The Don’s Dilemma Reconsidered

A dilemma in business is usually a choice that one must make between two outcomes that are both undesirable. For a great example, look no further than The Godfather, in which family patriarch Don Vito Corleone has to decide whether or not to enter the drug trade. As a reminder of this deal – that sets The Godfather’s whole plot in motion – read Tom Hagen’s notes here below:

“Sollozzo is known as the Turk. He’s supposed to be good with a knife, but only in matters of business with some sort of reasonable complaint. His business is narcotics. He has fields in Turkey where they grow poppy. In Sicily he has the plants to process them into heroin. Now, he needs cash, he needs protection from the police for which he gives a piece of the action. I couldn’t figure out how much. The Tattaglia family is behind him here in New York. They have to be in it for something. He is known as a top narcotics man.”

The Consiglieri Question: What would you advise Don Vito about the Turk’s proposal?

Now this is much more tricky as it may seem at first glance. Don Corleone is very well connected, but his current rackets (gambling, unions) are easily overlooked by corrupt police officers and politicians. Drugs: different story. So, entering this trade would create a major problem for the Don in maintaining his valuable business relationships which he also considers as dear personal friendships. On the other hand, the attractiveness of narcotics, moneywise, is way too big for the Mafia to resist. The Don’s major competitors will surely get involved with Sollozzo, and if the Corleones won’t play ball it might lead to serious conflict. Maybe even war. And off course, this is exactly what comes to pass.

The Don’s consigliere Tom Hagen seems to focus mostly on the second consideration. This is his advice to Don Vito: “Well I say yes. There’s more money potential in narcotics than anything else we’re looking at. Now if we don’t get into it, somebody else will. Maybe one of the five families, maybe all of them. Now with the money they earn, they can buy more police and political power. Then they come after us. Now, we have the unions and gambling, and they’re the best things to have, but narcotics is a thing of the future. If we don’t get a piece of that action, we risk everything we have. Not now, but ten years from now.”

Is Hagen right? Is it the smart play to help the Turk? If you consider the shitstorm the Corleone Family ended up in after Don Vito turned him down (“I must say ‘no’ to you, and I’ll give you my reasons”) you would probably say yes. Definitely yes. But maybe Vito’s answer wasn’t so wrong after all. You see, every business starts with the core principles of the founder(s). Vito started out by helping the community he lives in. Off course, he also used despicable violence against those who opposed him, but he didn’t believe in squeezing out poor people like the old Mustache Pete’s were doing in New York. Similarly, he thinks drugs will bring destruction to the communities they live and operate in. He knows very well that saying no to Sollozzo might lead to repercussions. But rather than going against his principles, he turns him down anyway.

And this a valuable lesson for any business leader dealing with a major dilemma. If one of the options goes against your core values and the other doesn’t, then you know what decision you have to make. Even if it means, you will have to deal with major negative consequences, at least you will have stayed true to your core principles. And in the end, this always lasts longer.

© Jeppe Kleyngeld, maart 2020

My 10 Favorite Movie Endings

10. For a Few Dollars More

09. Pulp Fiction

08. Before Sunset

07. The Big Lebowski

06. Shaun of the Dead

05. The Silence of the Lambs

04. The Godfather: Part II

03. Once Upon a Time in the West

02. Army of Darkness

01. The Godfather

The Story of Film: Time Traveling For the Cinemad

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

It had to be done someday; making a literal odyssey through the history of cinema and documenting it into a film. The traveller is Mark Cousins. The film is a 15 hour documentary called ‘The Story of Film’. Through cinematic innovation, the story of film is told, from the silent era to the multimillion dollar digital age, covering all continents, major cinematic hallmarks and most talented people in cinema.

The Story of Film 1

The beginning
In 1885 George Eastman of Kodak came up with the idea of film on a role. Then Edison figured that if you spin the images in a box you get the illusion of movement. Lumiere went on to invent the film projector and with that: Cinema! It is not difficult to imagine the excitement of those first screenings. When cinemas started appearing everywhere, it enabled people – who did not travel back then – to see other countries. Not just places, but other worlds. Like what the position of woman was in other countries.

