The Godfather: The 1972 45th Best Picture — Art, Entertainment Or Both?

The Godfather has long haunted the minds of recumbent males.

In this movie, the 1972 45th Best Picture, there is a quote that has those guy viewers writhing in sleepless sleep in the nightdreams of their beds: “I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war: we go to the mattresses!”

The Godfather is a fetchingly attractive and well-shot tale that winds whimsically and violently around, between and behind the lives of the members of an organized crime family now residing in and around the area of New York City, USA. The family is the Corleone family from their hometown of the same name in Sicily, Italy. Yes, the players are largely of Italian origin and the play is a Mafia film. The movie is itself a very well and politely accomplished piece of filmenship. It is a well-mannered crime show, despite the bodies strewn about the city pavements, on the courthouse steps and in the eateries — the work of our soldiers now polishing their guns with clean white cloths, eating pasta while wearing bibs, and reclining between their shootings on those troublesome mattresses.

Why the phrase “to the mattresses!” One Internet site recounts this logic from the panes of history: “In times of war or siege, Italian families would vacate their homes and rent apartments in safer areas. In order to protect themselves they would hire soldiers to sleep on the floor in shifts.” And on those floors beneath those soldiers were the original mattresses that spawned that phrase which now haunts the dreams of our recumbent males — who would, if they could, be there too with their dreamed counterparts preparing for the next sleepless battle.

This is a battle show, a crime film, a war movie, and with Patton, the 1970 43rd Best Picture, and The French Connection, the 1971 44th Best Picture, The Godfather shares that baggage that divides its audience, to a greater and lesser extent, along gender lines. Curious that three such films in linear order were of such common content and manufacture, but that is as they say the movies.

This writing is in its part a derivative portion of an ongoing study in EthnoFamilyMovieOgraphy (EFMO). Along those lines, let me share with you a compilation and summary of the likes and dislikes of the viewing audience recorded on their EFMO survey forms:

The acting and the actors, especially Marlon Brando (Grandfather Vito Corleone) and Al Pacino (Son Michael Corleone) were the big “likes” followed by the superb camera work and mesmerizing music; the matter-of-fact violence and killing of the “business” of organized family crime was the big “dislike”; curiously, one disliked the baptism/murder scene while another singled the scene out as a particular like; a violent crime movie, the film so polarized the audience that one commenter described the movie as one of the greatest of all time while another reviewer could not understand how anyone could like the show; despite these apparently disparate views, the film was rated by the overall audience among the top movies viewed to date (#9 of the first 45 films), reflecting perhaps that even a polarizing topic (crime, battles, war) can result in a movie of widely recognized and appreciated artistic and entertainment value. (150 words)

Not bad, you might say, for one sentence of 150 words.

But what doe it mean for us and our study?

With that, we move from our fidgetingly divided viewers, whatever their personal genderic reasonings, to our continuing reflection on the meaning of “entertainment” within the “artistic” framework of a best picture.

“Entertainment” is the noun form of the verb “entertain.”

“Artistic” is the adjective form of the noun “art.”

This distinction between verb and noun may be critical to our ongoing study of the meaning of the phrase “best picture” and its application by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in the selection of the “Best Picture.” More will be said of this later in following EFMO writings. For now and for this movie, I would ask you to observe that “entertain” is the battling verb action of impacting a viewing audience, and the merit of “entertain” would appear to be determined by the extent the movie moves the viewers. “Art,” on the other hand, is a recumbent noun state that can be seen in large measure as independent of the wider viewing audience, though some may recognize and appreciate it more than others, because art resides more in the realm of the studied particularist pausing to peruse a scene or object as one would an impressionistic painting on a wall or the lines of a new cell phone in a case. The merit of “art” is more the merit of the work itself and not how it moves the viewer.

The point is that “entertain” and “art” may represent very different points of view and effect. In one (entertain), the entire audience is riding raucously and noisily atop a rollercoaster at break-neck speeds at a local amusement park packed with fans below waving and clapping at the people above traversing the tracks. In the other (art), a solitary individual in the audience is closeted in a cloistered gallery siting quietly on a bench, referencing a guidebook and staring at a recognized work of creative genius. One is participatory, the other observatory. In one I am close and involved, the other apart and disengaged. One pulls me into the intricacies of the scene as an active participant, the other pushes me back to watch and appreciate from a safe and removed distance.

Art or entertainment?

It depends on your point of view and effect.

Are you on the mattress admiring the gun or in the street firing the pistol?

The Godfather allows you to lose yourself in the action or isolate yourself in the object of the moment.

In allowing its audience both, the movie itself becomes it seems a truly great best picture for all its viewers.


Art, entertainment or both?

Your point of view.

And effect.


Grandpa Jim