Firstly, could I — an irreligious, non-Catholic man — be godfather without understanding exactly what’s expected of me in the moral upbringing of this young Filipino child?
Secondly, and more importantly: did being a godfather now give me carte blanche to quote from what I nominate as the best damn film of all time?
“I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.”
I first saw The Godfather in the UK at Manchester’s famed Cornerhouse cinema. My dad took me to watch it, and the film utterly captivated me. It was stylish and dangerous. The suits were shiny, the violence visceral and the hair slicked-back. The cinematography was shot through with shades of brown. It had glamour and heart in equal measure.
And the writing? Mamma mia! Lines in that film made teenage me want to be a writer (or an Italian gangster) just so that I could come out with quotes half that cool.
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
I’m not the only one to continually quote The Godfather. Its fingerprints are smeared all over popular culture. It’s been parroted and pastiched so often that, even if you haven’t seen the film, you know the film. If that is not a benchmark for great content, I don’t know what is. It’s just one of the reasons The Godfather is the greatest film ever.
For better or worse, it also made crime cool. It became the template for every other Mafioso-themed film or TV show, and its been parodied by everyone from The Simpsons to Seinfeld to the Anamaniacs.
Even the actual mafia has embraced the film as a paean to themselves. Members of the mob have been caught on FBI wiretaps quoting soundbites to each other. Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, former underboss to legendary mafia don John Gotti, would cite the film to underlings, telling them, “‘If you have an enemy, that enemy becomes my enemy’.”
And the funeral in Rome of a purported mafia don made headlines this year when it featured a cortege drawn by black-plumed horses, red rose petals dropped from a helicopter and a brass band playing the theme tune from — you guessed it — The Godfather.
“I don't like violence, Tom. I'm a businessman. Blood is a big expense."
At the heart of the film is family. And the heart of the Corleone family — both blood and criminal — is ageing patriarch Vito, who reluctantly passes the mantle of leadership onto his youngest son Michael. The subsequent rise to power and fall from grace of Michael Corleone is that of a man who won the whole world, yet destroyed the very things he loved the most to do so.
I don’t want to read too much into the significance of seeing The Godfather for the first time with my own father. It’s a stretched analogy to say I see our relationship in Vito and Michael’s. (For one thing, I’m the oldest of my siblings.) But The Godfather did become, in some small way, part of our father-son relationship.
So much so that when I left England, for what turned out to be the start of over a decade of living overseas, my father’s leaving gift was a card with a picture of Michael Corleone on it. Inside was a quote from the majestic sequel: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer” on it. Under the blurb, he had written “And your father on the other side of the world!”
“It's a Sicilian message. It means Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
So, ten years after saying goodbye to my family, when I was called upon to stand — lowercase ‘g’ — godfather to a young child in a Singaporean church, it was my own father that I thought of.
The Godfather climaxes with its famous baptismal scene. As Michael renounces Satan and all his works, a montage full of henchmen systematically executes all of his foes. It is brilliantly powerful.
But where Michael said the words (and shortly after makes family reunions very awkward by executing the child’s father, his own brother-in-law, for betraying the family), I resolved to try and impart some of my father’s own wisdom and learnings onto my new godson.
And if part of that includes sitting down one day to take in the cinematic work of art that is The Godfather, then I consider my work there done.