The Academy Museum recently debuted a fantastic new exhibit that celebrates The Godfather just in time for its 50th anniversary.
The exhibit was lovingly curated by the Museum’s Assistant Curator, Sophia Serrano, with support from Curatorial Assistant Esme Douglas and in collaboration with both Paramount Pictures and American Zoetrope.
Released in 1972, The Godfather broke box office records en route to becoming the highest-grossing film ever, at the time, and winning Best Picture the following year. The classic gangster film also made instant stars of its cast (Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton), and not only did it propel director Francis Ford Coppola as one of the faces of New Hollywood, but it also reignited Marlon Brando’s career and put Paramount back on top of the Hollywood mountain.
The film’s path to success has been told many times in countless books, documentaries, and articles, but it’s another experience to see its artistry on display and witness what went into making this masterpiece — especially upon a close inspection of Coppola’s copy of Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel, which features the filmmaker’s notes scribbled all over the pages.
The crafts were an integral part of the success of The Godfather, which was one of those rare occasions where they got everything right, thereby creating an electric sense of authenticity. Casting pages adorn the walls of the exhibit, and behind every choice that Coppola made, there was an epic battle. Meanwhile, gangster films had been a dying breed until The Godfather went into production, as they were often perceived as B-movies that wouldn’t perform well at the box office, but in the years since its release, the genre experienced a major revival — something that can be traced directly back to The Godfather.
The Academy’s exhibit also features costumes from the film, which have a beautiful period look that is a wonder to see up close. The centerpiece of the exhibit is worth the price of admission alone — Don Corleone’s office, as created by the film’s brilliant production designer Dean Tavoularis. You can almost hear Bonasera say, “I believe in America.” This is a meticulously recreated set, with the original desk that any Godfather fan would recognize. The same can surely be said about the severed horse’s head from Woltz’s bedroom that is laid out on his white satin sheets.
Also on display are the camera and lenses that legendary Cinematographer Gordon Willis used to create the sparsely lit magic that earned him the nickname “The Prince of Darkness.” Lastly, we see the sheet music for the very memorable “Godfather Waltz,” as composed by the magnificent Nino Rota.
The Godfather came out at a time of major transition in the movie business, released a full five years after the watershed year of 1967 that kicked off the era commonly known as New Hollywood, which had transformed the industry with acclaimed, popular films such as Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, and Easy Rider, just to name some of the era’s best and most indelible classics. Many film historians and film fans look back on this era with a fondness for the brief period of time when art and commerce were in tandem.
In the year 2022, with Hollywood at a crossroads, The Godfather is even more important to study and remember, as it is a film that has stood the test of time. The powerful images illuminating themes of family, loyalty, and the pursuit of the American Dream, have endured for decades, and we can only hope that the future of cinema will bring more films like The Godfather that will be remembered as fondly for going on 50 years.