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On The Godfather (Interesting analysis)
Lew Rockwell.com ^ | March 19, 2003 | Craig Russell

Posted on 03/19/2003 9:55:35 AM PST by tarawa

On The Godfather by Craig Russell

"To live outside the law, you must be honest."

~ Bob Dylan

The upcoming Academy Awards this weekend reminds me that thirty years ago this month, The Godfather won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1972. It also won Oscars for Marlon Brando as Best Actor (famously and memorably refused by him) and for Best Screenplay. In addition, it received seven other nominations, including three best supporting actor nods to James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Al Pacino.

In the decades that have passed, many of the other films that received nominations that year – Pete and Tillie, Travels with My Aunt, The Emigrants – have for the most part passed from popular consciousness. But The Godfather remains as alive and vibrant as it was upon its release in March of 1972, and the statement "I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse" still reverberates with instant recognition. Why has this film endured? Perhaps because its hero, Vito Corleone, was a man of morals, principle, and courage in a world sorely lacking in either – a man who stands throughout the film in stark contrast to the State.

Vito Corleone – his first name means "life," or "alive," and his last means "lionhearted" – is in every way his own man. The logo that you see as the film opens incorporates a hand holding the strings of a marionette. As he says to his son Michael late in the film, "I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots." And he has made his life providing people with things that the State – "those big shots" – has denied the people, among them gambling, women – and justice.

In the opening scene, Bonasera, a funeral director, explains to Don Corleone how the men who beat and disfigured his daughter got suspended sentences: the State has refused him the justice he deserves, and so he "must go to Don Corleone." And that is what he gets. He asks initially for Corleone to kill them, but Corleone points out that "that is not justice. Your daughter is still alive." Bonasera tries vainly to tempt him with money, but Corleone is above that. His only price for supplying justice is friendship. "Someday," he says, "and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day – accept this justice as a gift on my daughter's wedding day."

Throughout the film, in contrast to the morality of the Don, we see the corruption of the State. In the wedding scene, very early in the film, we begin to see the relationship between the Don and the State when Tom Hagen tells him that a senator and "some of the judges" had called to apologize for not being there, but that "they’ve all sent gifts." This is clarified a little later when Sollozzo, who wants the Don to finance his nascent drug business, tells him "I need a man who has powerful friends…. I need, Don Corleone, those politicians that you carry in your pocket like so many nickels and dimes." They’re for sale, and the Don has purchased them. Later, when the Don is laying in the hospital after an attempt on his life, it’s a New York City police chief, on another family’s payroll, who takes the guards away to make it easier for a second attempt (foiled by Michael, whose jaw is promptly broken by the chief who has his men hold him in place while he hits him). And late in the film, the film speaks very specifically about the State when Michael and Kay have their first conversation upon his return to America. Michael says that his father is "no different than any other powerful man, any man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or a president."

"You know how naïve you sound?" says Kay. "Senators and presidents don't have men killed."

To which Michael replies: "Oh? Who's being naïve, Kay?"

Unlike the State, the Don is not corrupt – violent, yes, but not corrupt. While he buys politicians, he himself cannot be bought. Our indoctrination, however, tells us that, since he uses violence, he is therefore an evil man. But he is not. He’s just a man who has refused to yield to the State, among other things, its desired monopoly on violence, which is the cornerstone of the State’s power. And he uses this violence with restraint. Yes, he persuaded the bandleader who had signed his godson to a personal services contract to release him by making him "an offer he couldn’t refuse" by threatening his life: "He assured him that either his brains or his signature would be on that contract." But don’t forget that he had been there the day before offering ten times the money that he later did, and the bandleader unreasonably refused. The same thing happens with the movie director. The Don first offers friendship and to do him some specific services, but the director refuses reason, and wakes up with a horse’s head in his bed. What’s the difference between what the Don does in these instances and what the State would do if these men had been sued in court, except that the Don’s approach is more direct and more honest?

The Don is the most principled man in the film. He refuses to do "murder for money" in Bonasera’s case, because that would not be justice, and he refuses to participate in Sollozzo’s drug business, because that would not be right. As he tells Sollozzo:

I must say no to you, and I'll give you my reasons. It's true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they view as a harmless vice. But drugs is a dirty business. It doesn't make any difference to me what a man does for a living, understand. But your business is a little dangerous.

