What to Watch
The Godfather (1972) is one of the most quotable movies of all time. Enough to easily fill a little book that I happen to have, so I can offer another Pete Clemenza gem:
“That’s a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
This week’s movie double encompasses the first two of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful mafia based trilogy. No doubt many of us will have already seen the movies, but the question is: have you really? Unless you were able to attend their original screening in the early 70s then maybe you have not! What follows is a short ‘tattered’ history of a film studio’s (Paramount’s) mistreatment of a masterpiece.
For filmmakers a movie is complete when it’s ‘in the can’. What’s ‘in the can’ is the master negative which represents the perfect version of the filmmaker’s movie. From this, a duplicate negative is created called an ‘interpositive’ or IP. Copies are then made from the IP and distributed to cinemas for viewing. Unfortunately this did not happen with The Godfather, as copies were made from the master negative! As film is a delicate medium, this over-handling eventually left the negative in a dirty, scratched and generally terrible state.
Let’s fast forward to 2006, when Paramount bought Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks Studios. Coppola rang his old friend Spielberg to ask if he could lobby Paramount to finance a restoration his old masterpiece. Fortunately not many people say no to Spielberg and the process was started.
It was also fortunate that they employed the meticulous Robert Harris to lead the restoration. Harris was already credited with the excellent restorations of Lawerence of Arabia, Rear Window and Vertigo. For Vertigo he asked Jaguar for a colour clip from a 1957 car of the same make that Kim Novak drove in the movie, so he could match the colour. This attention to detail would ensure that even the ‘sepia’ quality that The Godfather’s cinematographer Gordon Willis added to the original, would be replicated. It would take Harris and his team one and a half years to complete the restoration of The Godfather.
So finally in 2008, Paramount released the fully restored versions of The Godfather movies and we could finally see them as if we were in a cinema back in the 70s.
The master negative for The Godfather Part II (1974), was not in as bad a state as The Godfather. The studio had followed a better process and made copies from prints of the master negative. However after many years since its first release, it was still in need of restoration.
The process that Harris and his team employs is dubbed a 4K restoration. They firstly repair the master negative as best they can and feed it through a digital scanner. They then work on that digital output to create the restored version. Using a 4K sampling rate is important here as it is the minimum required to capture all the information on a 35mm film. This allows the team to work on what is effectively a digital duplicate of the original film.
Hopefully this has encouraged you to seek out the latest blu-rays of these timeless classics. Turn to the back cover of the disc and look out not only for the words: ‘Directed by Francis Ford Coppola’ but also for: ‘Restored by Robert A. Harris’. You will be well rewarded.