Thomas Flight says his favorite 15 seconds of The Godfather consist of Michael Corleone lighting a cigarette. In a new video essay, he explains why the simple scene illustrates Corleone’s transformation from Corleone family outsider to its new patriarch. You can watch it above.
The scene takes place soon after an attack on Don Corleone (Marlon Brando), Michael’s father. Enzo nervously fumbles to light a cigarette. In an act of mercy and decisiveness, Michael takes the lighter, flicks the fire to life, and shares the flame with a grateful Enzo. We see Michael’s steady gaze through the smoke of the cigarette.
It’s a great small moment by Al Pacino, who plays Michael. But also an example of great show-don’t-tell filmmaking. As Flight notes on his gorgeously produced video essay, “My Favorite 15 Seconds From The Godfather,” Francis Ford Coppola’s film never shows Michael discussing his transformation from reluctant Corleone to full-fledged mob boss. We see it illustrated in small scenes like his lighting of Enzo’s cigarette.
Thomas Flight has made many video essays filled with valuable lessons for moviemakers, including his recent essay on how El Camino frames lead character Jesse Pinkman, and his series on the first films of directors Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Terrence Malick, and the Coen Brothers. We recommend that you watch Thomas Flight’s videos on YouTube.
Flight’s breakdown of The Godfather lighter scene is especially timely for those, like us, who have been obsessively rewatching Pacino and Robert De Niro’s films since last year’s The Irishman, the fourth film in which they’ve both appeared.
The first was The Godfather Part II, in which De Niro played Vito Corleone before he became Don Corleone.