It makes no difference to him how much money he stands to make on the deal, in this case, says Sollozzo, "in the first year, your end should be three, four million dollars, and then it would go up." Not only does he refuse the deal on (dare I say it?) moral grounds, he does it knowing that he could be risking his life. For Vito Corleone, his family, his friends, and his integrity are far more important than mere money.

This, then, is why The Godfather endures: its main character is a true man, strong enough, brave enough, and principled enough to stand up to and defy the power of the State. He is, in short, the kind of man we all wish to be. Unlike so many today, Vito Corleone is truly Alive, and truly Lionhearted.

March 19, 2003

Craig Russell lives in upstate New York.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS:
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1 posted on 03/19/2003 9:55:35 AM PST by tarawa
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To: tarawa
"Do you spend time with your family? Because a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man."

"I've spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women and children can be careless, not men."

2 posted on 03/19/2003 10:02:10 AM PST by wideawake (Causa finita est)
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To: tarawa
Oddly enough, it's Saddam's favorite film.
3 posted on 03/19/2003 10:02:52 AM PST by mr.pink
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To: tarawa
This, then, is why The Godfather endures: its main character is a true man, strong enough, brave enough, and principled enough to stand up to and defy the power of the State. He is, in short, the kind of man we all wish to be.

True, which makes it all the more strange that the part was so memorably played by Marlon Brando!

4 posted on 03/19/2003 10:03:00 AM PST by Pearls Before Swine
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To: wimpycat
ping
5 posted on 03/19/2003 10:05:06 AM PST by Constitution Day (** RALLY FOR AMERICA: Raleigh, NC ** http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/861481/posts)
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To: tarawa
I love the Godfather, and part II as well. You can put part III in the trash though.
6 posted on 03/19/2003 10:08:39 AM PST by Bella_Bru (For all your tagline needs. Don't delay! Orders shipped overnight.)
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To: Pearls Before Swine
Brando was great in so many movies. Unfortunately, his ego grew to the point he became insufferable.
7 posted on 03/19/2003 10:10:30 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: tarawa
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoles."
8 posted on 03/19/2003 10:11:03 AM PST by blau993 (Labs for love; .357 for Security.)
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Comment #9 Removed by Moderator

To: tarawa
This, then, is why The Godfather endures: its main character is a true man, strong enough, brave enough, and principled enough to stand up to and defy the power of the State.

But the movie is about Michael, and his slide from war hero to mobster, not about Vito. The movie reaches its climax after Vito has died. The juxtaposition of the baptism with the brutal killings of the heads of the other families, in addition to being a wonderful piece of filmmaking, is the completion of Michael's slide to the "dark side."

This is why the movie endures. Stories of falls from grace are compelling and this one is more compelling than most.

10 posted on 03/19/2003 10:13:48 AM PST by trad_anglican
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To: tarawa; dighton; aculeus; general_re; Poohbah; L,TOWM; Constitution Day
"It's true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they view as a harmless vice. But drugs is a dirty business."

The irony of something like this being quoted by a pro-legalized-drugs LewRockwell/libertarian commentator is quite delicious.

11 posted on 03/19/2003 10:17:10 AM PST by BlueLancer (Der Elite Møøsenspåånkængruppen ØberKømmååndø (EMØØK))
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To: Eric in the Ozarks
Brando was great in so many movies. Unfortunately, his ego grew to the point he became insufferable.

Part of his acting persona was the projection of a self-involved, distracted, superiority. Maybe he was acting, but I think there was a bit of typecasting also.

12 posted on 03/19/2003 10:17:28 AM PST by Pearls Before Swine
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To: tarawa
Very interesting to learn that Brando refused the oscar. Did he explain why?
13 posted on 03/19/2003 10:20:34 AM PST by uncitizen (hostile freepers need not reply)
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To: tarawa
"And may their first child ... be a masculine child."

- Luca Brazi

"I'm smart! Not like everyone says!"

