As a fan of 1970s cinema, I saw it The Godfather more times than I can count, but never on a big screen. So when I recently received an invitation to see a restored print of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic at Paramount Studios, I immediately accepted.
The demonstration last Tuesday The Godfatherthe greatest 175 minutes in the studio’s history, was set to open celebrations of the film’s 50th anniversary on March 24. Paramount rolled out the red carpet for Coppola, who was in attendance with two members of the cast – James Caan, who played hot-headed Sonny Corleone, and Talia Shire, who was Sonny’s little sister, Connie.
It was a cool, windy evening by Los Angeles standards, but the crowd of film execs, reporters and other industry figures seemed happy to stand outside and watch the Hollywood legends pose for photos. As the guests finally moved into the Paramount Theater, I overheard a man confess to colleagues, “I know it’s a cliché, but when people ask me what my favorite movie is, I always say it is.” The Godfather. That’s right. “
The film’s anniversary is well-timed for Paramount, which is still shaking off the damage of a lost decade of disastrous mismanagement. With Shari Redstone, the company’s chairman, she is attempting to revitalize the studio – a cornerstone of her late father’s media empire The Godfather The return to the big screen can help give back a little chandelier to the brand.
At the cinema, Caan, Shire and Coppola received a standing ovation as they made their way to the front of the theater to talk about the film. Over the next 40 minutes, they spoke to Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duval, Sterling Hayden and more about the making of the film.
Coppola didn’t discuss the legendary feuds he had with Paramount over casting, filming and editing, but Caan made it clear that it was the director’s vision and tenacity that made the film a masterpiece. “It was no coincidence that this picture became what it has become,” he said. “Without Franz nothing existed.”
The story of the plucky young auteur filmmaker who works with Paramount – a studio with the confidence to release the violent, dark film in nearly three hours – is engraved in the minds of generations of film scholars, Hollywood executives and cinema nerds. The Godfather was one of a number of 1970s Paramount classics including Chinatown, Nashville and The conversation, that defined a golden age of adventurous filmmaking.
It’s hard not to compare that golden era to the industry upheaval of today, when filmmakers worry about their big-screen visions being squeezed into a laptop or cellphone to help sell subscriptions to a streaming service. While the streaming wars have freed up seemingly limitless budgets for television and films, there are fears about the future of cinemas – and the box office revenues that will come with them.
For Paramount, the questions extend beyond the future of the box office. There is debate in Hollywood and on Wall Street as to whether the media empire built by Sumner Redstone can continue in its current form. Behind it hides a screen-ready family drama.
For years before his death in 2020 at the age of 97, Sumner Redstone let his Viacom company drift away – with its Paramount division underperforming at the box office and posting hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
Now, Shari has finally gained control of the company and is keen to put her stamp on it by turning it into a streaming powerhouse. Last month, she outlined an aggressive plan that would see Paramount making $6 billion a year small and too far behind to compete with Netflix and Disney by 2024. Apparently, investors would rather see the company sell off its assets — including the iconic 110-year-old studio.
Many observers who have worked with the company believe that Shari Redstone, who has fought so hard for control, is unlikely to part ways with the family business anytime soon. Unless she gets an offer too good to refuse, twisting a Corleone family favorite.