Андрей Алферов
Film scholar, director, curator
Liberal ArtsLife&Art
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NEW FILM FROM THE DIRECTOR OF «THE GODFATHER»: reboot of the legendary Francis Coppola

NEW FILM FROM THE DIRECTOR OF «THE GODFATHER»: reboot of the legendary Francis Coppola
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Francis Coppola / Artwork: huxley.media via Photoshop

 

Francis Coppola is 85. By this respectable age, the iconic director has significantly renewed himself, literally and figuratively, and seems to have decided to write a new chapter of his life and creative biography.

He regained his demiurge, losing 29 kilograms, and then, on his own money, shot a new radically megalomaniacal masterpiece, «Megalopolis», which became a decoration of the current Cannes Film Festival.

The budget of this psychedelic-technocratic fantasy of a perfectionist fanatic is estimated at about 120 million dollars. Coppola raised them in much the same way as he once did for «Apocalypse Now» — through a line of credit opened to him from the sale of part of his wine business in Napa Valley.

Completed on the anniversary of the master, «Megalopolis» is nevertheless not at all intended to put an end to Coppola’s career. The director has already stated in an interview with American journalists that he will soon begin a new movie.

 

While Hollywood stirred up rumors about who will take for hire this somewhat experimental film, the press writes about the first private screenings of «Megalopolis» for potential distributors, the inner circle of friends and associates of the author.

Barry Hirsch, Coppola’s longtime attorney and producer of «Megalopolis», is nervous. The film is set to hit wide IMAX screens sometime in the fall. «All the cards are on the table, and negotiations are underway with interested parties. Others will follow the first private screening», says Hirsch. But no details yet. 

Coppola insists on the big screen, speaking out against streaming. He fears that small screens will kill the spectacular effect of his new movie. And that’s more important than making money. «At my age, I can afford to treat movies as a passion, not as a business», says the director.

A sentimental intellectual in whom idealism and practicality, refinement and gigantomania, aestheticism, and kitsch, production dictates, and the cult of style coexist. Francis Ford Coppola likes to say that his blood has «too much hemoglobin» to stop and retire. For the greed with which, even at his current age, he continues to absorb emotions from the world around him, turning them into movies, his friends call him a «celluloid vampire».

In his eighty-five years, Francis Ford Coppola has a beard, glasses, a movie camera, and wisdom. Before, there was also a beret. Over the years, the director stopped wearing it, but the image remained. He still loves electronics and sunsets, comics, and Napoleon, Fred Astaire, and Andrzej Wajda’s debut masterpiece, «Ashes and Diamonds» (1958).

 

Кадр из фильма «Мегаполис»
A shot from the movie «Megalopolis» / imdb.com

 

Coppola, the patriarch of American cinema, won five Oscars and received nine nominations during his career. That’s not counting Cannes Gold, Berlin, Venice, BAFT, and Golden Globes awards.

Before agreeing to his main work — «The Godfather» — which turned not only the life of the author, world cinema and the criminal world of America (after the release of the film, American gangsters spoke as characters in the film), Coppola was interrupted by writing scripts for battle blockbusters («Patton», «Is Paris Burning?»).

He made independent films, the last time he managed to remove dancing Fred Astaire and put «The Rain People» — a completely arthouse drama, which failed in the U.S. but made a young director’s name in Europe. He was not attracted to big studio movies. 

Nevertheless, it was «The Godfather», proclaimed many times as «the greatest gangster movie in history», or even simply — the most excellent movie, that became the central confession of the director, who experienced together with his generation the collapse of the idea of absolute freedom. A confession about his large Italian family, half a dozen members of which worked and continue to work in the film industry.

The sequel, released two years later, was the first and so far the last movie sequel to win the Oscar for «Movie of the Year», which gave birth to the culture of sequels. It’s hard to believe, but there were no sequels to popular movies until the second installment of «The Godfather». So he is the one we have to thank for both «Terminator 2» and the sequel «Trainspotting». 

Even the third movie of the grandiose trilogy, no matter what anyone says, is a great movie, «a masterpiece of tragic mannerism», which is worth watching for the sake of how Michael Corleone’s face, distorted by tragedy, turns into an antique mask.   

He could already stop there but forever remain in the top ten of world directing. However, Coppola directed several more masterpieces: «photo-enhanced» schizophrenic thriller «The Conversation», the nostalgic black-and-white saga «Rumble Fish», «Outcasts» with «The Cotton Club» and grand in its enormity «Apocalypse Now» — a late masterpiece of New Hollywood, which at one time became the most expensive film in the history of cinema and absorbed unprecedented revenues from the first «The Godfather» (Coppola gave away debts until the early 1990s), which cut the biography of the director into «before» and «after».

 

Кадр из фильма «Люди дождя»
A shot from the movie «Rain People» / imdb.com

 

Coppola made a lot of mistakes, sometimes making frankly ordinary movies, and even more, produced other people’s projects; he revealed Al Pacino to the world and brought back from oblivion the great Marlon Brando (by the time he was appointed to the role, the actor, for his bad character, was thrown out of the industry), gave birth to the wildly talented Sofia Coppola — Oscar-winning daughter, author of «Lost in Translation», who played in eight of her father’s films and in addition to the movie greatly succeeded as a designer, working, for example, with the house of Louis Vuitton; raised two brilliant nephews-actors — Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage.

Now he casually advertises expensive things, and for forty years, he has been a prominent American winemaker (his success in this area is described in the book «Sense of Place» by Stephen Colpan) — with vineyards and estate in Napa Valley (California), where he produces his signature cabernet, owns his own line of branded products, two resorts in Belize, one in Guatemala and much more.

