The Godfather Effect: Changing Hollywood, America and Me by Tom Santopietro; St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, 326 pages ($25.99). Some people call it the "retromania" of current American culture. Whatever it is, we are addicted to commemorating this anniversary or that of some pop cultural event, whether movie or book or record or TV show or whatever. Even if we weren't, though, the 40th anniversary of the premiere of the movie many consider the most important, by far, of "Hollywood's second Golden Age" would be a major milestone.
Here is the first major book about Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" to appear in 2012, the film's 40th year, thus far, and it is, in its way, superb. Tom Santopietro's day job for the past quarter century has been to be the manager of Broadway shows but he's also written books about Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Barbra Streisand.
What he's done very smartly here is combine cinematic history, film criticism and cultural analysis with his own personal history of mixed Italian-American ancestry. His mother, unlike his Italian-American father, "could not have been further removed from the Mama Corleones populating my father's Division Street neighborhood. Her upbringing and Mount Holyoke education were, of course, part of the attraction for my father and, at the same time, a source of bafflement."
What Santopietro tells us is that the massive Italianization of American culture and storytelling ushered in by "The Godfather" onscreen was matched by his discovery of his own life as an Italian-American after an upbringing removed from it.
Even the twice-told tales here -- Coppola getting Brando to do a sneaky screen test for it in Brando's home on Mulholland Drive, Coppola surviving several attempts to remove him from the film as well as the on-set denunciations of his own cinematographer, the great Gordon Willis -- are handled in a fascinating way in a film book that has the courage to admit being about as personal a subject as it can be.
If this is the beginning of a skein of 2012 "Godfather" books, it's a very good one.
-- Jeff Simon