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Coppola: godfather of filmmaking
HIGHLY READABLE BIO OFFERS INSIGHT AND PERSPECTIVE
By Reviewed By Don McNay
At first, I feared that Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola would be a stilted thesis. Instead, I found it to convey the research and knowledge of an esteemed academic in a book that is easy to read.
The research is certainly strong; author Gene Phillips, a professor of English at Loyola University of Chicago, knows his stuff. However, I am more impressed with the way the book flows. It covers Coppola's work with just the right amount of detail.
The book is biographical, but the focus is on Coppola's movies and how they were made. Phillips breaks the book into chronological chapters but also groups similar works together. He discusses all three chapters of the Godfather saga as a group, even though they stretch over a 20-year period, during which Coppola was making other movies.
Phillips is obviously a fan of Coppola, but the book comes across as dispassionate and even-handed. It takes us through Coppola's youth, his education at the UCLA film school, and his work for Roger Corman, the king of the B movies.
The book would be well worth the effort just to read Phillips' perspective on how Coppola turned Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather into a classic film trilogy. Coppola saw through some of the more graphic sex and violence in the novel and focused on the drama of the struggle of the family. Graphic scenes were certainly part of the movie, such as the famous horse-head-in-the-bed scene, but Coppola was able to weave the drama and story line of the book in the way that became a film classic.
Coppola was savaged by critics for casting his daughter, Sofia Coppola, in a critical role in Godfather III, and Phillips explains that she was a last-minute replacement after Winona Ryder became ill.
Phillips also examines Coppola's screenwriting, as well as his business dealings in Hollywood.
Coppola won an Oscar as the screenwriter for Patton, in which he captured the eccentric general in a way fans and critics could appreciate.
And while they were developing Apocalypse Now, Coppola and George Lucas, who had been very close, broke their friendship; Coppola finished the film that is now considered an American classic.
Coppola's skill as a director was not always matched by his skill as a businessman, and his money woes included bankruptcy. One of Coppola's low-budget successes was The Outsiders, a movie about teen alienation that helped launch the careers of Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.
Phillips notes that the Coppola legacy has been passed to the next generation. Sofia Coppola won an Oscar this year for writing Lost in Translation and was nominated for best director for the same film.
A slight irritation is that Phillips injects himself into his book every 30 pages or so. In discussing Coppola's success in the wine business, Phillips writes "For myself, I chose a bottle of dark, dry Coppola claret." So?
But overall, Coppola's movies will be seen for generations to come, and the book Godfather is a good insight into those films and the man who made them.
Don McNay is president of McNay Settlement Group in Richmond and is a weekly business columnist for the Richmond Daily Register. Reach him at [...]