Trevor Hogg profiles the career of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola in the third of a five-part feature... read parts one and two.
“The success of The Godfather  went to my head like a rush of perfume. I thought I couldn’t do anything wrong,” admitted Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola who decided to produce a $23 million romantic fantasy. “One from the Heart  suffered from the perception of me as some wild, egomaniac Donald Trump type of guy, and once they think about you that way, it’s just so many months before you’re brought down.” A middle class couple (Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr) split up and head off to Las Vegas where they encounter fanciful lovers. “I wanted to take a fable-like story and treat it almost the way [Walt] Disney would approach a story in his animated films,” explained the filmmaker. “If we had made the movie in Las Vegas, it would have been just another relationship movie set on a real location with people jumping in and out of cabs, talking about their love affairs. I wanted to do something people hadn’t seen before.” Originally set in Chicago, Coppola chose to change the location of the story. “With its polarity of fantasy, glitter reality, disappointment, and everything turning on the notion of chance, Vegas is a perfect place to set a love story.”
Production costs rose significantly when the Detroit native, trying to bring about a “theatrical reality”, recreated Las Vegas on the Zoetrope Studio lot. Investors did not take kindly to the decision and pulled out as filming commenced, resulting in Coppola using his real-estate holdings as collateral so to secure the required bank loans. Shot over a period of twenty-two months, One from the Heart also stars Raul Julia (Romero), Nastassja Kinski (Tess), Lainie Kazan (Beaches), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien), Allen Garfield (The Ninth Gate), Jeff Hamlin, Italia Coppola and Carmine Coppola. The picture grossed $636, 796 domestically contributing to a $50 million debt which forced Francis Ford Coppola to auction off his ten-acre Hollywood studio. “I think One from the Heart was overshadowed in the minds of the public by the money troubles,” reflected Coppola. “Few people seemed to look at the movie in just its own light.” At the Academy Awards, Tom Waits received an Oscar nomination for composing the musical score as well as twelve songs for the picture.
“I threw The Outsiders  into production immediately after the failure in the United States of One from the Heart,” remarked Francis Ford Coppola who cinematically adapted the novel by S.E. Hinton. “Rather than go through six months of being whipped for having committed this sin of making a film that I wanted to make, I escaped with a lot of young people to Tulsa.” When Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) kills an attacker, he ignites a war between two rival gangs. “For me the primary thing about her books is that the characters come across as very real. Her dialogue is memorable, and her prose is striking. Often a paragraph of her descriptive prose sums up something essential and stays with you.” To foster tension between the actors portraying the rival groups, the director boarded the “socs” in luxury accommodations and the “greasers” on the ground floor of a hotel. “All of the greasers were orphans, all outsiders, but together they formed a family,” stated Coppola. “The Outsiders was the type of film that I personally liked, a melodrama with a romantic tone.”
“I tried to make The Outsiders as I imagined fifteen year olds and sixteen year olds would like it to be,” stated the moviemaker who made symbolic use of sunsets throughout the story. “When you watch the sun set, you realize that it is already dying. The same thing applies to youth. When youth reaches the highest level of perfection, you can already sense the forces that will destroy it.” Starring in the drama are Matt Dillon (There’s Something About Mary), C. Thomas Howell (Red Dawn), Patrick Swayze (Ghost), Rob Lowe (Contact), Emilio Estevez (The Breakfast Club), Diane Lane (Secretariat) and Tom Cruise (Top Gun). “With The Godfather and The Outsiders all the people we went with became stars afterwards, but they were just kids interested in being actors. It’s a mixed problem when we can’t afford a real name actor so we have to find someone new and exciting.” Made on a budget of $10 million, the picture earned $26 million domestically. At the Young Artist Awards, the movie won Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture (C. Thomas Howell) and received nominations for Best Family Feature Motion Picture and Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Diane Lane). The Moscow International Film Festival nominated the movie for the Golden Prize. “I feel that The Outsiders suffered from a little bit of chaos of everybody turning yellow when they saw the rough cut of it, and that influenced its being cut shorter and shorter,” said Coppola, who rectified the situation in 2005 for the DVD version renamed The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, which included twenty-two minutes of extra footage and new music.
