March 20, 2009

Airline Magazines, Godfather III, and Madonna -- What's the Connection?

Was flipping through an in-flight travel magazine (Departures) and came across this cool ad for Louis Vuitton, featuring five-time Academy Award winner Francis Ford Coppola and his daughter Sophia.

I met Francis Coppola in the early 90s. I was at a really nice movie theater (at least it was back then) –- Loews Ridgefield Park, which is in northern NJ very close to Manhattan. This theater had ten screens, which back in those days was not very common. It was odd because all of the auditoriums were open to the public except one that was hosting a non-publicized special screening of Frankenstein, starring Kenneth Branagh and Robert DeNiro. I look over and there, by the concession stand, is the film’s producer, Francis Ford Coppola himself. He was doing nothing in particular, so I walked over and told him what a fan I was of his films in general (the three Godfather movies, The Outsiders, and The Cotton Club, in particular.) The greatest living American director (sorry Spielberg, Allen, Tarantino, and Scorsese) was then nice enough to autograph my popcorn bucket.

As for  Sophia, she was bashed a lot for ruining The Godfather Part III and when you watch the film, it’s painfully clear that her part was too much for her. Her father and others should have recognized this and recast the role. That pivotal part of Mary Corleone was supposed to be played by Winona Ryder. But Ryder was suffering from exhaustion (she had just shot Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael and Mermaids back-to-back) and dropped out of the picture last minute. Ryder had experienced some very long work days shooting Mermaids because the production had fallen behind schedule after the original director, Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules) had been fired. When Mermaids did finally wrap, Ryder began shooting G III in Rome, but her then boyfriend, Johnny Depp, reportedly wanted her back with him in the US. Ryder claimed exhaustion and dropped out a month into the shoot. Sophia, who had almost no acting experience, was cast by her dad (who had creative control of the picture) as a replacement. The part was rewritten to suit Sophia's age and the sexuality of the character was toned down. And all of this after principal photography had already begun. All of this considered, it's amazing G III turned out as good as it did.

After being skewered by the critics, Sophia pretty much gave up acting but did go on to write and direct the critically acclaimed The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Despite Sophia’s poor performance, Godfather III is still a must-see that’s better than 99% of the movies out there. It has an intricate, compelling story; maintains continuity with the two preceding films; features great performances by Andy Garcia, Joe Mantegna and others; and it was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture of 1990.

Here’s the extended trailer.

Lastly, if you’re a hardcore fan of The Godfather films, I recommend the The Godfather Companion by Peter Biskind, which has the complete story of the production of the three films and lots of interesting details about Part III in particular. For instance:
  • Diane Keaton wanted too much money to reprise her role as Kay, so Coppola was forced to cut her part down significantly.
  • Mario Puzo wrote the first outline for G III way back in 1978. In it, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is a Howard Hughes-like recluse; the Mafia and the CIA are at war; and the film's climax tales place during a Bicentennial parade. (All of this is drastically different from how the final screenplay turned out.)
  • During casting, Julia Roberts was the first choice to play Mary. Madonna was also considered but at 31, it was decided she was too old for the part.
  • Later, Madonna was seriously considered for the role of Grace Hamilton, the reporter who sleeps with Vincent (Andy Garcia.) At the time, Madonna was coming off the hugely successful Like a Prayer album and was arguably the biggest name in music. Perhaps partially because of this, she demanded a salary of more than half a million dollars (for what amounted to about 15 minutes of screen time) and the producers passed, eventually giving the part to Bridget Fonda.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Great Stuff.