Best known for revolutionizing the gangster film genre with The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (the latter movie has the added distinction of being the only film sequel ever to earn a Best Picture Oscar). He followed that up with Apocalypse Now, which is widely regarded as a classic American war movie.
You think you know the guy. After all, he pretty much laid everything out there in “Hearts of Darkness”, the behind-the-scenes documentary of his making the epic “Apocalypse Now“. The interviews of him on some of the DVDs are equally revealing.
But, you don’t know him. There are too many contradictions about this artist among writer/director/producers. The press made Francis seem like a disorganized mess during “Apocalypse”. But anyone who knows anything about the rigors of directing knows better, particularly in his having the courage to shoot without an ending”. Megalomaniacal? Possibly as much as any director; but, he’s known as an actor’s director, which takes an infinitely generous spirit.
Family man? Yes, of course, Coppola’s launched the careers of his sister, nephew, daughter (and a second career for his father), countless other family members and many of the age’s best actors. One has an image of him forever sitting around a huge table, outside, under a grand oak and populated by his vast extended family, sipping, arguing, laughing and reminiscing.
But, then again, at his core, Francis Ford Coppola is a writer. And writers, by necessity, live most of the time alone (or maybe with a partner, like Mario Puzo).
Like famed director Billy Wilder, Coppola has virtually as many writing credits as directing credits, and won his first Academy Award as a writer. (Actually, Coppola won his first two as a writer: Patton and The Godfather.) Like Wilder, his directorial ambitions come primarily from the desire to realize correctly his written work. (Also, like Wilder, he is one of the few people to have won the big three Academy Awards all in the same year — 1974, for “Godfather II“.)
In the sixties, Coppola got his start doing virtually everything for director Roger Corman, including directing his first film, “Dementia 13″. Riding into the seventies on the success of his Patton” script and a few small well-made films, Coppola launched the alternative studio American Zoetrope. While he was busy ensuring his place in the director pantheon with the two “Godfather” films and The Conversation”, he was launching, via Zoetrope, George Lucas’s directing career with “THX 1138” and “American Graffiti“. That was all before 1975. Coppola spent a large part of the rest of the ’70s embroiled in the making of “Apocalypse Now”, which premiered in 1979.
The ‘80s weren’t as swell — which at worst means a lot of failures and at best means he just wasn’t making some of the most important films ever (“Godfather” is the AFI’s third greatest film of all time, behind “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca“).
Like the heroine of his “Peggy Sue Got Married“, Francis Ford Coppola usually goes back in time to find himself. One would be hard-pressed to recall a Coppola film set in the present. “The Cotton Club” beautifully evokes Harlem in the twenties and “Tucker: The Man and His Dream“, besides being a parallel to Coppola’s own fight with the system, is a brilliantly realized evocation of the post-World War American Dream.
Since then, his major pictures have been “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Godfather III”, and if you thought he was through, think again. Coppola currently has no fewer than a dozen films in various stages of production.
And then there’s the restaurant in San Francisco with partners Robin Williams and Robert De Niro; the vineyard; a line of foods; two hotels in Belize and one in Guatemala (you’d think he would have had enough jungle with “Apocalypse”); a literary magazine; and, well, who knows what else…
— Nate Lee
“[on Apocalypse Now (1979)] My movie is not about Vietnam… my movie is Vietnam.”
“In a sense, I think a movie is really a little like a question and when you make it, that’s when you get the answer.”
“Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos.”
“I think if there was a role that Robert De Niro was hungry for, he would come after it. I don’t think Jack Nicholson would. Jack has money and influence and girls, and I think he’s a little bit like Marlon Brando, except Brando went through some tough times. I guess they don’t want to do it anymore”
“[on The Cotton Club (1984)] It was a nightmare. It was deceptive. I was sucked in without knowing what was going on. It was like a pretty girl who gets seduced. I didn’t realize that the only reason I was getting sweet-talked and enticed by Robert Evans to do “The Cotton Club” was that he needed me to get the money. It was a terrible experience.”
“I think it’s better to be overly ambitious and fail than to be underambitious and succeed in a mundane way. I have been very fortunate. I failed upward in my life! ”
He, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg presented Martin Scorsese with his first ever Oscar for Best Director for The Departed (2006). All four directors were part of the “New Hollywood” movement in the 60s and 70s.
His middle name was given to him to honor Henry Ford. Francis was born at the “Henry Ford” Hospital in Detroit; Francis’s father participated in a music show that Henry Ford really liked and they, in fact, met.
As a hold-over from his days directing theater when he was young, he always engages his cast in a lengthy rehearsal period before filming. Occasionally, he finds film actors that are not used to this will bristle against the process.
Won five Oscars in four years – one in 1971 for Patton (1970), one in 1973 for The Godfather (1972), and three in 1975 for The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Is the only director to direct two actors in Oscar-winning performances in the same role: Marlon Brando in The Godfather (1972), and Robert De Niro in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Coppola’s legal drama The Rainmaker (1997) is widely regarded by film critics as the best of the many John Grisham adaptations. Grisham himself said of the film, “To me it’s the best adaptation of any of [my books]. … I love the movie. It’s so well done.”
There are so many brilliant scenes, but the ones that never get old are: the irony of Don Corleone’s death in the garden while playing with his grandson — The intercuts of the baptism and the assassinations — The dark, mysterious opening in the Don’s office, where you know you’re being allowed entrance into an unfamiliar world.
THE GODFATHER PART III
The finale intercuts of assassination and opera hal back to the famous end of Godfather I, which intercut a Don clearinghouse with a baptism.
Of course there are no words in the last scene as Gene Hackman literally tears his entire house apart looking for a bug.
Somehow this movie works in spite of Kathleen Turner’s breathless over-acting and a completely miscast Nicolas Cage, either sounding like an old man or like Pee Wee Herman’s littler brother. Watch Jim Carrey, as the class clown and the only one who looks completely comfortable in the scenes. When Turner asks her grandfather what he would do differently if he had it to do all over again, he replies, “I would have taken better care of my teeth.”
Again, a film too rich in images to pick any three out. Every scene with Gary Oldman is exquisite, particularly the ones of him back at home.
Francis Ford Coppola’s directing credits include…
|The Bellboy and the Playgirls
|Tonight for Sure
|You’re a Big Boy Now
|The Rain People
|The Godfather: Part II
|One from the Heart
|The Cotton Club
|Peggy Sue Got Married
|Gardens of Stone
|Tucker: The Man and His Dream
|The Godfather Part III
|Bram Stoker’s Dracula
|Youth Without Youth