After the invention came the content. And despite of what many believe, it is not the money men that drive cinema. They can’t. Because what you need is the visual ideas, and a clear understanding of what is in people’s hearts. It is psychology that became the driving force of film if anything.

Cousins continues to show us the birth of basic cinema language and techniques that are now common, such as editing, the close up, tracking shots and flashbacks. The road trip then takes us further to the places and the people that brought life to this sublime art form.

1910s
In this period a lot was happening in Scandinavia. Maybe it was the Northern Light, Cousins comments. Or the sense of destiny and mortality in Scandinavian literature that made Danish and Swedish movies more graceful and honest. In 1906 the first feature film was shot in Australia: ‘The Story of the Kelly Gang’. The first feature film in Hollywood was ‘The Squaw Man’ (1914). In 1911 the first movie studio was build. Another interesting thing about this period was that a lot of women were working in Hollywood writing and directing, such as Lois Weber and Alice Guy. They did not always get the credits though.

1920s
In Hollywood, cinema became big business in this period (and a men’s world as well). The 1920s saw the birth of an industry in Hollywood. But the studio system did not get in the film, according to Stanley Donen (director ‘Singing in the Rain’). There were also rebels that emerged – like Orson Welles – that tried to break the bubble. In Europe, cinema developed also. Thematically, the city was often the Big Evil. Think for example ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’. In Japan it was as if the Japanese filmmakers tried to compensate for the massacres their country caused by making very humanistic films. In 1921, the first great Japanese movie was made: ‘Souls on the Road’.

1930s
A lot of innovations were introduced in the 1930s like sound and the use of two camera’s with overhead lighting. From Hollywood came horror movies like ‘Frankenstein’ which borrowed heavily from Germany (Der Golem). And the first gangster pictures appeared, which is an original American genre. The cartoon also arrived and was a very successful new genre. Mickey Mouse was a smash hit and in 1937 came the even more successful ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In Britain, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock started working. He understood the basic human emotion ‘fear’ like no other, and his films are still extremely influential to this day.

1940s
The war years meant less glory, and more gloomy films. In Italy we witnessed the birth of neo realism. The sensational ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ (1939) is a movie that best illustrates this style. In 1941 came ‘Citizen Kane’ – a film that is still often considered by many as one of the greatest movies of all time. It used deep staging so audiences could choose where to look. This was previously used in films like ‘Gone With the Wind’ (1939) and ‘Stagecoach’ (1939), which Welles said to have seen 39 times. A dark genre arrived in Hollywood, called Film Noir. These films, such as ‘Double Indemnity’ usually had characters with flaws that drove them towards their faith, even while they tried to avoid it. The decade ended as depressing as it began with a massive communist hunt in Hollywood: the studios had to fire the (alleged) lefties. This is still a major trauma in Hollywood.

1950s
In America in the fifties, we had the suburban, Christian society. But under the surface there was anger, frustration and tension. Classic films like ‘On the Waterfront’ (1954) and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ (1955) best illustrate this. In Europe four legendary directors led the way in changing cinema. They were Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and they made films more personal and self aware than they had ever been. The era ended with the new wave to which French director Jean-Luc Godard belonged and in Italy Pier Paolo Pasolini. The later used religious music for everyday struggles. He felt consumerism was taking over.

The Story of Film 2

1960s
Sergio Leone made his first ‘spaghetti western’ (Italian made Western) and introduced deep focus, which was made possible by the Italian cinematic invention technoscope in 1960. This gives Leone’s movies an epic feel to them. Thematically, Leone was inspired by Japanese Master Akira Kurosawa (lone gunman / lone samurai). Filmmaking went global in the sixties. In Eastern Europe, directors like Roman Polanski and Milos Forman started their careers. In the Soviet Union, one of the greatest directors ever started working: Andrei Tarkovsky, who knew how to create remarkable imagery. According to Tarkovsky: ‘Imagery contains an awareness of the infinite.’ Late sixties, film schools were popping up all around the USA and a new generation was on its way.

