A critic friend pointed me to Molly Haskell’s 1997 essay on the cognitive dissonance of The Godfather, which I in turn wanted to pass along to all of you. It’s an amazing meditation on the movie and the environment in which it was released, and I think it’s directly relevant to the conversations we have about culture as provider of comfort and repressive nostalgia in a time of great social change. She writes:
If we had a split screen we would show opposing images: On one side, the sun shines and the music plays on the veranda during Connie’s lavishly traditional family wedding in 1945, while in the darkness of Don Corleone’s study, petitioners and those who pay homage file through and the Don (Marlon Brando) dispenses favors and justice. Fathers arrange marriages for their daughters, revenge on their enemies. Hulking in the shadows of the house, Luca Brasi, one of Corleone’s enforcers, practices the tribute he will pay when he gains an audience with the Don: ”May their first child be a masculine child.”
On the other screen: In 1970, the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage, a commemorative march down Fifth Avenue, with 50,000 women pouring out of office buildings in spontaneous support. Also in 1970, Kate Millett publishes ”Sexual Politics” and her portrait, by Alice Neel, is on the cover of Time. In 1971, the year-end issue of New York Magazine announces the birth of Ms. magazine, whose first issue will appear in July 1972. The Supreme Court legalizes abortion in 1973.
I’m trying to think what the modern equivalent is: the superhero as acclaimed protector? the slacker dudes claiming their manhood? Either way, it’s a striking piece, and a critical reminder that our fantasies don’t always move us forward.