There’s little to doubt the shadowy presence of The Godfather on almost every major “greatest films of all time” list. The epic gangster noir, a film that has transcended genre to lie only in the eternal fields of subtle brilliance, has been seen as a masterpiece almost since its first release in August of 1972, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily as “seen” as it would have like to be.
Nearly 50 years since Marlon Brando graced our screens as Don Corleone with his iconic mumbling menace and penchant for a peck or two on the cheek, and the world is a vastly different place. Famously fighting his studio to ensure The Godfather remained a period piece, Francis Ford Coppola was keen that the film’s authenticity remained intact and far removed from the growing modernity of the world around him.
The film may have been set in the 1940s, thirty years before its release, but those two worlds feel closer than ever when comparing them to the 21st century and the society Coppola released his film into in 1972. Through the internet and social media, among a myriad of other technological developments, the world is smaller than ever. There are, of course, good and bad points to such globalisation, but making almost every film, song, or other art forms instantly attainable is surely a tick in everyone’s “pro” column.
Even in supposed dark countries, where strict regulations are in place to keep content away from your screens, a few naughty clicks towards a new VPN, and you’re in business. You can give yourself access to pretty much every film that has ever been released and even store them in your phone ready for later viewing — imagine what Corleone would think about that. Back in 1972, things weren’t as easy. If you happened to be living behind the Iron Curtain, the famous fictional boundary to describe the divide between West and East, and wanted to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, you were screwed. But, as ever, humanity finds a way.
Though Coppola has been at the helm of some of cinema’s greatest films and his stories of Hollywood hi-jinx can likely topple any dinner party conversation in the vicinity, there was one story out of Albania that always resonated with the director.
Following the Second World War, the southeastern European country of Albania found itself operating as a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The death of Stalin saw the country align itself most tightly with the People’s Republic of China and experience an infrastructure boom, with railway transforming the state of the nation and, alongside land reform, sending wages rocketing. But, as well as the country was doing, how educated they were about the perils of the West during the ongoing Cold War, there was still something alluring about the United States, namely the glamour of Hollywood. They would do whatever they could to have a taste of it.
There are countless stories of how children and adults concocted clever plans to watch Hollywood films in Communist countries, but this is certainly Coppola’s favourite. As Film School Rejects report, Coppola remembers hearing the story of how some ingenious Albanian kids managed to watch The Godfather: “If you send your work out, it can go anywhere. You have no idea how the world is going to see it,” recalled the director.
“When I went to Albania, I was told the young people in Albania… if you don’t know, it’s a very closed and restricted place, like North Korea… these young kids wanted to see The Godfather, so they went to this part of Albania where there was this dock close enough to Italy.” While it must’ve been tantalising to know that a semi-brief swim could grant you all the McDonald’s and KFC you wanted, the kids in Albania had a different idea.
“They figured out if they all put spoons in their mouths and connected it to the set, they’d get a very bad image of The Godfather transmitted from Italy,” recalls Coppola. “These five guys sat there with spoons in their mouths and a little black-and-white television set.” It’s an image that not only sheds light on the endeavour of the human spirit, nor the camaraderie of watching films with your friends, but provides a clear image of the importance of art to society.
It won’t be The Godfather‘s lasting legacy, but the story of how some spoons helped get the film over the Iron Curtain is a testament to Coppola’s masterpiece.