“As a schoolgirl, my suspiciousness about those who attack American ‘materialism’ was first aroused by the refugees from Hitler who so often contrasted their ‘culture’ with our ‘vulgar materialism’ when I discovered that their ‘culture’ consisted of their having servants in Europe…”
For Keeps, 30 years at the Movies
One of the interesting things about visiting your favorite films over the years is how different the films feels because you have changed over the years. A film that meant so much to you when you were nine might seem meaningless 25 years later when you sit down and watch it with your own nine-year old child.
It’s probably been 25 years since I first saw The Godfather. While I can’t recall my exact original impressions of seeing the film I’m sure they were in line with being impressed by the acting and the production values. (After all, I was in film school and in acting workshops at this time). I also remember wishing I were Italian.
Having the name Smith seemed rather bland in school compared to my Italian friends. Even before I saw The Godfather movies its impression was felt—all Italians were cool, and some how connected to the Mafia. Over the years I discovered those both weren’t true. That’s what time does. It allows you to add data and experience as you form your own views of life.
One thing I know I didn’t think about The Godfather on that first viewing is that it was a critical look at capitalism and materialism in the United States. But apparently that was what Coppola had in mind when he made The Godfather movies;
“Ultimately it’s all about money in the end. But ultimately so much of America is about money in the end so that theme is of the Mafia really finding fertile soil when it came to America. Both the Mafia and America have, you know, the earning of money as the main purpose.”
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather Part II DVD Commentary
That’s an interesting thought when you piece that together with the letter Coppola reportedly wrote to Fidel Castro when he wanted to shoot Apocalypse Now in Cuba, “Dear Fidel, I love you…. We have the same initials. We both have beards. We both have power and want to use it for good purposes….” I don’t know the context of the letter so I’ll try not read too much into it. (Maybe Coppola was just being a director hustling a dictator for a location where he wanted to shoot his film.)
But Hollywood does have a long history of creatives who are not only critical of America and capitalism at times, but step over the line into at least flirting with socialism and communism. The United States is not perfect and, yes, we have a love affair with materialism. But let’s not lose site of what a great country this is.
To paraphrase film critic Pauline Kael, I am suspicious of those Hollywood-types who question American materialism while they are not only living in grand homes, but often have second and third homes. I can speak all day about the problems of American capitalism/materialism and the souless lives that it can produce, but history tells me that socialism and communism are not the answer.
Perhaps my views are shaded from spending a year in Miami and hearing the stories of exiled Cubans talk about Castro. (Yes, Castro helped raise the literacy rate and provided universal health care, but food, free speech and economic opportunity are harder to come by.) Dissenters either escaped the country (sometimes with pennies in their pockets), are in jail, or were executed. (Where does that leave most artists who enjoy questioning authority?)
Perhaps my views are shaded by the fact that I grew up in a house in Florida without air conditioning.(Working hard for a better life seemed like a good trade off.) But I always find it interesting that some of the wealthiest people in this county are the most outspoken about the system that made them wealthy. Surley they could give all their money and property to the poor and move to a socialist or communist country—but for some reason they never do.
I don’t know what Coppola at age 70 thinks of Castro, Cuba, socialism, communism or materialism, but I do know that he has turned into quite a successful entrepreneur and capitalist with his winery. He’s increased his land ownership & wealth, created jobs, raised a family and along the way had the freedom to create art. He’s lived the American dream.
I’m thankful that when both Coppola and Mario Puzo were talented and struggling artists that they set out to make a commercial success. Because in writing and making The Godfather they not only became wealthy men, they created an artistic masterpiece.
PS. A fun fact about Detroit born Francis Ford Coppola is the Ford part of his name came from the respect his father had for uber-capitalist Henry Ford.