1970s
After the realism in movies in the sixties, the seventies saw a return of old fashioned, romantic and entertaining cinema – and of the box office smash hits, think ‘Star Wars’, ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Jaws’. ‘The Godfather’ was the return of an old Hollywood genre: the gangster film. New kids were fighting to open up new form, most notably Martin Scorsese with ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Mean Streets’. When people think of the seventies, they think about Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola and Scorsese. But there was more. In i.a. Britain and Italy, identity was a major theme. In Germany, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (woman in closed places) and Wim Wenders (men in open spaces) had their glory years. And Werner Herzog the explorer went across the world. He was not so much interested in the feminism or Americana of his contemporaries, but in prime evil life. After John Ford, he is the most important landscape filmer in the history of film. The 70’s also saw the arrival of Asian mainstream, epic films from India (‘Sholay’) and a lot of cinematic activity in Africa.

1980s
After the magnificent seventies came the not-so-great eighties. ‘Protest’ is the central theme of this decade. The 5th generation in China – Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou – made interesting movies. From Russia came one of the greatest war movies: ‘Come and See’. In America, ‘Top Gun’ was a smash hit, and many movies were influenced by music video’s, like ‘Flashdance’. In France, filmmakers got more into popular culture, which was a protest in itself. Notable directors that moved up in the film world were David Lynch (with ‘Blue Velvet’) and David Cronenberg in Canada with ‘Videodrome’, a prophetic vision of the modern world in which the real and the televisual are dangerously confused.

1990s
Described by Cousins as the last days of celluloid, before the coming of digital. And directors like Wong Kar Wai and Hou Hsiao-hsien used celluloid devotedly. The 90s saw passionate films about other worlds (‘The Matrix’), but also an obsession about reality, for example in the work of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami who tried to eliminate all dolly’s and clapperboards from the set. From Japan came horror movies about the fear for technology, like ‘Tetsuo’ about a man blending with metal. In Copenhagen, filmmakers returned to primitive filmmaking with Dogma, while Hollywood saw the increasing use of digital effects (‘Terminator 2’ / ‘Gladiator’ / ‘Jurassic Park’). Not only what was in the camera changed, what happened in front of the camera changed as well. Modern became post-modern: The idea that there are no new truths and everything is recycled. Tarantino made this his trade, but respected established directors, like Scorsese, used it as well.

2000s
Documentaries – like ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ – did as well as blockbusters and blockbusters tried to be like documentaries. Innovative movies were made in the USA. Like ‘Requiem For a Dream’: The great distortion movie. The subconscious got at work in ‘Mulholland Drive’. And in Thailand: ‘Tropical Malady’, a film that changes from simplistic tale of friendship to the mythical story of the hunter and the hunted. The film reincarnates like its main character. Another innovative example is ‘Russian Ark’, which consists of one 90 minute long take showing Aristocrats walking downstairs in a massive palace towards the slaughter.

And the future of cinema? Who knows. Perhaps one day we can share dreams like in ‘Inception’. One thing is for sure: Whatever form it may take, the art of cinema is here to stay and deserves to be celebrated likes this.

Icon 29 - Movie Camera

 

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5 Reasons ‘Scarface’ Rarely Makes it to Critics’ Favorite Lists

5 Reasons ‘Scarface’ Rarely Makes it to Critics’ Favorite Lists

Me, I want what's coming to me.

‘Me, I want what’s coming to me.’

Although Brian De Palma’s 1983 gangster movie ‘Scarface’ is legendary within the popular culture domain, it is hardly considered a masterpiece, such as ‘The Godfather’, ‘The Godfather Part II’ and ‘GoodFellas’. Should it?

Yes, I definitely think so. There is no other movie that shows the rise and fall of a gangster more effectively than Scarface. Okay, the high is pretty brief – and consists mostly of a musical number (‘Push it to the limit’), during which Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is buying tigers and snorting lot’s of cocaine. But I guess that is what a gangster’s high would ultimately feel like; empty, shallow and unsatisfying. Even the kick of having the desirable Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t last more than five minutes screentime.

The late film critic Roger Ebert – who awarded ‘Scarface’ a maximum of four stars – said it very poignantly. ‘The movie has been borrowed from so often that it’s difficult to understand how original it seemed in 1983, when Latino heroes were rare, when cocaine was not a cliché, when sequences at the pitch of the final gun battle were not commonplace. Just as a generation raised on ‘The Sopranos’ may never understand how original ‘The Godfather’ was, so ‘Scarface’ has been absorbed into its imitators.’

