Describe two visual or oral techniques used in the opening scene of your studied text and explain how these were effective
In The Godfather (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) a variety of visual and oral techniques are used during the opening sequence. Of these, two of the most prominent are music and lighting, which are both majorly effective in portraying the film’s themes and ideas.
For the case of lighting, Coppola creates two very distinct different atmospheres with the use of light. The first obvious atmosphere is the interior of the office, which is characterised by its darkness and the limited amount of natural light thanks to the heavy blinds across the windows. It creates a sense of gloom and ominous foreboding, which pertains to the Corleone family business and the Godfather himself, literally shady. The darkness of the office refers to the business side of the family by shrouding the setting in both mystery and intimidation, both of which characterise the family’s business. This contrasts heavily with the wedding atmosphere, which the office is regularly cut between to show this contrast. The wedding outside is a joyous occasion, which is mirrored by the amount of sunlight is present. Natural light dominates this atmosphere, giving it a light-hearted, even perhaps carefree and euphoric feel. The amount of light present seems to dictate the seriousness of the events.
The aim is to show the difference between the two sides of Don Vito (and, correspondingly, the family’s) life. For the shots within the office, we see Vito engaging in business activities, performing favours for different parties and keeping himself in the office for most of the visible wedding. The lighting literally shows the dark side of Vito versus his lighter, more relaxed side – his life within the family business is dark, shady, gloomy and serious, while his life as the figurehead of the family during his daughter’s wedding is light and joyous, both of which are shown by the contrasting techniques of lighting. He is a two-sided character who puts on a light face when greeting visitors and dancing with his wife outside in the light, but as soon as he retreats back into his darkened office he is a man of hard-nosed business.
Another technique used is the markedly different genres of music present in this sequence. There are three major different genres of music – firstly, there is the lone Sicilian theme tune played on a horn on the opening shot, which is then coupled with the silence of the internal office shots. This ominous tune represents the darker, dramatic side of the film, while the silence that follows is indicative of the family business (no music is coupled with any of the other business meetings in the film). Secondly, a traditional, joyous Italian tune is played during the wedding sequence, which represents the joy of the occasion while also linking it back to the traditional roots of the family. This contrasts with the silence of the Don’s office completely as there is no bigger difference than between serious silence and a light-hearted party tune. And finally, Johnny Fontane’s typical American pop song represents the new versus the traditional, when compared with the Italian folk tune.
These different styles are used deliberately to highlight the three different sides to the family: the business, the tradition and the new, as the Corleones are a traditional family in a modern setting with business affiliations. The family is split along these three different styles, Don Vito taking the serious role as a businessman. This is echoed by the direct lack of music during his sequences within the office, showing both his commitment to the job and the serious way he approaches his work. This is compared with the second side of the family, that is the side that is willing to have fun, but still has its actions embedded in tradition, shown by Vito’s wife getting up to sing a traditional Italian folk song during the wedding. She is laughing while she is doing this, but it is still a very traditional act compared with Johnny’s completion of the other extreme of the family; that of the modern.
Despite the Corleone family’s embedment in Sicily, they are located in America and therefore have the younger side of the family drifting towards modern tendencies. Johnny’s song is deliberately put in to illustrate this final side of the family, that of the younger generation (i.e. the screaming girls at his feet) following the American culture and giving in to modernity. Music is, essentially, key in depicting the family.
In conclusion, the opening sequence of The Godfather contains visual and oral techniques, two of the most important are music and lighting. These techniques are effective as they give us a better insight into both Don Corleone and his family by contrasting the different sides of their life.