February 4, 2005

Pay Your Respects to the OGs

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Here’s an offer you can’t refuse: Five powerful mobster films coming back from the vault to the big screen at Cornell Cinema. The films are a section of Professor Campbell’s course, “Film & Italian 301: Screening ‘Cosa Nostra.'”

The course itself seeks to unravel the stereotype of the mobster that we have come to know through Hollywood while showing why American culture is obsessed with the Mafioso figures from Scarface to Vito Corleone and up until now, with Tony Soprano.

Mary Fessenden, director of Cornell Cinema, feels that all moviegoers should take advantage of these films being brought to the big screen. She comments, “It is incredibly different to see a film on the big screen. You engage much more with a film when it is projected and there are no distractions.”

The first three films are all American, with both Godfather and Goodfellas head-lining due to their notoriety as the best mobster movies, if not two of the best movies of all time. Fessenden believes “Godfather is a classic of American cinema. It’s a film that has held up over time, with constant interest. The cinematography is perfect — fans should really go out and see it on the big screen.”

Professor Tim Campbell is extremely proud of the fact that he has these five films coming to Cornell Cinema. “These five films mean a lot to me” he says, “especially the Italian films, Johnny Stecchino and Salvatore Giuliano.” While both are subtitled, they bring with them a profound and timeless message of the mafia. Campbell recalls that Salvatore Giuliano is a late classic of Italian neo-realism, coming off as more tonic than the sensationalized depictions of Italians that American audiences are accustomed to seeing. The direction of the movie, he states, “is almost that of a documentary of the social and cultural cases of the mafia. You rarely get that with Italian films.”

Johnny Stecchino, on the other hand, is a “perverse choice because it came out when the Italian state was going after the Cosa Nostra, and setting them on Maxi-trials.” To bring Italian history into context, Campbell points out that two of the magistrates of the trial were killed by the mafiosa themselves. Campbell refers to this event as a “tremendous wound on the Italian psyche.”

Johnny Stecchino, coming out at this time, provided a comical take on the mob and didn’t correspond with what was really happening. The film comes from Life is Beautiful director Roberto Benigni and, at the time of its inception, was the highest-grossing Italian film of all time. Though Italian in its production and language, it interestingly plays on the American stereotypes of the mob.

While Campbell is obviously impressed and enamored with all of these films, the one that he highly recommends to open the eyes of the student public is the least popular of the American films, The Funeral, which stars mob-role veterans Christopher Walken and Chris Penn. What Campbell loves most about the film is that “it demystifies the notion of ‘the family.'” It is a relentless critique on the burden of the sons of the mafia that makes them pay with violence.” Campbell also finds the story to be dramatically straightforward, allowing the viewer to draw radical conclusions about the present-day mafia.

With five films to fit your fancy and two showings of each, all Italians, film fanatics and Italian film fanatics will have the opportunity to skip back generations and see the stories of big and powerful men as big and powerful images on the silver screen. What’s that? You have L-Sats? Prelims are coming up? Hey! Fuggedaboutit!

In order of their showings, they are: The Godfather (1972) Feb 5 & 7 Goodfellas (1990) Feb 11 & 14 The Funeral (1996) Feb 19 & 21 Salvatore Giuliano (1961) Feb 26 & 28 And Johnny Stecchino (1992) March 5 & 7

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Sun Staff Writer