“‘The Offer,” a new limited series from Paramount Plus about the making of “The Godfather,” is an excellent and well-made piece of American nostalgia. But as fun as the show is, and it really is, one feels the sense of something lost while watching the story of the creation of this 20th century masterpiece.
The show embodies a 21st century Hollywood that is always telling the story of some other story, that is always referencing, almost never charting a new course as Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount Studios did in 1970 with their epic tale of the Corleone Family. They made something new, something that captured the nation, and something that today is hard to imagine.
In 1986, seven of the top 10 grossing movies in America were original stories, these included “Top Gun” and “Crocodile Dundee.” The exceptions were “Star Trek,” “Karate Kid” and “Alien” sequels. Compare that to 2019, when all 10 of the top grossing movies were either sequels or part of an existing franchise. It’s a stark and vital difference.
The upshot of this is that new stories, risky stories, stories that are not focus grouped and data crunched simply no longer saturate the American imagination. Instead, we get Mindy Kaling making a “Scooby Doo” remake for adults and what seems like hourly versions of “Batman.” That’s where we are.
Mindy Kaling attends the Baby2Baby 10-Year gala presented by Paul Mitchell on Nov. 13, 2021, in West Hollywood, California.
(Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Baby2Baby)
The two narrative elements that make “The Offer” pop are passion and danger. “Godfather” producer Al Ruddy, played with vim by Miles Teller, is the protagonist, one willing to lose everything for the sake of making a beautiful movie, telling a beautiful story. What shines through is the dedication of Ruddy, Coppola and “Godfather” author Mario Puzo to craft art for the sake of art.
As far as danger goes, there is physical danger from the mafia itself, but also a familiar cultural danger. Though propped up somewhat falsely by mob boss Joe Columbo, expertly portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi, there was real outrage from many Italians about the making of a movie that might encourage stereotypes and bigotry.
Today, of course, this kind of cultural pressure would shut down a film before the first table reading was over, but in 1970, they pressed on. If some people were offended, then some people were offended. The job was not to coddle the sensibilities of the elite, but to craft a complex story about how life really is.
To understand how far we have come from bravery in the arts and storytelling look no further than a recent outburst from Patti LuPone who, perched on a Broadway stage, launched into a tirade at an audience member for not wearing their mask properly.
It truly is the perfect symbol of the sad and cowardly state of the American arts. Our time’s movies, plays and TV shows exist mainly to buttress progressive orthodoxies. From the screen and stage our artists don’t tell dangerous or daring stories so much as they instruct us on the right and proper views to hold on race, and gender, and all other manner of identity. An incredible amount of our narrative visual entertainment are remakes, reimagined to align with the standards of right now.
Thankfully, “The Offer” resists this urge, so common across our culture, of simulating the stories of the past with today’s mores. It is very much of “The Godfather’s” time, but what is of our time? What movies of the past decade or so have saturated the psyche of America the way movies used to almost every year? What movies can you quote from and expect everyone to get it?
There are structural reasons why movies don’t do the box office boffo of years gone by, streaming, home entertainment, now COVID-19. But we ought to consider that part of it, maybe a big part of it, is that people are tired of watching updated versions of the same old thing.
In “The Offer,” we see not just dedicated, but almost desperate artists and producers focused on the work, on making it perfect, making it show its audience something they haven’t seen before, feel something they’ve never felt. It is fun to watch, but it also makes you wish that somebody would make movies that way again.
David Marcus is a columnist living in New York City and the author of “Charade: The COVID Lies That Crushed A Nation.”