How many times have I watched this scene in The Godfather without ever noticing the most brilliant aspect of its mise-en-scène? At the far left side of the frame, barely visible above the tall grass, the Statue of Liberty stands witness to the execution of Paulie Gatto, Don Corleone’s turncoat driver.
Isn’t that beautiful? Mute commentary offered by the single most-recognizable symbol of the American dream for immigrants . . . in a moment where that dream is perverted.
The shot’s composition is also beautiful in the way it employs the “Rule of Thirds.” Not only is the frame divided into vertical thirds – Statue of Liberty in the left third, the car in the center, and tall grass in the right third – but it is also divided into thirds in terms of background, middle ground, and foreground. Not to mention clear blue sky at the top, golden reeds in the middle, and dark earth at the bottom (except for that foreground curtain of seed-feathered, grassy reeds partially screening the vehicle and its occupants from view).
Astonishingly perfect. Just another reason why The Godfather is one of the best films ever made, right up there with Citizen Kane.
[Update, almost nine years later😂 The Statue of Liberty’s back is turned, which we can discern by realizing that if her raised hand, the one holding the torch, is her right hand, and her right as we view this image is also our right, then we are looking at Lady Liberty’s back. Therefore, she is not “witnessing” this murder so much as disavowing the men involved. And they are trying to hide their actions from her. I like that interpretation, too. In either case, for me the Statue of Liberty’s rather obvious yet surprisingly unobtrusive and apparently largely unnoticed presence in this shot makes for a profound commentary on the American dream and the Corleone family’s efforts to attain it.]