With Youth Without Youth (2007) and Tetro, Coppola has completed his lifelong journey from industry insider to indie art filmmaker. He started as a cog in the Roger Corman B-movie machine, making films with titles like Dementia 13 (1963), but it was his Oscar-winning script for Patton (1970) that made his name.
Assigned to write – and later direct – The Godfather (1972), Coppola blended European realism with Hollywood thrills and broke records. The Conversation (1974) followed, before The Godfather Part II (1974) stripped away the original’s sheen with a portrait of criminality in freefall. Apocalypse Now (1979) was a masterpiece, but its epic making broke Coppola’s spirit, while sprawling musical One from the Heart (1982) broke his bank account. Teen tales like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish (both 1983) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) kept him busy, but The Godfather Part III (1990) was underwhelming. He headed for the multiplex with Dracula (1992), the appalling Jack (1996) and drab John Grisham adaptation The Rainmaker (1997), before his dislike of the industry caused him to withdraw. Now he’s the artist he wanted to be: inscrutable, unpredictable, answerable only to himself.
Do you find the physical task of making movies more of an endurance test now than, say, in the 1970s?
With a film of a subject matter you love and that intrigues you, you have limitless energy. Its sort of like what they call ‘shelf life’ in food products – some subjects have a long ‘shelf life’, meaning you are constantly renewed, while others get stale quickly.
Do you feel your style of directing has changed over the years?
My approach was always to suit the style to the particular theme. Which is why, for example, the style of The Godfather is totally different to that of Apocalypse Now. But lately, I find there is a style I just naturally prefer – one in which the camera isn’t always moving all over the place, and in which the cutting isn’t so rapid you’re not sure what you’ve seen.
Are you happy working on your own, away from the film industry?
I live near San Francisco in the most beautiful spot on earth, and enjoy myself in many ways. Yes, I love to work, which for now is to think and read and write, so it’s all a dream come true. I know that if a film is ready to emerge out of what I write, I’ll be able to make it without asking anyone’s permission.
If the right script or idea came along, would you be open to working with Hollywood?
I don’t think so, although I still get offers. But the subject matter and constraints are too narrow.
Your last two films, Youth Without Youth and Tetro, have provoked strong reactions. Are there critics whose opinion matters to you?
Some critics are stimulating in that they make you realise how you could do better, and those are valued.
Why did you decide to shoot Tetro in black and white?
I felt that this film related to Rumble Fish, and it just felt right to me for the story, which I considered to be poetic realism, which implied shooting in black and white.
You’ve cast a largely unknown actor (Alden Ehrenreich) as one of the leads. Do you keep your eye out for new talent?
I love cinema, even though I don’t participate in the professional movie business any more. I still love to see films that offer something different, like Soderbergh’s The Informant or the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man, which are not like anything I’ve seen before.
Can you trace your influence in your daughter Sofia’s filmmaking?
I’ve always said people should make films about their personal take on things, and I can see that in her work.
Do you take pride in her work?
Yes, because her work is so pure, so personal and so ‘Sofia’.