Illusory Power


I believe in America…

The undertaker’s words to Don Vito Corleone (as the master toys with a kitten in a smoky back room office), are surely the most memorable opening lines in Hollywood history. I first saw the Godfather and the Godfather Part 2 on one, long hot summer’s day at a friend’s house whilst revising for my maths GCSE. I must have been sixteen, aware of the concept of power – parental, disciplinary – but had little knowledge of the Machiavellian nature of true power.

The two films together must add up to seven hours, so by the time Don Michael Corleone, having wiped out every enemy including his own weakling brother Fredo at the end of part 2 is slowly closed in by Coppola’s camera, alone with his ghosts, I didn’t know what I had seen, only that I had never seen anything approaching how remarkable the two movies were which form a perfect whole. (Part 3 should be avoided).

Made by Paramount studios and directed by bombastic auteur Francis Ford Coppola, the films are adapted from the blockbuster novel by Mario Puzo.

Roberto Calvi, central to the Vatican P2 banking conspiracy used to tell friends that the novel showed how the “world really worked”.

In the age of Trump’s gangster politics and the way the Conservatives effortlessly manipulated the decline and fall of Labour and the SNP and forced through Brexit in the face of the Socialist anti-democrats, one wonders if behind the scenes in Westminster and Washington there were a few shady characters making offers people couldn’t refuse.

Hey, that’s politics and that’s power. Dress up in a sparkly EU dress and parade with a BOJO IS A RACIST placard all you want, but beware of the camera filming you for YouTube after you’ve been asked some questions that can only make you look like a fool. You’ve just been hit, so you can wave goodbye to that degree in medicine.

Both films won Best Picture at the Oscars, making the Godfather part 2 the only sequel in history to do so. They were made in the early seventies during what is now known as the New Hollywood phase of American cinema, other notable movies made around the same time: The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown. Author Peter Biskind bookends the phase from Easy Rider in 1969 to Raging Bull in 1980, not simply for succinctness, but because he called his 1998 history of the period Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex Drugs and Rock and Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.

I only got a B in my maths GCSE so I don’t recommend the Mafia saga for help with quadratic equations, but what I learnt about how power in the world really works was invaluable. Things are not how they seem. TV does not tell the truth. Newspapers have a political agenda. True power is wielded by those in the back rooms of skyscrapers in New York and remote homes in the British countryside. As the Godfather movies beautifully illustrate, power is illusory and hard to conceive. Don Vito is as much magician as he is gangster, and trickery and misdirection are all part of the package, including the agonising murders where the victim suddenly realises too late he’s been set up.

Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @Voguishfiction