-Fredo

14 posted on 03/19/2003 10:21:16 AM PST by The G Man
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To: trad_anglican
This is why the movie endures.

As well as it's tremendous cinematography, where almost every scene is as finely composed as a master painting.
15 posted on 03/19/2003 10:22:16 AM PST by mr.pink
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To: tarawa
Since becoming the owner of a small business, I have come to realize that The Godfather is really just a "business fantasy" movie.

(steely)

16 posted on 03/19/2003 10:25:41 AM PST by Steely Tom
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To: tarawa
The state has successfully muscled the Don out of the numbers racket. It's now exclusively their "game".
17 posted on 03/19/2003 10:38:41 AM PST by DManA
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To: BlueLancer
The irony of something like this being quoted by a pro-legalized-drugs LewRockwell/libertarian commentator is quite delicious.

Not really. The fact that recreational drugs are illegal makes the business dirty.

18 posted on 03/19/2003 10:40:32 AM PST by cruiserman
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To: trad_anglican
But the movie is about Michael, and his slide from war hero to mobster, not about Vito.
Excellent point, which Craig Russell completely missed in his effort to paint "the State" as the bad guy. Michael's slide to the dark side was inevitable, as nothing can remain pure in the environment of evil in which he lived (yes, the Mafia is evil despite Russell's romanticising of the Godfather and his cohort).
19 posted on 03/19/2003 10:40:51 AM PST by drjimmy
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To: uncitizen
Did he explain why?

He had a female American Indian, dressed in native garb, make a speech at the academy awards show expressing his displeasure with the way American Indians were being treated/portrayed in movies and how they were being mistreated by the American gov't.

If I remember correctly she later appeared in Playboy magazine. She used her tribal name both onstage at the oscars and in the magazine.
20 posted on 03/19/2003 10:54:38 AM PST by PatriotGames (AOOGHA! AOOGHA! CLEAR THE BRIDGE! DIVE! DIVE! WHOOOOOOSH!)
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To: PatriotGames
Sasheen Littlefeather
21 posted on 03/19/2003 11:00:31 AM PST by stanz
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To: drjimmy
That's why the movie is a tragedy in the classic sense. Both Vito and Michael do what they do for the sake of their family. In Part 2, we see how Vito falls into a life of crime after the local Black Hand boss takes away his job at the grocery store, and how he rises up in the community as a respected figure, a godfather who helps old ladies who are getting evicted. But Michael has a character flaw--his sense of honor and family is so strong that it has perverted itself. The tragedy is that, while saying he's doing everything for the sake of his family, he in fact destroys his family. He kills his brother and his brother-in-law. He drives away his sister and his wife. In the end, he's all alone. The family honor has been upheld, but there's no family anymore. And he sees that it's happening. In Part 2 he asks his mother how his father did it, and if, by being strong for his family, he could lose it, which is exactly what happens. But he can't stop it, because, like the Greeks said, character is destiny.
22 posted on 03/19/2003 11:01:26 AM PST by Heyworth
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To: tarawa
The premise of the movie endures because not much has changed in the backhills of Sicily. Take away the period costumes and take away the 50's autos, village life in Cosa Nostra ia pretty much the same. Shooting birds or shooting men - - same difference.
23 posted on 03/19/2003 11:03:56 AM PST by stanz
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To: tarawa
I guessed I missed the point of "The Godfather" even though I had read the book. The movies all seemed long, vapid, boring, and generally uninteresting. Brando did an spoof of a "method" actor playing Rod Serling; I did predict this would get an Oscar. Mostly (with a few notable exceptions) I find the Oscar winners to be the most boring movies each year.
24 posted on 03/19/2003 11:06:08 AM PST by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: drjimmy
"But the movie is about Michael, and his slide from war hero to mobster, not about Vito."

