Paul Sheldon had a bottle of Dom Perignon on the ice, and opening it he waited to write “good” under the print for the new novel. Disciplined waiting to finish work to start drinking aside, Paul Sheldon was just like the rest of us. But we didn’t know this then.
I didn’t know that I was eighteen and that I did (as little as possible) my homework; But neither did the adults, who did not have cell phones, social platforms, and daily interactions with criminals, and their reputations constantly at risk.
Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition: Nobody knew that after three decades, the world would be divided into Paul Sheldon, who thinks he can do his wits with what he thinks, and Annie Wilkes, who breaks his legs. Because, his favorite novelist, he wants to dare to kill the heroine of fantasy literature.
Misery that must not die was a perfect storm of talents for those who never thought when we should list the best, and then when they die we mourn them. Stephen King’s novel was written by William Goldman, Marathon Runner, All the President’s Men, and above all Butch Cassidy. The film was directed by Rob Reiner, always very careful not to draw attention while making movie history, from Stand by me to Code of Honor, through Harry. Annie Wilkes has played her for over forty years with Three Minds and No Fame: Today, between a conversation about body positivity and the other, a possessed who kidnaps a writer would make a 25-year-old woman with millions of hearts play her on Instagram, not on the little-known Kathy Bates.
Then there was James Kahn. James had never thought of it. It didn’t even cross our minds when we made the good lists, it didn’t even cross our minds when we talked about The Godfather. Al Pacino, well, it was Al Pacino, but if we had to say about the clever Corleone we were talking about, and if we had to say about the stupid Corleone, we’d say about Fredo. Sony never. Almost impossible. Then we come back to that “almost,” and now I don’t want to neglect Paul Sheldon.
The movie was from Annie. Paul had to stay in bed. Sick first, then prisoner. The movie was an escalation of hysteria for the kind of character we see every day today and thirty-two years ago was terrifying. He told James Caan who, prior to the release, had shown the film to Stephen King. Goldman did manage to clean the story from much of the violence in the book, but the bedridden James Caan was still the most helpless victim she had ever seen. When you’re about to kill him, King’s voice can be heard in the darkness of the screening room, snarling like a regular spectator: Be careful, he’s got a weapon.
It took one we can forget, to remind us of empathy. We needed one we thought twenty years ago: Ah, that’s the beautiful but stupid Corleone. (All of Don Vito’s kids are stupid, as they should be. No man has any form of power, whether it’s money or fame or the underworld, he has kids who aren’t stupid. Michael Husteri, Santino is stupid, Fredo are both hysterically stupid, Kony stupid, hysterical, and also female).
Sonny’s foolishness, foolish enough to fall into the trap set by his idiot son-in-law, is my favorite brawl in the godfather discussions (the godfather argument is a very entertaining activity). Young fans cannot call the hero of their favorite movie an idiot, nor do they know that stupidity is an indispensable narrative mechanism: if Sony weren’t an idiot, the movie wouldn’t exist.
Thursday’s on Twitter was a contest to remember that Kahn was not an Italian American, but it was evidence of a tolerance of identity between Jews and Italians, and explanations could be exchanged. I fear Occam will suggest another explanation: Fifty years ago, identities were less prescriptive than they are today. Today the Joan Rivers biography project swerves because, for God’s sake, the actress chosen to play her was not Jewish. Yes, at the time there was Jack Nicholson who said he turned down The Godfather because it was right for the role to go to an Italian, but it was his idea, not a woe rule to break, and anyway Nicholson’s concession departs from the debate between cultural identities and enters the field of failed castings to imagine . (What would Gone with the Wind with Bette Davis be? Or The Graduate with Robert Redford?)
I was looking at James Kahn’s social crocodiles, just like all the other crocodiles – hey, I have a picture with the dead – but different from many other crocodiles – to take a picture with the dead Barbra Streisand, not Vongola 75 – and I thought that yeah, social media has a co-responsibility About the daily crying of someone we might not remember in our favorite charts; But there is a temporal inevitability beyond the sinister invention of little heart pads.
Popular culture as we understand it is an invention of the 1960s, which by the way is the years that young people invented it. It’s the decade that convinced us that being 20 was cool, and the decade that convinced us that movies and songs are so important. The first generation of pop culture posters, those who were in their 20s, are now 80, and die a lot.
James was just over thirty when he played Santino Corleone. And yes, well, the history of cinema, the giants we will never have again, the objective importance of some works. But, most of all, we are excited by the youth and naivety of details like the one told by Jennifer Tilly: It was he who, in the Godfather’s set, hides pepper in the middle of the food, because Coppola always steals it from him. Layer it and thus conveys it to him desire. Every funeral speaks to us, the mourners but also the corpse. We neither cry Santino nor weep until it was: we cry, every time this rite of death is repeated, Glock Street in which we no longer even know whether we really lived.