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The American Immigration Experience and "the Godfather, Part Ii"

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The American Immigration Experience

The history of America is immigration. There are many films that have dealt with the trials and tribulations of immigrants and their families, such as "Far and Away," "Scarface," "Gangs of New York," and "West Side Story." Each film examines a specific group and its specific issues.

Francis Ford Coppola is a third generation American of Italian descent. His three "Godfather" films are as much a tribute to his Italian-American heritage as they are about the saga of the Coreleone crime family. He has stated on several occasions that much of the inspiration for these films came from his childhood experiences.

"Godfather Part II" (1974) garnered several academy awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), and Best Director. This is a unique film as it constructed in a parallel format chronicling both the rise of young Vito Coreleone and the pinnacle and fall of his son and successor, Michael.

Building the screen play came from several sources. Mario Puzo's novel, "The Godfather," serves as the basic framework for the rise of young Vito. Coppola used the Cuban Revolution, the history of mobster Meyer Lansky, the Senate hearings on Organized Crime and the "Valachi Papers" as inspirations for Michael's story.

When constructing life for an Italian immigrant living and working in New York City in late 1910's, Coppola was inspired by old photgraphs of Italian immigrants and used them to help re-create Little Italy. With the assistance of Production Designer Dean Tavalaris, Coppola's vision was realized and this film allowed viewers to see and hear what it was like to be an immigrant in turn of the century New York. Coppola also drew on his family's history as well. Coppola's grandfather wrote and performed the Italian Operetta "Sensa Momma" for Italian immigrants in New York in the 1910's. When baby Fredo is diagnosed with pneumonia, Coppola used a vacuum home remedy taught to his grandmother back in the old country.

Many immigrants came to the United States in search of the "American Dream." Just what is the "American Dream?" Is it the dream of wealth? Or, is it, perhaps, the dream of political and social equality; that is to say, the dream of being accepted by other Americans as an equal? To be fair, it is probably a combination of both, although a healthy and positive debate could be hewn out of this definitive question. "Godfather Part II" addresses this question exceedingly well.

Some historians argue that the American dream (in either form) was (and is) dead. Since the political and socioeconomic system established by earlier immigrant groups was not open to newer groups, some of the newer immigrants learned to live on the fringes of mainstream society in ethnic neighborhoods (ghettoes) and created their own hierarchy of power and protection in the form of gangs. Certainly, Italian immigrants were not the first. Irish immigrants formed gangs in the 1850's and 1860's in eastern cities like New York and Boston as a primary response to not being welcomed by mainstream American society (i.e.



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