I felt the tragedy of the story was Michael's murder of his own brother and his brother-in-law. That the most dramatic moment for me was when he asked his mother, "Can a man, by being strong for his family, lose his family?" She replied, "Michael, you can never lose your family." And Michael already knew he was going to assassinate Fredo.
25 posted on 03/19/2003 11:10:59 AM PST by Snardius
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To: Heyworth
Good analysis. The author of this article misses the point. He tries to make it black and white--Godfather good and moral, State evil and corrupt. What makes The Godfather such an enduring film is its complexity. Coppola's genius is in his daring to present a figure who seems both moral and evil at the same time. But this is an impossibility. A moral man would not kill another man. If Vito Corleone had chosen to, he could have been a wealthy, powerful man by just building an importing empire, or whatever. But he chose to take the short cut through crime. This article is pure rubbish.
26 posted on 03/19/2003 11:19:05 AM PST by giotto
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To: tarawa
Triumph of the will.
27 posted on 03/19/2003 11:19:23 AM PST by ModelBreaker
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To: stanz
Similarly for much of the Middle East, too.
28 posted on 03/19/2003 11:21:12 AM PST by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
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To: Doctor Stochastic
Today President Bush settles all family business.
29 posted on 03/19/2003 11:28:26 AM PST by dfwgator
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To: stanz
Sasheen Littlefeather

Yes, that's her. I would never have remembered her name and should have thought to do a search before posting.

Thank you.
30 posted on 03/19/2003 11:34:36 AM PST by PatriotGames (AOOGHA! AOOGHA! CLEAR THE BRIDGE! DIVE! DIVE! WHOOOOOOSH!)
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To: PatriotGames
Funny...I can't remember where my keys are, but trivia like that never escapes me. Must be Senioritis coming on.
31 posted on 03/19/2003 11:40:09 AM PST by stanz
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To: tarawa
why is the don so great for not being able to be bought when at the same time he makes people offers they can't refuse when they hold there ground and don't want to be bought

i love the godfather trilogy but your view is flawed
32 posted on 03/19/2003 11:46:05 AM PST by tru_degenerate (that which is hidden will eventually come to light)
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To: stanz
Geezerhood. I know what you mean.
33 posted on 03/19/2003 11:47:13 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: cruiserman
Not really. The fact that recreational drugs are illegal makes the business dirty.

No. What makes drugs "dirty" is that they addict people and rob (at least the more weak willed among) them of the ability to behave rationally and be productive members of society. Illegality has little to do with the fact that so many homeless people and criminals are substance abusers. It is the fact that substance abuse robs them of the ability to hold down jobs or meet their responsibilities that is the problem.

34 posted on 03/19/2003 11:56:40 AM PST by Question_Assumptions
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To: tarawa
I gotta go to the bathroom...Is it Ok?
35 posted on 03/19/2003 12:00:37 PM PST by metalboy
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To: tarawa
Brando's Vito Corleone is a true man, however flawed, in an era of wimps. That's why the movie is such a success.
36 posted on 03/19/2003 12:05:32 PM PST by Longshanks
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To: tarawa
its hero, Vito Corleone, was a man of morals, principle, and courage in a world sorely lacking in either – a man who stands throughout the film in stark contrast to the State.

Does somebody pay Lew Rockwell to publish idiotic articles that make libertarianism look bad?

37 posted on 03/19/2003 12:13:09 PM PST by Lurking Libertarian (Non sub homine, sed sub Deo et lege)
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To: mr.pink
Saddam is a pimp.
38 posted on 03/19/2003 1:27:03 PM PST by sheik yerbouty
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To: tarawa
Throughout the film, in contrast to the morality of the Don, we see the corruption of the State.

Perhaps because its hero, Vito Corleone, was a man of morals, principle, and courage in a world sorely lacking in either – a man who stands throughout the film in stark contrast to the State

And he has made his life providing people with things that the State – "those big shots" – has denied the people, among them gambling, women – and justice.

And he has made his life providing people with things that the State – "those big shots" – has denied the people, among them gambling, women – and justice.

Throughout the film, in contrast to the morality of the Don, we see the corruption of the State.

And late in the film, the film speaks very specifically about the State when Michael and Kay have their first conversation upon his return to America. Michael says that his father is "no different than any other powerful man, any man who's responsible for other people, like a senator or a president." "You know how naïve you sound?" says Kay. "Senators and presidents don't have men killed." To which Michael replies: "Oh? Who's being naïve, Kay?" Unlike the State, the Don is not corrupt – violent, yes, but not corrupt.

