IN the crime annals of popular culture, The Godfather remains capo di tutti capi.
Many have imitated the 1972 film but few have come close to matching Francis Ford Coppola's Academy award-winning masterwork - no matter what contemporary critics contend, says Gianni Russo.
"The Sopranos to me was so low-class it's ridiculous," said the man who played Carol Rizzi in The Godfather. "To be operating a family out of the Bada Bing strip club, I mean, come on."
Goodfellas came close and Donnie Brasco was brilliant but one Mafia film tops them all, he argued with some confidence. And Russo is more than happy about that. "It's amazing, it's been a 37-year career on one film, even though I made 43 others," he said.
The Godfather's status will be reassessed tonight at Sydney's State Theatre at the world premiere screening of a newly re-mastered and restored print. If that weren't an enticing enough prospect, the film will be accompanied by a 65-piece orchestra, primarily made up of members of the Western Australia Philharmonic and conducted by expat composer Ashley Irwin.
"It sounds terrific and the theatre's glorious of course," said the Sydneysider, now one of Hollywood's most prolific arrangers.
He spent 18 months orchestrating The Godfather videogame in 2004 with additional music written to add to that famous score. He was the obvious choice to lead the live performances of what will be a number of global black tie premieres ahead of the remastered trilogy's release on DVD in September.
His work includes arranging the Academy Awards, American Idol and many films. But none in his homeland. "No, it's really sad Australian films don't use orchestrations because it adds great gloss to a production," Irwin said. "And synthesisers always sound like synthesisers.
"For me to come home and do it means there's more pressure than a New York or London premiere. I care about it more than if I was doing it in LA."
Russo, who will attend tonight's premiere with his on-screen partner, Talia Shire, said Coppola had not made any changes to the film other than visually, although he hoped a "horrendous miss I reacted to" in the fight scene had been amended. But he's content if the restoration doesn't change a thing.
"It would be like changing the Mona Lisa's smile," he said. "It's been a privilege and it continues to go on."