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June 16, 2009


Francis Ford Coppola is still upset

Francis Ford Coppola at Cannes for Tetro

Francis Ford Coppola is, arguably, back. His new movie, Tetro, has gotten good reviews, and in recent interviews he's talked about what a relief it is to make a movie where he created the story, wrote the screenplay, and directed, something he hasn't done since 1974's The Conversation.

But he's had some rough times too (remember Dracula?) and says he's been in a creative slump for 25 years (that would be since around Rumble Fish.) He seems to have some specific, residual bad feelings about his career: I remember seeing a list of his favorites of his own movies a couple of years ago when Youth Without Youth was coming out, and he purposefully left off all the Godfather movies.

Today, he's still hating on The Godfather, a movie he made when he was younger than I am now. In a letter to viewers that was sent to the Landmark Film Club members this week, he says "Tetro is the kind of film I might have been making 35 years ago, had my career not taken an abrupt and sudden turn as it did with The Godfather." Then he goes on to say that his success with The Godfather made the studios want him to do more gangster movies, or "if not a gangster film, then take your choice between a thriller, a caper film, a romantic comedy (nothing wrong with that) or sci-fi epic (nor that)."

In another interview in The Examiner, he says he didn't even want to make The Godfather II, and that his success with those movies didn't mean a thing when it came time to make Apocalypse Now, which no one would fund.

You know, there aren't a lot of people out there who, after accomplishing something like The Godfather II, would dismiss it as something they didn't even want to do it in the first place.

I guess when you've had a wildly erratic career like his, you're going to end up talking about your older movies at least as much as you talk about your current one. How many more millions of people have watched and loved The Godfather than will ever see Tetro? A lot. It sounds like Coppola will always be dissatisfied with how his career turned out and which movies he'll always be remembered for. He still hasn't gotten over his early success.

Here's an interesting thing: when he did an interview about Youth Without Youth in 2007, he said that Tetro was going to star Matt Dillon and Javier Bardem, neither of whom are actually in it. Instead he got the aggressively insane Vince Gallo and an unknown Alden Ehrenreich, which he now says is better because non-stars are "100 percent in control of their careers," like he says Marlon Brando also was for The Godfather.

Of course, the reason these actors are so in control of their careers is that most other directors wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole, but clearly this strategy has worked well for Coppola before. I haven't seen Tetro yet, but I hope it's good enough for this poor guy to start feeling better about being Francis Ford Coppola.

categories: Celebrities, Movies
posted by amy at 3:23 PM | #

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It's gloriously indifferent to what the viewer thinks, but it's spectacularly pretty and really well-acted, which might be enough. Coppola's frustration reminds me of Welles, who got sick of talking about Kane early on, and kept insisting that The Trial was his best movie (though I sometimes think he's right about that, 'cause The Trial is fantastic). I've heard it said that Lucas, too, is perpetually unsatisfied with where he ended up---that he would have preferred to keep making the completely abstract pieces he did in college, and that may be why he's so indifferent to dialogue, character, or seemingly anything other than the pattern of light onscreen.

Here's hoping that Scorsese, at least, enjoys being rich and successful.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at June 16, 2009 7:34 PM

Did he, at any point in this interview, apologize for Godfather, Part III?

Posted by: T-Rock at June 17, 2009 11:40 PM

My thoughts now posted (albeit with some spoilers): http://afuzzyday.blogspot.com/2009/06/francis-ford-coppolas-tetro-really.html

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at June 18, 2009 9:42 AM

Yes, I think when you've got humiliations like Jack and Captain EO on your resume, The Godfather series is the least of your worries.

I wish he would just admit that those movies were great (at least Parts I and II were) while saying it will always be more important to him to do whatever weird, unpredictable movies he wants to do on his own, rather than make a thousand gangster movies with studio support. He's Francis Ford Coppola! He made The Conversation AND Peggy Sue Got Married! He can have it both ways.

Coppola's continued harping on Godfather suggests that he blames that movie's popularity for getting roped into the bad stuff later on. Which doesn't really make sense, though I'm sure early success can be hard to handle. I never heard Orson Welles blame his decision to do voiceover for Transformers: The Movie on Citizen Kane.

Posted by: amy at June 18, 2009 10:33 AM

But I think part of the suffering is the (maybe inevitable) gap between the ideal and reality. The 70s auteurs really thought they were going to replace Holllywood genre product with uncategorizable films about people and movies. They loved the old genres, which is why they were so willing to work in them, but what they really wanted was to make more films like Jules & Jim, Contempt, The Rain People, Mean Streets, and so on.

So I think Coppola regards the Godfather movies as the poisoned apple---looked great at the time, but made him dependent on studio budgets, thus costing him his independence, pulling him into Hollywood coke & money culture (and The Cotton Club), and making him unable to turn away from crap projects like Jack.

Not saying he's right---a smarter move would have been to take the Godfather money, run to San Francisco, and make low-budget movies forever, instead of plunging into a beast like Apocalypse Now. But I can understand why he blames the Godfather as a synechdoche for blaming the guy who directed The Godfather.

For the record, I actually agree with Coppola that The Godfather I & II are good genre movies, wildly overrated---great performances and great visuals, but there's just too much action motivated by plot concerns rather than character imperatives. They're good, but good like Terminator, not good like The Limey; it's Pauline Kael's adoration (and her ideological opposition to making a distinction between genre and literary fiction) that's caused them to be vaulted higher than their place. The Conversation is, I think, the much more human film, and still plenty of fun to watch.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at June 18, 2009 12:55 PM

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