own families and never break that trust,” said Al Pacino, as noted in the book The Godfather Family Album, which chronicles the making of the trilogy. The roots of The Godfather originate in Sicily (where some notable scenes from the Coppola’s saga were also filmed) and organised crime, but the unmentionable words, the Mafia, are never heard, because this film is first and foremost a mythic exploration of family. “I want to show how two men, father and son, were born into the world innocent, and how they were corrupted by this Sicilian waltz of vengeance,” said Francis Ford Coppola.

“In Sicily, it was like a merger of families – everyone had family there,” recounts still photographer Steve Shapiro in the afore-mentioned book about the cast and crew’s filming days on the Italian island. And it was in fact Francis Ford Coppola’s Italian origins that sold him to the producers (at the time, Coppola was known as an artsy, film-schooled young director). “The reason Mafia films had never worked was they were made by Jews, acted by Jews, and written by Jews. We want to smell the spaghetti, and only an Italian can do it,” was how producer Robert Evans managed to bring the director on board. “Francis was the only second-generation Italian in the entire industry.”

“Though I have never been here before, I have been here before,” wrote journalist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison for Life magazine in 1990 about Castillo degli Schiavi in Taormina, Sicily, when she went on the location of Godfather III. It is the place where, in Godfather I, the young wife of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was killed in a car bomb that was meant for the exiled son of Vito Corleone. “I feel as if Godfather I and II are part of my history, my unconscious, vehicles for primary themes of good and evil (and family), and sin and redemption (and family) and communion and alienation (and family), of power and honour (and family).” Could this also be a universal truth?

photo: film still from The Godfather, Sicily | Paramount Pictures

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