I ‘Know a Guy’ – Generically Speaking.

One word added to the parlance, but still known as “fixed” to a novel and film is “The Godfather.” Capece? It seems the term is at once, unique and attributable to the Puzo book and Coppola film, while too being generic and adjectival. Can you brand your next product with it; can you put the godfather in your next film…

Indeed, can its use infringe the constitutional rights of an accused, as argued in U.S. v. Kincannon, — F.3d —-, 2009 WL 1577686 (7th Cir. 2009). There, Kincannon (no relation to James Mason’s character in “The Verdict”) complained that “the prosecutor inflamed the passions of the jury, rendering the trial unfair, by referring in closing argument to The Godfather.” Kincannon, a 77-year old meth dealer (but only 30-35 in the 1960’s) was accused of masterminding the actions of others, and in his closing soliloquy, the prosecutor brought in an allusion to Coppola’s work.

The Circuit panel suggested that there’s a right and wrong way to do that. “It would be one thing if the government compared Kincannon to Michael Corleone, an organized crime kingpin responsible for murders and a whole host of other criminal activity.” That’s the wrong way, or the way that could ‘inflame’ an Illinois jury. But by contrast, it “was not Corleone’s criminality, but Francis Ford Coppola’s direction that was at the heart of the prosecutor’s closing remarks.” That apparently is the right way to send the jury away, un-inflamed. “The prosecutor explained to the jury that he would try to do orally what Coppola did in his film-that is, tie together the events that occurred during the two controlled buys into one seamless story.” Not only was that an errorless way to close, it too is the hard way to do it. “To do so as eloquently as Coppola is a tall task, but there is certainly nothing improper about the attempt” by this prosecutor.

The Circuit panel then re-ignited the debate over how the Academy gets it wrong. To present two events, occuring separately, so as to urge a “poetic implication”┬áthat the audience “can understand it very easily, is difficult.” With that, the panel did “agree, as did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who nominated Coppola for an Oscar for best director.” However, in “an upset along the lines of the 2009 Kentucky Derby win by Mine That Bird, the 1972 Oscar went to Bob Fosse (for Cabaret) rather than Coppola.” A search of copyright deposits for “Godfather” yielded 570 entries, including The Godfather Waltz “What are you doing the rest of your life?” but nothing criminal. It just shows that there’s a right and a wrong way to use, reuse, close, and even author anew from the term “The Godfather.”