Francis Ford Coppola: The Anti-establishment Maverick

One of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Francis Ford Coppola celebrated his 80th birthday last Sunday. Coppola directed his first feature ‘Tonight For Sure’ in 1962 when he was just 23. He is currently working on different projects which includes the experimental film Distant Vision, the third release of 1979 epic war film, this time as ‘Apocalypse Now: Final Cut’, and by the time Coppola finishes his passion project Megalopolis, his filmmaking career will span six long and illustrious decades. Francis Ford Coppola has been recognized as a visionary artist ever since he made the Godfather, he has rightfully earned the reputation as one of the stalwarts of postmodern American Renaissance.

Francis Ford Coppola: The Anti-establishment Maverick Francis Ford Coppola: The Anti-establishment Maverick Source : The Sunday Times|Alamy


Francis Coppola first owned the mainstream cinema and then, after something of a cinematic furlough, transcended it, arriving to easier formulas and learning from his proteges, one of the leading female filmmakers of all time, her daughter Sofia, contracting his style to shoot on a much smaller level, choosing to narrate personal, familial stories of honor and integrity with overarching metaphysical and philosophical undertones. There is nothing left for Coppola to ‘prove' anything to anybody. After realizing projects of extravagant scale like Godfather and Apocalypse now, where he entered the ‘heart of darkness' and came out with, or extracted ‘illumination out of chaos', Coppola has well and truly earned the right to push the boundaries of Film art. Whether or not a one a decipherable pattern emerges or not, Coppola have been successful in deconstructing the archetype of ‘American dream' from an emphatically intimate vista.


The great Italian filmmakers like Vittorio De Sica the neorealist, Federico Fellini the absurdist, and Michelangelo Antonioni the existentialist; have long passed away but the Italian filmmaking fervor and perceptiveness remains alive in the revamped oeuvre and the person of Francis Ford Coppola. Indeed, the latter's latest may not stand parallel to Fellini's early genius but Coppola's movies post Apocalypse Now definitely hold their own next to the later Fellini films.


"Once the darling of the so-called New Hollywood in the late 1960s and 1970s, Coppola and his contemporaries-Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Robert Altman, and Hal Ashby, had portended a generation that breathed new life and conviction into auteurist theory and practice, while reviving, revising, and extending a faltering film industry. "The way to come to power," declared Coppola, speaking for his generation, "is not always to merely challenge the Establishment, but first make a place in it and then challenge, double-cross, the Establishment." But after the spectacular box office successes of the first two Godfather films (1972, 1974) and the critical praise lavished on The Conversation (1974), the "debacles" of Apocalypse Now (1979); One from the Heart (1982); The Cotton Club (1984); and most recently, Youth without Youth (2007) and Tetro (2009) suggest that Coppola has left the building, deserted his agenda, and betrayed his public. Indeed, more than a few critics have stated flatly that since One from the Heart, he has never fulfilled his promise, and that his mastery of style and technique has merely made him a slave to it. Nothing could be more devastating than Pauline Kael's critique of The Cotton Club: "He's watching his brain cells twinkle...his expansiveness has become strictly formal; emotionally, he seems to have shrunk.""


"Coppola and his work might be considered quintessentially American. He is essentially a child of American transcendentalism-The best of Coppola, David Thomson suggests, does not reside in his "furious efforts" and "fearful fantasies" of "trying to be everything for everyone." Rather, Thomson continues, "he is at his best when secretly telling a part of his own story, or working out his fearful fantasies." Tetro was described as "the film of a free man starting again." Tetro is based on the life of theatrical genius who has spent his lifetime at his magnus opus which he hasn't been able to finish. Similarly, Youth without Youth meditates on time and opportunities once lost, now recaptured. Its extravagantly romantic style recognizes the onrush of time and the regeneration of artistic vision in the face of imminent mortality. Coppola admits with disarming modesty, "What I've learned is that this phase of shooting isn't really making the film; you're gathering pieces. It's not really a performance...That was always very important to me when I was younger, because I wanted to be a really good director and that meant I should have a good, set manner-which means nothing, absolutely nothing. All that matters is you get the components that ultimately you're going to make into a beautiful film.""


"One of the reasons that Coppola's career is so fascinating is that, despite the wide diversity of genres in which he has worked, all of his films reflect in varying degrees the artistry of the director who made them all. As Coppola himself puts it, "Why do we continue to think in cinema that one makes one film, then another?... I prefer to think that my films are the same film. You know, if you take all of my films from first to last, it is all the same film." Coppola has been able with a fair degree of consistency to give his movies the imprint of his own personal vision and style in much the same fashion as his European colleagues have done, regardless of the diversity of genres in which he has worked. Indeed, one suspects that the "factory system" in Hollywood studios presented him with a challenge to his artistic creativity that sharpened his determination to turn out a succession of films over the years that he could in a real sense call his own."


"Is there a pattern, an arc, a trajectory, a meaning to be discerned in this vast, storied tapestry of lights, sounds, words, and colors? What about their many rude collisions, their contrasts of fragile dreams and hallucinatory nightmares, promises of enterprise and disasters of apocalypse, shock-cuts of editing, clashing color palettes of hot crimsons and mordant, bruised greens, and the gritty, realistic textures transformed by the unabashed theatricality of broad-brushed, self-indulgent sentimentality? It isn't Francis who deserted us, it was us who left him. Coppola has been waiting for our return all along. It's time we come home again, close the gap, and catch more than a few of Coppola's dreams. They have been waiting for us, all along."



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Reference: James M. Welsh-The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopedia-The Scarecrow Press (2010)


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