When it was released fifty years ago this week, The Godfather had broken all revenue records, won the Oscar for Best Feature Film and familiarized the whole world with the mafia, its ruthless traditions and its turpitudes. When director Francis Ford Coppola, 82 years old today, was asked to adapt Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel for the screen, he almost refused. “I was deeply disappointed when I started to read it… It was really a commercial work that Mario Puzo had written to earn money for his children,” Coppola said Monday in Los Angeles, at a screening celebrating the 50th anniversary of his film. “When they offered me the opportunity to do this, mainly because everyone else had already said no, I declined too,” said this figure in American cinema. Fortunately for him, one of his young associates named George Lucas explained to him that it was an offer he could not refuse because they had to save their small independent production company, American Zoetrope, from bankruptcy. “Francis, we need this money! The taxman is going to padlock the front door… You have to take a job like that,” the man who would create the Star Wars phenomenon had told his friend a few years later. told Coppola. The sequel is legendary. The Godfather, released on March 24, 1972 in a large number of cinemas, became six months later the film with the highest grossing in history, snatching this record from the emblematic Gone The Wind, produced in 1939. According to experts, The Godfather in a way ushered in the era of blockbusters, confirmed three years later by a new box office record set by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws .According to Peter Biskind in his book The New Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola largely won his bet with Paramount studios, which had agreed to pay him a stretch limousine if the Godfather’s receipts reached 50 million dollars. They had exceeded 130 million at the time, a sum of the order of 880 million current dollars taking inflation into account. Coppola had at the same time become one of the first star directors, with enough artistic credibility to finance all its projects. “It was the beginning of a new era for directors,” writes Peter Biskind. By 1972 gangster movies were largely out of fashion. Four years earlier, Paramount released The Sicilian Brothers starring Kirk Douglas, which flopped. The studio owned the rights to Mario Puzo’s novel, which was growing in popularity, and decided to give it a shot anyway. He had had a hard time finding a candidate: Elia Kazan, Costa-Gavras and Peter Bogdanovich had in turn declined. Francis Ford Coppola may well be the leader of the so-called “New Hollywood” movement, part of the counter-culture and wanting to modernize the cinematographic codes, he was far from having the notoriety of the latter. He had no big successes to his credit and it was in particular because of his Italian origins that Paramount had approached him. After saying “yes”, Coppola had nevertheless set his conditions: Paramount wanted a quick adaptation well done, and above all cheap, but the director had asked for a bigger budget. In particular, he wanted the film to take place in 1940s New York, which involved a significant cost in terms of sets and costumes. This meant that the $2 or $2.5 million budget “was probably going to be at least double that”. “And they weren’t happy with that at all,” recalls the director. Coppola also had a run-in with the production regarding the casting. The only star of the film, Marlon Brando, was on the return. Al Pacino, still relatively unknown, was not “the big, handsome guy” they wanted. “Al is very handsome, but in his very own way,” Coppola joked. “All the women liked him a lot. Al Pacino was very attractive to girls. I wondered why exactly, but that’s always been the case,” added the filmmaker. The Godfather will soon be entitled to his biopic, directed by Barry Levinson, the director of Rain Man and adapted from a screenplay by Andrew Farotte, taken from the boxes of the famous Hollywood Black List, which contains the best of the scenarios not produced by the studios.Francis and the Godfather will take us behind the scenes of the tumultuous making of what would become one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of cinema, from Coppola’s battle to gain acceptance the controversial Marlon Brando in the role of the patriarch Corleone, but also the newbie Al Pacino, in negotiations with the Italian mafia itself. To embody Francis Ford Coppola, the production set its sights on Oscar Isaac and it was Elisabeth Moss who will play his wife, Eleanor Coppola. He will try to convince a Jake Gyllenhaal in Robert Evans, the all-powerful boss hard in business of Paramount at the time, to agree to produce the film. Elle Fanning has just joined the cast of the project and will play actress Ali MacGraw, the latter’s wife. In the end, The Godfather won the flagship Oscar for Best Feature Film, Brando was crowned Best Actor this year there and Al Pacino was one of the film’s three stars to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category.
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