“While I was shooting The Outsiders in Tulsa, I asked Susie Hinton, ‘Have you written anything else I can film?’ She told me about Rumble Fish , and I read it and loved it,” recalled Francis Ford Coppola. “I said to her, ‘On our Sundays off from filming The Outsiders, lets write a screenplay of Rumble Fish; and then as soon as we can wrap The Outsiders, we’ll take a break and start filming Rumble Fish.’ And so we did.” Former gang leader (Mickey Rouke) is tragically idolized by his younger brother (Matt Dillion). The black and white photography, which is interrupted twice in the movie by brief moments of colour, was meant to convey the colour blindness experienced by the character portrayed by Mickey Rourke (Diner). Rourke when asked on how he approached his portrayal of Motorcycle Boy, he remarked as “an actor who no longer finds his work interesting.” The sound technicians had such a hard time hearing the performer’s dialogue on set they nicknamed the project “mumble fish”.
“I promised myself that on Rumble Fish I could write my own music, and I had a very precise concept of how it was going to work,” revealed Francis Ford Coppola who envisioned an experimental musical score featuring mainly percussion instruments to emphasize the idea of time running out. The task was subsequently handed over to Stewart Copeland, the drummer for the British band The Police whom the director believed was the far more capable musician. Copeland subsequently went about recording the street sounds in Tulsa and mixed them into the movie soundtrack. When the picture starring Matt Dillion, Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Diane Lane, Dennis Hopper (Speed), Diana Scarwid (Silkwood), Vincent Spano (The Tie That Binds), Nicolas Cage (Con Air), Christopher Penn (Reservoir Dogs), Laurence Fishburne (Akeelah and the Bee), Tom Waits (Coffee and Cigarettes), and Glenn Withrow (Armed and Dangerous) premiered at the New York Film Festival it was greeted with boos and audience walkouts. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, “The film is so furiously overloaded, so crammed with extravagant touches, that any hint of a central thread is obscured.” In the Chicago Sun-Times, film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “I thought Rumble Fish was offbeat, daring, and utterly original. Who but Coppola could make this film? And of course, who but Coppola would want to?” The $10 million production grossed $2.5 million domestically and won the FIPRESCI Prize and the OCIC Award at the San Sebastiàn International Film Festival. The Golden Globes nominated the film for Best Original Score while Diane Lane competed for Best Young Actress in a Motion Picture at the Young Artist Awards.
"The Cotton Club  happened originally with Bob Evans,” stated Francis Ford Coppola, referring to the former Hollywood studio executive. “I took a shot at the script, then I reworked it. The whole thing was trying to hold it together for him. He kept offering for me to direct it, and I didn’t want to because I’m terrified of being in a situation where I have people second-guessing me.” Musician Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) falls for Vera Cicero (Diane Lane), the girlfriend of mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar) while working at a famous Harlem jazz club. Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins) and Dutch Shultz were actual crime figures of the Prohibition Era while the character of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) is loosely based on famous 1920s hot jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. “I knew that The Cotton Club material was so rich that if I had control, there was no reason why I couldn’t make a beautiful film out of it,” explained the director who had Evans banned from the set. Mario Puzo (The Godfather) was the original screenwriter but was replaced by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy, who wrote a rehearsal script in eight days; over all he did over thirty drafts of the screenplay. The financiers for the project were as colourful as the characters being portrayed on the big screen by Gregory Hines (Running Scared), Lonette McKee (He Got Game), Nicolas Cage, Lisa Jane Persky (The Dogwalker), Allen Garfield, Fred Gwynne (Pet Sematary), Laurence Fishburne, Maurice Hines and Tom Waits. Las Vegas casino owners Edward and Fred Doumani invested $30 million while another monetary backer was Arab arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi. The crime-drama which was made for $58 million earned $26 million domestically.
Teaming up with long-time friends and colleagues George Lucas (THX 1138) and Walter Murch (Cold Mountain), Francis Ford Coppola produced a seventeen minute long 3D science fiction musical Captain Eo (1986) starring Michael Jackson. Captain Eo (Michael Jackson) sets out on a quest to deliver a gift to a wicked queen (Anjelica Huston) residing in a dark and desolate world. “I did it because it was in 3D,” declared the director on why he was drawn to the project which had a budget of $17 million. Coppola and his leading man Michael Jackson interviewed prospective performers in character so to test their understanding of the roles. The short film screened at Disneyland Park from 1986 to 1997 and was re-released in February of 2010 as Captain Eo Tribute after the death of the famous singer.