His «The Godfather» (1972), «The Conversation» (1974), «The Godfather 2» (1974), and «Apocalypse Now» (1979) are listed by the Library of Congress on the National Film Registry as having «cultural, historical or aesthetic» significance. 

And that, as you can imagine, is only a small list of his merits and conquests.  

Francis Ford Coppola fell in love with movies during his prolonged exacerbations of polio. Being at home for a long time, he loved to play with the film, overlaying the sound on family amateur movies. At the age of ten, he invented a marionette theater. About the same time and about the same time, he began a romance with filmmaking and his friend Martin Scorsese, who in the profession led to childhood asthma. 

 

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Paradoxically, the career of both began with cheap sex and horror films in the studio of the legendary Roger Corman — the king of «American thrash». Coppola, for example, was engaged there re-montage and dubbing of Soviet movie stories by Alexander Ptushko, purchased for American distribution. Skills lay on fertile soil. Coppola was genetically doomed to the movie. 

His father, Carmine Coppola, played flute with Toscanini, conducted musicals, composed music for his son’s films («The Godfather 2» will bring him an Oscar, which he will break, coming down from the stage after the award), and even starred in them: Carmine Coppola can be seen in one of the episodes of the first «The Godfather».

Mother, in her youth, played at the classic of neorealism — Vittorio de Sica. So, everything was predetermined. You just had to find yourself in one thing.

But Coppola feels flawlessly and freely only between the Hollywood classical canon and authorial staging madness. However, before finding this freedom, the director first shackled himself in the grip of the system of «sweaty» assembly-line production — when in record time with a paltry budget to shoot two films instead of one.

There, he received not only his first production in his life but also related film professions: screenwriter (which would later bring him two Oscars), master of dialog, sound engineer, and producer. 

It was Corman who gave young Coppola the basics of production strategy (it will come in handy when he opens his own production company, American Zootrop) and taught him not to be afraid to take risks, not afraid to make high stakes. Like now, with «Megalopolis» or even earlier with the same experimental melodrama «One from the Heart» (1981), which at a cost of 26 million collected in the U.S. box office less than a million, and the director had to put up for sale Zoetrope Studios. And began his fuck-up nights with the box office failure of «Rain People» in the late 1960s. 

 

Кадр из фильма «Крестный отец»
A shot from the movie «The Godfather» / imdb.com

 

His career consisted of solid ups and downs, universal adoration, and envy. He made millions on some movies and lost them on others. An eternal favorite of fortune and eternal bankrupt, he was a restless romantic adventurer who was able to combine artistic search and adherence to Hollywood genre traditions in his films.

However, failures later became sources of great breakthroughs. Such was the case with the movie «One from the Heart». This clot of formalistic madness, played out in pathetically decorative, deliberately man-made, and mercilessly expensive forms (Las Vegas in the film is entirely built in the pavilion), with a resounding failure at the box office, laid the foundation for a new mannerist style, which has now led to the «Megalopolis», the idea of which Coppola nurtured for forty years.

Many times, he rewrote the script and even postponed it for several years after the 9/11 attacks. At the center of this large-scale drama, in scope and wastefulness reminiscent of «Apocalypse Now» — the confrontation between an idealistic architect (Adam Driver) and a cynical mayor (Giancarlo Esposito) about the fate of the New York-like metropolis, destroyed after the infernal catastrophe.

The need to urgently rebuild it is caught up in the confrontation of very different concepts of reconstruction. One character sees the future as an architectural utopia made of renewable materials. The other one is inclined towards archaic with conservative business strategies and inevitable reliance on corruption. One of the key messages of «Megalopolis» is that whether humanity can cope with the troubles that are upon it depends on its ability to defeat the greed and corruption that destroyed the Roman Empire centuries ago.

In addition to Driver and Esposito, the movie starred Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, Aubrey Plaza, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Schwartzman, James Remar, and others. A truly all-star cast. But even he is unable to quiet some skeptical voices, who cite the distributors’ hesitation as confirmation of the questionable commercial potential of the great director’s new film. Yes, they say, Coppola is a legend, but he hasn’t had a commercially successful movie in thirty years.

The Cannes Film Festival’s world premiere of «Megalopolis» beat out Venice, Telluride, and Toronto. The advantage of Cannes is undeniable — both «The Conversation» and «Apocalypse Now» won the Palme d’Or there in their time, and the debut «You’re a Big Boy Now» was first shown in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight program back in 1966.

 

Кадр из фильма «Апокалипсис сегодня»
A shot from «Apocalypse Now» / imdb.com

 

Doubting the potential box office success of «Megalopolis», American critics who have already seen the film nevertheless call it a kind of free continuation of the «Godfather» trilogy, which, as Adam Neiman writes on the Ringer website, was and remains one of the most «sharp anti-capitalist epics filmed in the U.S.».

Back in the late 1990s, Coppola was seriously preparing to swing on the fourth part of the gangster saga: the script of the movie was in the early stages of development and was supposed to tell the story of growing up Don Corleone’s sons — Sonny, Fredo, and Michael. But the death of Mario Puzo — the author of the literary source material and a close friend — put an end to the continuation. Coppola stated at the time that there would be no movie without Puzo.

So, who knows — maybe we’re in for another great myth equal to the story of the cursed Corleone family? Or perhaps another grandiose and expensive commercial failure like «One from the Heart»?

Either way, the man who filmed a helicopter attack to Wagner’s «The Flight of the Valkyries» and the full classical power of the death of Vito Corleone, anything is possible. All the more so in his ninth decade of life, staring into eternity itself.

 


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