Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Godfather, Prizzi, Moonstruck, and Me

In a poll, 1 out of 3 people admitted they've lied about having seen the Godfather

Casablanca and Taxi Driver came next in the list of movies people say they've seen when they haven't. I get the first two; they're iconic American films, and people have probably at least seen clips from them. 
But Taxi Driver? I don't think of that as so iconic.
Hm. Except for the phrase, "You talkin' to me?" So maybe that's it.

I confess, I have never seen the Godfather. 
Going to see Godfather II (1974) with my father was bad enough, I can't bring myself to watch the others. 

But I was wrong to imply in yesterday's post that my father's family is much like the Godfather's. To begin with, they were never in the Mafia. Nobody killed anybody or got killed, no severed horse heads, nothing like that.

But, yeah ––like the Sicilians in that movie and like people everywhere who don't have much to lose–– 

they, the men (like my grandfather, right), were super touchy about their "honor", and you'd better not even be perceived as stepping on it.

[In his excellent NY Times article from 2013,  "Beyond the Code of the Streets," Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about how this works for black men who came up the hard way, and how hard it is to shake, even when it no longer serves you, even when it's killing you. Tell me about it.] 

So, the men displayed a kind of overt physical power. 
My grandfather, for instance, was a  so-called proud man who beat his wife and children. 

The women utilized the tricks the least powerful people often resort to: emotional manipulation, passive resistance.  
When my grandfather brought his cronies home for coffee, for instance, my grandmother would have "accidentally" put salt in the sugar bowl. Or, she would starch his underwear. Stuff like that.

I only saw the one Godfather movie all the way through, but I can see that they are all dark and dramatic, with ennobling theme music. 

The reality for families like my father's was far more tawdry, their theme song something thin and tinny from an organ grinder.

The movie that catches that so well is the dark comedy Prizzi's Honor (1985). You might want to be Marlon Brando's Godfather or his son Michael (Al Pacino). You probably don't want to be Charlie, the dim hit man Jack Nicholson plays in Prizzi's Honor.

And, oh man, does Angelica Huston nail the way women in this patriarchal set up may get and hold a kind of behind-the-scenes power (potentially even calling the shots).

Here's the hilarious/horrifying scene where she, a beautiful woman, makes herself up to appear haggard to her father---all part of her [ultimately successful] plot to get revenge.

On the other hand, the hand that holds the sweets, the other movie that reminds me powerfully of my father's family is the romanticized but still real-feeling Moonstruck (1987), with its celebration of human imperfection.
Happier times: my father, on couch, with 3 of his 9 siblings
This is the side of the family reflected in my grandmother's theology: God loves everybody
She said that all the time.
She lived it too,  when she repeatedly went down to the police station, for example, to bail out her gay son, my Uncle Tony, who'd get rounded up in police raids on gay bars in the '50s. 

Even my father, who never spoke to his father for the last 15 or so years of his father's life, says that this brutal man would have been, could have been, a loving man if he hadn't felt so emasculated (the worst sin in his culture) by the Great Depression, which forced him to accept relief to feed and clothe his ten children.

Money matters.
Everyone in Moonstruck is doing at least OK financially. The father is a successful plumber--his wealth is even remarked upon. Maybe that's why the movie feels real to me---it's what my grandparents might have been, with money, education, respect...

So, I feel I'm left with a muddle of an inheritance from my father's side:
love, acceptance, forgiveness on the one hand;

domination, brutality, and toxic resentment on the other.

Amidst all that, I try to practice some sort of sustainable kindness (a term Poodle reminded me that I made up).

I should do a movie version for my mother's family too. I always say my parent's marriage was like the Godfather meets Scarlett O'Hara.


poodletail said...

Scarlett O'Hara meets The Godfather! Now there's some food for thought.

More movies & families: I took my mom to see The Royal Tenenbaums because I'd loved it so much and found it hilarious. "I didn't think that was funny at all. It was too realistic."

Fresca said...

POODLE: Oh, that's another winning role for Angelica Huston--the mother in Tenenbaums.
Loved that movie--tried to paint my bookshelves the peachy-raspberry color of the house's walls.

Yeah, things that are too painfully close to home aren't funny...

Zhoen said...

I never could watch All in the Family, because my father was too much like Archie, even looked a lot like him. Not as kind underneath as the character. Not as overtly bigoted, though.

bink said...

there have been movies that have been too hard for me to watch/I hated because they reminded me of my father. But a movie that reminded me of my family? Gee, I wonder what that would be...?