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Rediff.com  » Movies » Happy 75th birthday, Francis Ford Coppola

Happy 75th birthday, Francis Ford Coppola

April 07, 2014 14:56 IST

Francis Ford Coppola'We're fortunate to have a master like Coppola in our midst, and whatever in the world be his next adventure -- a longform cable television narrative, a minutely detailed biopic, a whimsical superhero movie, a project celebrating the classics -- we know he'll do it with heart.'

Raja Sen wishes Francis Ford Coppola, the legendary filmmaker who transformed The Godfather into a timeless screen classic, a happy 75th birthday.


I've always thought of the great Francis Ford Coppola as the filmmaking equivalent of Steve Wozniak: a white-bearded visionary with spirit undimmed by cynicism, the willingness to experiment and a childlike, gleeful love for the world he's helped shape.

George Lucas, on the other hand, looked differently at his buddy Francis -- a maverick who was frequently considered too unsafe for the studio system -- and, a couple of years after Coppola struck immortality with the first two Godfather films and The Conversation, Lucas modelled a character in one of his own movies on Coppola, a character he described as 'a loner who realises the importance of being part of a group and helping for the greater good.'

And while Coppola might not look exactly like Han Solo (the director is a shade taller than the Star Wars hero, by the way), he has indeed forged unlikely alliances, fostered a working family of friends and collaborators (including, yes, his own family), and emerged as arguably the most influential hero of the New Hollywood movement, a movement that included Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Woody Allen and Lucas.

Coppola's films continue to shape minds, but they do so only because of how hellbent he was on making them exactly the way he wanted, against all odds.

And he never severed the ties that mattered. In The Godfather, he cast a friend from college, James Caan, to play the incendiary Sunny Corleone; in Apocalypse Now, he used a song called The End by an old UCLA buddy, Jim Morrison.

His films speak for themselves, really.

After some horror movies for Roger Corman -- Coppola's Dementia 13 is the most terrifically tawdry cinematic artifact, go hunt it out -- came the mastery. The Godfather, perhaps the most complete motion picture in American history.

The Conversation, an alarmingly intelligent and well-crafted film he shot while he was also shooting The Godfather Part II, an immaculately performed film that left novelist Mario Puzo far behind and, some feel, is better than the first film. (It isn't, but it comes closer than any sequel has a right to.) Apocalypse Now, a loonily ambitious production and arguably the most impactful war film of them all.

The Outsiders and Rumble Fish broke through actors who would make generations swoon and cry and smile.

These are laurels worth resting on, but Coppola -- who has spent much on creating a delightful short-fiction periodical called Zoetrope and even more on his other great passion, wine-making -- has never been one to kick back.

Even his missteps invariably take us forward: One From The Heart changed our very concepts of film editing, Captain EO showed off an imaginative intensity worth marvelling at, Life Without Zoe let his daughter Sofia tap at her own luminosity, Tetro was shot stunningly well and Twixt, that weird, weird film he made a couple of years ago, was a magnificent experiment he wanted to take to theatres along with live musicians, providing scores on the spot to try and make the moviegoing experience truly special.

And it is that daft but brilliant Twixt effort that shows off Coppola best, his undying love for the movies and his desperation to bring wonderment and joy back to the big-screen, the need to make theatre-going an event all over again.

We're seeing his contemporaries -- Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders -- do wonderful things with 3D even as younger filmmakers falter, and it's a fine time for Francis to, once again, take up the cudgels to carve us the world he believes we deserve.

We're fortunate to have a master like Coppola in our midst, and whatever in the world be his next adventure -- a longform cable television narrative, a minutely detailed biopic, a whimsical superhero movie, a project celebrating the classics -- we know he'll do it with heart.

Happy 75th birthday, Francis Ford Coppola.

May you forever love going to the mattresses.

Image: Francis Ford Coppola. Photograph: Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images

Raja Sen in Mumbai