He’s just a man who has refused to yield to the State, among other things, its desired monopoly on violence, which is the cornerstone of the State’s power.

MY, my it seems that Vito and the author don't much like the state. I wonder if Mr. Craig Russel of upstate New York would be so indulgent of Nathan Bedford Forrest who didn't much like the state either during reconstruction but who repudiated the klan when it abandoned his principles?

39 posted on 03/19/2003 2:41:11 PM PST by nathanbedford
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To: metalboy
I gotta go to the bathroom...Is it Ok?

Not so fast. I gotta have my boys check out the water closet first.

40 posted on 03/19/2003 3:33:18 PM PST by Erasmus
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To: stanz
Funny...I can't remember where my keys are, but trivia like that never escapes me. Must be Senioritis coming on.

Don't worry: Not being able to find your keys, that's NOT an indication of "Old Timers" disease... On the other hand, forgetting what your keys are for ...

Mark

41 posted on 03/19/2003 4:02:58 PM PST by MarkL
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To: tarawa
But I didn't know, until this very day, that it was Barzinni all along.

I got the 4 DVD set for my birthday. I love the Godfather movies. Even the 3rd with its flaws. I have seen them all maybe 40 times.

I enjoyed what you wrote, but would just add that everything the Don did might have been for power, but in his world, from when he was a child, power meant - not money, but safety, for those he loved. That was his priority, and what separates him from the bad guys.
42 posted on 03/19/2003 4:14:21 PM PST by My back yard
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To: stanz
LOL. I have a friend of mine who calls me up with obscure questions. i asked him why he calls me. He said i know more useless sh&t than anyone he knows.
43 posted on 03/19/2003 5:13:40 PM PST by stylin19a (Having a hard time meeting people ? just pick up the wrong golf ball on the golf course.)
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To: DManA
The state has successfully muscled the Don out of the numbers racket. It's now exclusively their "game".
##

Not only did the State muscle the numbers game away from the entrepreneurs who started it, they don’t run it nearly as honestly or as efficiently.

When you could play the numbers on the street, the payoff was 600/1. The state pays 250/1 in some places. The true odds are 999/1.

The private sector ran the game, paid off cops, judges, etc., paid runners who picked up the bets and brought you the winnings, and made a very nice profit for the bookmaker on the 299/1 grind. The State can’t make enough to run the schools on a 749/1 grind.

Of course, this is no surprise. The State is never as efficient, or as honest, as the private sector.
44 posted on 03/19/2003 5:30:02 PM PST by SUSSA
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To: stylin19a
That's funny. My daughter says I'm a storehouse of useless trivialities. She's right.(But some of my little ditties come in handy when she's researching papers.)
45 posted on 03/19/2003 7:26:11 PM PST by stanz
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To: MarkL
How about the fact that each of my keys are color-coded?
46 posted on 03/19/2003 7:29:49 PM PST by stanz
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To: tarawa
mm
47 posted on 03/19/2003 7:30:31 PM PST by The Lake City Gar
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To: mr.pink
My only problem with the picture (And I think this is "Cinamatography) is that it's so dark. So dark in many places that you can't even make-out the actors faces. It really bothers me.
48 posted on 03/20/2003 6:20:14 AM PST by The Lake City Gar
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To: PatriotGames
In 1973 Marlon Brando sent 'Sasheen Littlefeather' to reject his Best Actor award as a protest against Hollywood's portrayal of Native American Indians. It turned out that she wasn't quite as native american as she first appeared, but actually actress Maria Cruz, one time winner of the Miss American Vampire contest and later to appear nude in Playboy Magazine...
49 posted on 03/20/2003 6:27:32 AM PST by The Lake City Gar
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To: The Lake City Gar
My only problem with the picture (And I think this is "Cinamatography) is that it's so dark. So dark in many places that you can't even make-out the actors faces. It really bothers me.

To each his own. I enjoyed that aspect of the film very much. I think that dramatic style of lighting is called "chiaroscuro" (originally a term for a type of painting style...i.e.- Carravagio).
50 posted on 03/20/2003 6:34:54 AM PST by mr.pink
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