Coppola talks about his two regrets, the current state of cinema and his next project:
A special place in Coppola's 'Heart'
The director's 1982 musical is being re-released, and despite what critics said, he's proud of the work. - Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK — Francis Ford Coppola can die happy.
"To me, a happy death is the end of a happy life, when you sit there, wherever you are when you're about to die and you say, 'I got to have a nice wife and beautiful children … and I got to be in the wine business, and I got to be in the movie business, and I got to see my father work with me,' and by the time you're thinking of all these things, you die — you don't even notice it," says the 64-year-old filmmaker, who, rest assured, appears hale.
He cites only two regrets.
One is related to "One From the Heart," his magnificent 1982 failure that's being re-released today.
His "beloved associates" — a term used with no apparent sarcasm — didn't share his vision for the film, so he capitulated in several ways while trying to create a movie that had the elements of theater and live 1950s-style TV drama as well as cinema. "I should have said, 'Fellas, I love you, but if you don't want to do it as a live production, I have to tell you that I'm gonna get people who do.' "
But he didn't.
And the romantic comedy went over like a sumo wrestler trying to pole-vault.
The New York Times called it "unfunny, unjoyous, unsexy and unromantic," while the Washington Post dismissed it as the "most lavish, ponderous clump of stale cotton candy ever confected by an important director." The $24-million-plus musical fantasy did little box office — particularly since Coppola, who was "hurt" by the reaction, pulled it from theaters.
Adding injury to insult, the production brought Coppola to his knees financially, forcing the man who accumulated five Academy Awards in the '70s to become a director-for-hire in the '80s, when he made forgettable films such as "Gardens of Stone."
After "those more serious masculine pictures" of the '70s — "The Godfather," "The Godfather: Part II," "The Conversation" and "Patton" (for which he won a screenwriting Oscar) as well as "Apocalypse Now," Coppola says, "I was anxious to look into another area of my background, which was as someone who directed musicals in college."
"One From the Heart," which comes out on DVD on Jan. 27, starred Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr as live-in lovers who break up on the eve of their fifth anniversary. Each quickly pairs off with another paramour (Nastassja Kinski and Raul Julia) and much of the action — in a Las Vegas built on a soundstage — is set to a score by Tom Waits, who sings it along with Crystal Gayle.
Some cinephiles may find the movie worth revisiting since, in retrospect, its influence can be seen in music videos and modern movie musicals such as Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge!"
" 'One From the Heart' as a visual language reference was continually and constantly in our dialogue," says Luhrmann, whose highly stylized 2001 movie was well-received.
"Sometimes, you can fail as easily by having your ambition too great as to have it be too small. I think I've done that many times in my life," Coppola says. "I go for the whole shining dream and then very often fall short of it, because you sort of have to."
And the movie wasn't even as ambitious as it could have been.
"My superproduction, my great work that I was thinking of, was going to be basically taken from the Goethe novel 'Elective Affinities.' And I had this idea to set it in modern Japan starring a film director who makes a film in Japan…. "
A vibrant, bearded, roly-poly teddy bear of a man, Coppola can laugh while saying he sometimes will "venture forward on blind faith."
"So often, I make my decisions not on the basis of total logic but sort of a kind of intuition. Now, as I'm older, I realize one thing that makes me different is that I sort of go to the finished vision, finished — then back up and figure out how to do it…. Like building castles in air but then putting the foundation afterward.
"Because, if you do it the other way, each time you come up to an obstacle you change the finished vision. 'Oh, well, we can't get that much concrete.' 'OK, then we won't make it out of concrete then.' 'The county won't give you the permits.' 'OK, what will they give us the permits for? All right.' If you're constantly changing your dream in order to suit the hundreds of practical problems, then the dream won't be there when you're finished."
Coppola says he's not looking for any revisionist upgrade of opinions about "One From the Heart," to which he still owns the rights; he just wants people to see it and say, "Ah, that's a pretty film."
He doesn't argue that it's a great film; still, he compares critics' vicious pans to spiking a high, slow-moving shot in pingpong. He attributes that partly to "what's-he-doing-that-for? syndrome, where you're judged based on what you're known for."
"The filmmaker wants to experiment, but the market forces and the audiences and maybe the critical faction wants you to stay in your place," he says.
That stay-in-your-place syndrome, he says, comes from the feeling so many people suffer from: "I have to stay in my place; I'd like to go the South Seas and write a novel, and be Gauguin … [but] I got to be here and be in the rat race and you have to as well."
It's like crabs in a barrel, he says; one starts climbing up to get out and the others pull it down.
When somebody tries to take a chance, others will say that must be wrong because they wouldn't do that. "But deep down in their heart, they want to. And everyone should!" he says.
"Life is basically a journey that is so much fun, so exciting, that to give up anything for the sake of — what? Die … what? Rich? Or respected, or something. You can't do that. You have to live life for what it really was meant to be, which is to take all the options and do them."
Coppola, who chuckles when he says "a lot of what people misunderstand about in me as megalomania is [actually] enthusiasm," is enthusiastically working on another film that meets his criterion for being extremely ambitious.
Titled "Megalopolis," it's an original screenplay that he's been laboring over for a long time and is reminiscent of "The Shape of Things to Come" by H.G. Wells, he says.
Set in New York, it's about planning the future and having about 30 blocks as a tabula rasa on which to build.
He hopes to make it next year ("I have a script that's starting to come alive"). But for the man who's made two acknowledged classics and two other arguably great films, he says he's not driven by the urge to reach those heights again.
"I think it's the desire to really be fulfilled as a writer-director. The films that I appreciate the most of my own would be films more like 'The Conversation' or elements of 'The Godfather: Part II' — things that I wrote," he says. "I would say my goal is to be fulfilled as a writer-director of cinema: make a big film that I've written."
And his other regret? "My generation, me and my colleagues, didn't leave the film industry in a better place for the young people coming now…. It was terrible then, but it's worse now."
Despite the success of some art-house fare, including his daughter Sofia's current movie, "Lost in Translation," he thinks it's harder than ever to create personal, experimental films.
Francis Coppola recalls dealing with moguls such as Jack Warner, Darryl F. Zanuck and Samuel Goldwyn, "who were certainly concerned about business, but they were showmen."
"They were more like Harvey Weinstein, in truth. Harvey Weinstein [the Miramax Films boss] is, you know, a controversial figure. But you gotta say that besides the fact that he's bright, and he's vulgar — but they were vulgar — he loves movies. He loves movies.
"But I don't know that Rupert Murdoch [head of News Corp., owner of 20th Century Fox] loves movies, or that Viacom [owner of Paramount] loves movies. Any of them! They don't. They're building empires."
Consequently, last summer saw a record number of sequels. "Look, I've been blessed by the film business. I'm not saying this with any rancor," he says. "My idea of the perfect studio was: You make one film that has a real shot to make a lot of money and then you make another one that has no shot to make a lot of money, but one protects the other.
"That's why you have them both. You have the vitality of new areas of experimentation and you have the security — you have a horror film made each year or something. But they don't do that. Now they just want to make money."