Note: For those who haven't seen The Godfather: Part II, please note that there is a spoiler in the third paragraph.
I've occasionally mentioned on ISLF a former sweater-vest-loving Lit prof who rarely missed an opportunity to deride interminable books. It didn't matter whether the work in question was classic or nouveau. If strayed into bloated territory, he would castigate it as indulgent and hardly worth his time. While it was fun to watch him rip into big names (neither Dante nor Melville escaped his ire), I didn't exactly understand his irritation. Sure, lengthiness was a flaw, but did it really merit such a reaction? Now having watched The Godfather: Part II (yet another cinematic selection plucked from the American Film Institute's Top 100 list) I believe I understand a little better.
My first thought was that Netflix had made a mistake. We subscribe to the el cheapo, one-DVD-at-a-time plan, so why had I received two in the mail? Upon realizing they both had the same title stamped on them, I guessed I must've received a special edition chock full of interviews and other goodies. But, no, a friend told me, Francis Ford Coppola's return to the underworld of Michael Corleone really was that long, nearly a full three-and-a-half hours. So my wife and I partitioned off a couple evenings and settled on the sofa to watch.
The film deserves its place in history, no doubt about it. From Coppola's cinematography to Pacino's smoldering performance to the thematic poignancy of a life undermined by its own decisions, the movie is compelling. One particularly striking scene comes when Michael realizes his wife's loss of an unborn child wasn't due to miscarriage: "Michael, you are blind. It wasn't a miscarriage. It was an abortion. An abortion, Michael. Just like our marriage is an abortion, something that's unholy and evil. I didn't want your son, Michael. I wouldn't bring another one of your sons into this world!"
A compelling movie, yes -- but not a potent one. Every time Part II rises to an engaging peak, it soon slides back down into the flat and mundane. Any sense of narrative structure falls away as the film continues to expand. (A congressional inquiry into the Corleone syndicate arrived so abruptly that my wife and I both wondered if we'd missed something.) This, I think, is why my professor preferred pithiness to length, retrenchment to expansion. Excellence is difficult to sustain over a great span. When the vista stretches on and on, even the mountains look scarcely higher than the plains.
(Picture: CC 1986 by subarcticmike)