I want to tell you all a story. Six summers ago, my mother and I went on our annual beach vacation with several of her college friends. The set-up is pretty basic: it’s like The Big Chill, with kids. There’s seven adults, and seven of us kids, all males, and, in that year, all weeks away from being 21 (if some weren’t already).
This set-up may sound like a nightmare to most 21 year olds, but for me and those guys, it was a total blast. We did our thing in the basement (sneaking beers from the fridge, and girls in the back door), and the adults hungout upstairs. If everyone behaved, both parties were, more or less, permitted to do their own thing. One condition: we had to have at least two “family style” meals during the week we were there. This meant kids and adults chip in equally with prep, cooking, serving, etc.
And it is the setting of one of those meals that I’d like to discuss here.
Prepping for a meal like that is rather chaotic. Eveyone’s got something to do, you’re all burnt out from the sun, blitzed from the seventh (or eighth, or twelfth) beer you’re nursing, and so on. Now, for the life of me, I haven’t a clue what my pre-dinner task was that particular July evening, other than to sit in front of the television and put something interesting on as background noise.
(A note about the top floor. The top floor of this particular beach house was massive, with the epic kitchen bleeding openly into the living room, which eventually led to a huge outdoor patio. So, if I was sitting in the chair in front of the TV, then there were 13 other people to my left, all occupying space in the living room or kitchen while they prepped dinner.)
I flipped the channels and eventually landed on AMC, which was close to finishing The Godfather. I set the remote down and did my best to block out the noise of steaks cooking, corn boiling, people talking, etc. I sat and watched Al Pacino and Robert Duvall discuss some business while attending Marlon Brando’s funeral. Pacino was going to reach out to the five families, but he was going to do it after his nephew’s baptism.
Cut to the baptism scene, in which organs slowly purr over the soundtrack, and Pacino stares broodingly at his nephew, ready to finally become a godfather.
And here is precisely where the dynamic in the beach house shifted. As Francis Ford Coppola masterfully, beautifully, seamlessly began to cross-cut the actions of the baptism with the corresponding actions of low-level mob guys preparing to execute their unknown missions, the sounds of the beach house began to get quiet.
Right around the time Michael Corleone’s newly-baptized nephew (who was actually played by Sophia Coppola) began to cry hysterically, I looked around the room and saw that the 13 other house guests were doing exactly what I was. They were watching, without the slightest desire of taking their eyes of the screen. No one said a word. As each of the heads of the five families were gunned down by Michael’s crew, the houseguests momentarily derelicted their dinner duties to watch in admiration. For some, The Godfather was a favorite, others had made it through life thus far without having seen it. It didn’t matter. For those five minutes, Coppola had us. We sat and marveled at Coppola’s now iconic use of juxtaposition, at Al Pacino’s remarkably stoic face, at Nino Rota’s immaculately precise musical score, at Gordon Willis’ haunting cinematography. We sat and watched. Fourteen people, half of who were spilt by at least 30 years from the other half. Fourteen people silently bewildered by one of the finest-crafted sequences ever put on film.
Sure, steaks were overcooked and asparagus was burned and lobster was boiled too long… but a moment was had. Something was shared. For reasons I’m not going to go into here, many of those people in that house no longer communicate with one another. That’s a shame, but it’s also life. And whether reconciliations are considered or never hinted at, we’ll always have those five minutes together, watching and listing in dumbfounded awe.
Not to be cute, but it really was like something out of a movie.
Previous installments of My Favorite Scene include:
The Rules of Attraction
The Rules of Attraction