Monday, June 2, 2008
AN OFFER I COULDN'T REFUSE
I'm a super-fast reader, really.
When I first came to Hollywood, one of my first jobs was working as a Story Analyst/Reader for CAA. Man, that was another lifetime ago! Anyway... because I was getting paid per script or per book for each review a.k.a. "piece of coverage" I wrote, I quickly figured out that speed was a necessity. That is... if I wanted to eat.
I did that for the better part of 3 1/2 years, and by the end... I could read an 800 page novel in about 6 hours. And that's with full reading comprehension intact. After all, I did have to write a glorified book report when it was all done. BTW: Those years taught me an AWFUL LOT about the importance of STRUCTURE. You aspiring writers TAKE NOTE. Characters come and go... but a damn good plot and structure sucks in the audience from the get-go.
And speaking of good structures... I just finished reading a REALLY good book. It's called THE GODFATHER. You may have heard of it...
Now I know what you're thinking. Why am I talking about such a famed work of art? Well, if you're like me... I've seen the MOVIE version many, many times. Same goes for THE GODFATHER, PARTS II & III. (Whoa... I've actually only seen the third flick once. Is that really possible?!!)
But like most folks my age, I never read the book. Well, to make a long story short, it looked like I might be writing a GODFATHER comic book. To get ready for the job, I prepped myself by going back and reading the book. The opportunity fell through. But lemme tell you about the book, 'cause it was a VERY interesting experience.
Here's a breakdown...
First of all, the book has the same basic overall plot as the movie. But there are subplots, character idiosyncrasies, and plot digressions that are a big surprise because they don't appear in the film. For example... the character of Sonny Corleone. As played by James Caan, he's a blowhard and a tough guy. But there's a whole sexual side to the character that's NOT in the movie. An entire subplot covers his affair with one of Connie Corleone's bridesmaids, and man... do they go into a bit of explicit detail! Also, after Sonny is killed, the bridesmaid's character CONTINUES through the book in an even larger role. This happens when the Corleone family begins their move to Las Vegas.
Which takes us to another big plot difference between the movie and the book. The last quarter of the book focuses on Michael Corleone's plan to move the Corleone family out of NYC, and relocate the "family business" in the newest playground called Las Vegas. It's all stuff that Francis Ford Coppola took and ran with brilliantly in THE GODFATHER, PART II. But the beginnings of it are in the book! Oh, and yes, all the Robert DeNiro stuff from the second movie (with the exception of his return to Italy to gain vengeance by killing the man who killed his father years earlier) IS in the book.
Another minor character from the movie who has a HUGE role in the book, is, believe it or not, JOHNNY FONTANE. Yes, you read that correctly. The singer who has, like, two scenes in the movie has this entire CHARACTER ARC in the book. It starts the same with Johnny singing at the wedding. And of course, there's the famous "horse head in bed" that gets Johnny his acting job and resuscitates his movie career. But after that... there's a whole plot about Johnny's rise to become a mega-producer in Hollywood. There's also a particularly poignant storyline where Johnny loses his voice, but undergoes risky surgery to restore it. We even get to meet Johnny's ex-wife, and get a glimpse into their weird, estranged relationship.
Oh, and the surgeon who performs the surgery that restores Johnny's voice? He's ANOTHER big character in the book that doesn't even appear in the movie. Turns out the guy's an ex-ABORTIONIST who got caught, blacklisted, and now does medicine for the mob! And get this... the surgeon ends up falling in love with Sonny's mistress-- Connie's bridesmaid--who had moved to Vegas to help... FREDO CORLEONE (!)... who has been taking care of the Corleone's interests in Vegas (more stuff that Coppola ran with in the second movie).
Then, of course, there's MICHAEL CORLEONE. Again, his arc is the same in both the book and movie, but Michael's more ruthless in the book. Also, he gets into an accident early on in the book which disfigures him (this is briefly touched upon in the movie when Michael's jaw is wired shut) and it causes him to have this really disgusting, perpetually runny nose. Am I soooo NOT kidding. It's just gross. Kay has a larger role in the book. We really see how naive and innocent she is, and how once she realizes Michael is a murderer (the end of the book and movie), she becomes religiously devout, even to the point of converting to Catholicism. Oh, and Michael's life in Italy is much more detailed, especially his courtship to his first wife. Puzo again--the horny ol' bastard--goes into explicit detail in describing Michael's delight as he deflowers his virginal bride on their wedding night. It's enough to make Jackie Collins proud... or never stop throwing up.
And speaking of the writing itself, it's absolutely wonderful. it's a bit dated in its approach to male/female relationships (female readers beware... this book was DEFINITELY written before the women's lib movement!), but not enough to ruin things. Let me share a particularly great passage with you. This is from the final third of the book, when Michael is still in Italy, and is beginning to discover the origins of the Mafia and its place in Sicilian society:
"In this antique garden, Michael Corleone learned about the roots from which his father grew. That the word "Mafia" had originally meant place of refuge. Then it became the name for the secret organization that sprang up to fight against the rulers that had crushed the country and its people for centuries. Sicily was a land that had been more cruelly raped than any other in history. The Inquisition had tortured rich and poor alike. The landowning barons and the princes of the Catholic Church exercised absolute power over the shepherds and farmers. The police were the instruments of their power and so identified with them that to be called a policeman is the foulest insult one Sicilian can hurl at another."
"Faced with the savagery of this absolute power, the suffering people learned never to betray their anger and their hatred for fear of being crushed. They learned never to make themselves vulnerable by uttering any sort of threat since giving such a warning insured a quick repirsal. They learned that society was their enemy and so when they sought redress for their wrongs they went to the rebel underground, the Mafia. And the Mafia cemented its power by orginating the law of silence, the omerta."
Great stuff, eh?
So if you're a movie fan and you want to dig deeper into one of the great cinema stories of all time... or if you're an aspiring screenwriter who wants to learn how make a great adaptation... or if you just want a DAMN GOOD YARN to read... go to your local library and dive into this book.
It's an offer you won't be able to refuse.