“Peggy Sue [Got Married, 1986], I must say, was not the kind of film that I normally would want to do,” admitted Francis Ford Coppola who gave into studio pressure to helm the $18 million time-travelling project. “At first I felt the script – although it was okay – was just like a routine television show.” After fainting at her high school reunion, Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) awakens to discover that she has been transported back to her teenage years. When putting the movie together, the director stated he kept in mind, “Thorton Wilder’s endearing play Our Town, in which the heroine goes back and sees… her youth.” The title song that plays during the opening credits of the film, which grossed $41 million domestically, is a demo tape recording of Buddy Holly singing and playing the guitar to his sequel to the hit tune Peggy Sue. Featuring in the commercial hit are Nicolas Cage, Barry Miller (Saturday Night Fever), Catherine Hicks (Fever Pitch), Joan Allen (The Bourne Supremacy), Jim Carrey (Dumb and Dumber), Maureen O’Sullivan (Hannah and Her Sisters), Sofia Coppola (Anna), Helen Hunt (As Good as It Gets), John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath), Kevin J. O’Connor (The Mummy) and Wil Shriner (Time Trackers). The Academy Awards nominated the comedy-drama for Best Actress (Kathleen Turner), Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, while at the Golden Globes it contended for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress – Musical or Comedy (Kathleen Turner). Peggy Sue Got Married won an American Society of Cinematographers Award and was adapted into a short-lived live musical by screenwriters Jerry Leichtling (Blue Sky) and Arlene Sarner (Julie Walking Home) which opened in the London West End theatre district in 2001.
Heading to the small screen, Francis Ford Coppola produced the episode Rip Van Winkle (1987) for the Showtime television series Faerie Tale Theatre. Harry Dean Stanton stars as the title character, who after having a drink of wine provided to him by some ghostly sailors, sleeps for twenty years. Starring alongside Stanton are Ed Begley Jr. (Pineapple Express), Tim Conway (The Longshot), Glenn Withrow, Talia Shire (Rocky), Sofia Coppola and Christopher Penn.
“Gardens of Stone  was an extremely modest, personal story about a particular unit in the U.S. Army,” said Francis Ford Coppola of his cinematic adaptation of the novel written by Nicholas Porffitt. “Whether I was attracted to it because I had spent a short time in a military school, and I remembered a certain appeal, or because of the uniqueness of these people who bury the dead, I don’t know.” A veteran sergeant (James Caan) mentors a young soldier (D.B. Sweeney) and prepares him for the duty in the Vietnam War. “The Vietnam conflict was an example of one of the many similar, illogical, ludicrous conflicts that are cooked up on the world power front that our youth are sacrificed to.” The director wanted “to present an in-depth portrayal of servicemen as a family whose members are bound together by a traditional code of honour and by mutual loyalty and affection.” Tragedy struck Coppola and his family during the first week of principle photography when a boating accident claimed the life of his son Gian-Carlo who was serving as a technical assistant. “It’s true that movies you work on become part of your life at that time,” reflected the filmmaker. “They raise questions about family and friends. I was doing a movie about the burying young boys and suddenly found that my own boy died right in the midst of it; and his funeral was held in the same chapel where we shot similar scenes of deceased veterans in Gardens of Stone.” Cast in the military tale which grossed $5 million domestically are Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums), James Earl Jones (The Hunt for Red October), Dean Stockwell (Married to the Mob), Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes), Sam Bottoms (The Last Picture Show), Elias Koteas (Zodiac) and Laurence Fishburne. The Moscow International Film Festival nominated the picture for the Golden Prize; it also contended for the Political Film Society Award for Peace.
Aided by the financial support of George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola set about shooting a biopic about a man who was as revolutionary minded as himself.
Continue to part four.
For more on Francis Ford Coppola and his body of work visit the online home of American Zoetrope.
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Short Film Showcase - Captain EO (1986)
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.