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Feature: Director's Chair

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

The legendary director talks frankly about his career, why he hasn’t made a film in 10 years and his hopes for new movie Youth Without Youth

Size has always been everything to Francis Ford Coppola. Famed for grandiose epics, from the Godfather trilogy to his Vietnam War meditation Apocalypse Now, Coppola’s reputation as a gargantuan film-maker is only matched by his considerable girth. This is never more obvious than when we first meet in his penthouse hotel suite in Rome. Shortly after I enter, there’s a knock at the door and a large bunch of flowers is delivered, a present from the organizers of the Rome Film Festival where Coppola is about to unveil his first film for a decade. “Aren’t they lovely?” coos his PR. Dressed in a loud orange shirt and grey suit trousers, Coppola has a look of mock disgust on his face. “But I can’t eat them!” he cries.

It’s good to see he hasn’t lost his sense of humour (or his appetite) even if he’s lost his way of late. Ten years since he made the competent but uninspiring John Grisham adaptation The Rainmaker, it’s been even longer since he made a movie that was worthy of his name. But as he awaits the world première of his comeback film, Youth Without Youth, he’s evidently a little nervous. Certainly the choice of a fledgling festival like Rome hints that Coppola wasn’t ready to return with a bang. “I thought Rome would more be the emphasis on the première of the picture. Venice and Cannes used to be more of that character when they began, and now they’ve evolved into what they are. I was looking for something a little less intense.”

It’s an attitude that rather fits the mood of his new film. A contemplative work about an ageing academic who dramatically recovers his youth, it’s anything but on the scale of his most famous films. If Coppola evidently hasn’t slimmed down, his approach to film-making certainly has. Shot on the hoof in Romania, Youth Without Youth was an attempt to return to his roots. This included fitting all the equipment into one van – a Dodge Sprinter – to create a mini studio-on-wheels, a trick he last pulled on his 1969 road movie The Rain People, the last film he made before The Godfather turned him into one of the most celebrated directors of his generation. “The Godfather changed my life, for better or worse,” he reflects. “It definitely made me have an older man’s film career when I was 29.”

Some 35 years later, with Coppola now 68, he’s hoping for “a young film-maker’s career”. It’s been anything but an easy transition, though. Struggling with debt for years, after the failure of his self-financed 1982 musical One From The Heart ultimately pushed his company American Zoetrope deeply into the red, Coppola has been forced to diversify. A highly successful wine business, which began at his estate in the Napa Valley that he originally purchased in 1975, along with hotel chains, a line of cigars and quarterly magazine All-Story, all helped him get solvent. But Coppola still had to make films for other people – the nadir surely being 1995’s Jack, starring Robin Williams in man-child mode. “They were looking for a director and that was at the tail end of when I was paying off my debts,” he shrugs. “Then I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.”

by James Mottram

Read the full interview in
Film Review (Jan)

Photo © Sony Pictures Classics
Feature © Visual Imagination 2007. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Jan), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Jan)
#691, January 2008
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