‘Scarface’ is listed in IMDb’s Top 250 (position 117), but that list is put together by users’ votes. On critic lists, such as the AFI 100 Best American Films, the All Time 100 (by Time) or Rotten Tomatoes’ 100 highest ranked films, it doesn’t appear. So what is it about ‘Scarface’ that obstructs it from being seen as a masterpiece, like the before mentioned gangster classics? Here are the five most probable reasons:

1.  The chainsaw scene
Scarface 1 - The chainsaw scene
Gangster films are violent, that is accepted. But Coppola and Scorsese have a way of turning even the most off-putting bit of violence into something really stylish and cinematic. The way De Palma handles the chainsaw scene, 24 minutes within the movie, is just plain ugly. ‘Now the leg huh’, remarks the sadistic Hector as he puts the saw in Tony Montana’s friend. This scene alone puts ‘Scarface’ in the extreme cinema league. And films that are extreme in this sense are rarely considered as Academy Award contenders.

2. The general ugliness
Scarface 2 - Ugly Car
Most of it is done deliberately, but the look and feel of ‘Scarface’ is just ugly dugly. That shirt that Montana is wearing, holy Christ! Also look at the sets. Miami in the eighties is just terrible. From the refugee camp where Montana and his partners murder the communist Rebenga, to the Miami Beach area where they start their careers as drug runners, these locations are just god awful. The language doesn’t help either: ‘Why don’t you try sticking your head up your ass, see if it fits’, Montana tells Hector. Can you hear Vito Corleone utter such a line? Or how about this one: ‘This town is like a great big pussy just waiting to get fucked.’ That doesn’t sound like ‘Casablanca’ does it? Last but not least: the music. From the cringe worthy synthesizer sounds to eighties hits like ‘She’s on Fire’. It is so wrong, it’s right.

3. The general foulness
Scarface 3 - The Clown
‘Scarface’ is in the end a very cynical movie in which the American Dream can only be achieved through extreme violence and corruption. Tony’s quest for power leads to ton’s of dead bodies: even a clown is whacked for god’s sake! A world in which a vile assassin like Tony Montana is the ultimate hero, is just very hard to accept. And the film gets uglier and uglier as it progresses. Tony’s drunken diner speech is the ultimate example of the repellent worldview on display. ‘Is this it? That’s what it’s all about, Manny? Eating, drinking, fucking, sucking? Snorting? Then what? You’re 50. You got a bag for a belly. You got tits, you need a bra. They got hair on them. You got a liver, they got spots on it, and you’re eating this fucking shit, looking like these rich fucking mummies in here… Look at that. A junkie. I got a fucking junkie for a wife. She don’t eat nothing. Sleeps all day with them black shades on. Wakes up with a Quaalude, and who won’t fuck me ‘cause she’s in a coma. I can’t even have a kid with her, Manny. Her womb is so polluted; I can’t even have a fucking little baby with her!’ It is kind of depressing when he puts it like that.

4. The sister storyline
Scarface 4 - Sister Shooting at Tony
Incest is never a pleasant topic, and even though nothing actually happens sexually between Tony and his sister Gina, it still raises some controversy. It also adds further to the already unpleasant vibe that the movie creates. Tony’s sickening jealousy of every man who even looks at his sister, let alone touches her, leads to aggression and eventually the murder on his best friend Manny. One of the hardest parts to watch involves Gina walking into Tony’s study, undressed, asking him to fuck her while shooting at him.

5. The over-the-top climax
Scarface 5 - Climax
The climax of ‘Scarface’ is so over the top that it is hard to comprehend during the first viewing. Many gangster films end with a massacre, but this is Rambo on cocaine. Fitting how this ending may be, it is so much of everything, that it may affect the judgment of its more critical audience.

None of this really matters though. ‘Scarface’ is a true classic. And though it may not always be appreciated as it should, ‘every dog has its day.’ ‘Scarface’ could go right to the top.