For over five decades, no other filmmaker has shaped the history of film and film craft as Francis Ford Coppola. Hardly any other career has been traversed in such a unique way from glorious, commercial success to financial disasters. After several years of working with major studio systems, Coppola stepped into the independent film business and founded the movie studio American Zoetrope in 1969.
As a pioneer of author films, he produced great masterpieces for his friend George Lucas (American Graffiti), Tim Burton (Sleepy Hollow), Akira Kurosawa (Kagemusha), Robert de Niro (The Good Shepard), Paul Schrader (Mishima) and many more. It is not surprising that the name Coppola in Hollywood has become a kind of a brand and you gain this impression not only when you hold a bottle of its fine house Coppola wine, but also because so many important members have sprung from the “clan”.
Francis Coppola is known to many as the father and mentor of daughter director Sofia Coppola, the uncle of Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman, as well as brother of actress Talia Shire, formally known as Adriaaaan! of the Rocky films. It is rather difficult to describe what actually makes a Coppola film special. His film works give the viewer an unbridled intensity, creative pioneering and ground-breaking narrative modes.
In the recent film history there has not been a character so often imitated, personified as a symbol and glorified in a marketing sense such as the Mafia patriarch Don Corleone. In the following list, we will try to take a closer look at some significant milestones in order to explain in detail the rebellious path of such an exceptional artist.
10. Dementia 13 (1963)
John Haloran dies of a heart attack during a boat trip. Since his wife Louise is excluded from the castle heritage in the event of her husband’s premature death, she tries to cover up this fatal secret. Louise plans to drive chatelaine Lady Haloran to suicide. However, an ax murderer also wanders around the castle. When she finishes with the preparations for her wicked intrigue, she is confronted with the ax murderer who suddenly kills her.
Imagine you win $ 20,000, what would you do with it? Buy a nice little car? Go on a longer trip? Shoot your first feature film? But wait a second. That’s impossible! Except if your name is Francis Ford Coppola and you are at the right time and at the right place. While he was studying he met the renowned horror director Roger Corman and filled various positions during his productions.
As Corman went to Ireland and finished the shooting of another horror flick, Coppola took the opportunity and filmed his own script using the exact same scenery and props. The Story of Dementia 13 offers some surprising moments for the production year of 1963, especially noteworthy is the lively, suspenseful background noise.
9. Youth Without Youth (2007)
The well-educated professor of languages and philosophy, Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) decides to commit suicide. Since the great love of his life died and he sees no future and no fulfillment in his work, the suicide seems to be the only acceptable option for him. But at night, when he wants to leave this life, he is hit by lightning and survives. In addition, he makes an amazing discovery, because since this event he apparently does no longer age, but gets younger.
But as the Nazis show interest in him, they intend to do experiments with his body. After years in the underground, he meets Veronica (Alexandra Maria Lara), who seems to share the same fate as he. And for the first time in years he feels again something like love, and will thus have a reason for which it is worth living.
Francis Ford Coppola’s imaging of notoriously unfilmable intellectual mind games of Mircea Eliade turns out to be strictly associative musings on impermanence and the irrational effects of time. It was especially a big surprise for many of his fans as Coppola emerges with this artwork after almost 10 years since his last film. The access to this film is often made difficult to the audience due to the substantial absence of narrative consistency, but it still has some very interesting hypothesis approaches to the constructing power-worlds of human consciousness.
8. Tetro (2009)
The story of “Tetro” revolves around an Italian immigrant family in Buenos Aires which is torn apart by rivalries and jealousy. Bennie Tetrocini (Alden Ehrenreich) is 17 years old, and is looking for his older brother Tetro who has been missing for more than ten years.
Once the family moved from Italy to Argentina, by the great success of the father Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the Tetrocinis decided to settle down in New York. Finally, Bennie finds his brother (Vincent Gallo) again. He does not live up to the expectations because he was a melancholic, emotionally fragile poet and misfit. Both brothers begin to relive the childhood rekindled memories and encounter some old conflicts and painful revelations.
Coppola’s film seems to take motifs and themes of his own family history and put them together in a new way. So you can find many real parallels to his own life. Anton, Coppola’s father is, just like Tetro’s father Carlo Tetrocini (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a celebrated opera composer. Francis’ brother August, is like Floyd Coppola who also dabbled in the movie business, but never had a similar success as his brother. August’s son Nicolas Cage is something like the family rebel who dared to drop the big names to go his own way, perhaps Tetro is an expression of his event.
Noteworthy is the performance of the newcomer Alden Ehrerreich who plays the youngest son Benny. He allows us a view to his masculine, fragile appearance and reminds us of the young Marlon Brando at his best. Nevertheless, Coppola creates an incredible visual magic in this film. Shot in unpopular black and white, it causes any composition, any use of music, every room, every landscape, every wrinkle on Carmen Maura’s face seems to be arranged perfectly, so that you can certainly say the film does not celebrate humanity, but the form and style.
7. One From The Heart (1982)
Frannie (Teri Garr) and Hank (Frederic Forrest) celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in Las Vegas, although they spend most of their time in a relationship crisis in which accusations and more dark secrets break out constantly. At the New Year’s party, Frannie kisses Hank’s best buddy and Hank sleeps with an unknown blonde girl. After a big argument between the two of them, separation follows. She gets acquainted with the charming pianist Ray (Raul Julia), he meets the circus artist Leila (Nastassja Kinski). After some existential conflicts in their relationship, both find their ways back to each other.
“One From The Heart” was in many cases a significant break with the ghosts of the past. Not only that Coppola enters new genre territories (Musical), but he also emerges for the first time as an independent producer and director, after he had recovered from the financial debacle of “Apocalypse Now” and had ended the collaboration with major studios.
“One From The Heart” does not tell a new or a particularly complex story, but the film reminds every true cinephile of the good old Hollywood dream factory at its peak with costly set constructions, untouchable Starlettes and elaborate orchestral arrangements. Coppola realizes a bittersweet scene under the flickering lights of Las Vegas, accompanied by the sad and beautiful, amorous melodies of the master Tom Waits.
6. The Outsiders (1983)
In the 1960s, two rival gangs fight in the streets of America. The are “the greasers” coming from the lower class, and “the socials”, bored children from the upper class. When ttwo of the “Greasers” Ponyboy Curtis (C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) get to know the beautiful, red-haired Cherry Valance (Diane Lane), they dissolve an unforeseen chain of events.
It comes to a tragedy, as “Social” Boy Bob Sheldon (Leif Garrett) also has a crash on the girl and wants to get the hated rivals out of the way. In a following brutal confrontation, Sheldon and his friends beat up Johnny and attempt to drown Curtis in a fountain. Johnny can hinder that only if he kills Sheldon to save his own life. So that’s how the gang war faces a final escalation.
For years Coppola has realized costly and elaborate film productions, but they tore huge holes in his corporate capital and due to terrible box-office receptions and bigger budgets, he found himself at the lowest point in his artistic life. His own production company American Zoetrope wavered and even faced the imminent insolvency. Out of necessity, Coppola started a last attempt and again focused more on minimalist filmmaking techniques with smaller crews and previously unknown young actors.
This time he adapted the youth drama “the Outsiders” written in 1967 by the 16-year-old Susan Eloise Hinton. Coppola had a good nose for the right cast and chose ambitious youngsters such as Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, and reached new commercial success and long queues at the box office. Needless to say that his work was also complemented by the unforgettable contribution of Stevie Wonder’s song “Stay Gold”.