FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA by Michael Schumacher


A Filmmaker's Life
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The director of perhaps the finest film of the past 30 years is presented as erratic, grandiose, and mysteriously boring for so great an artist. Schumacher (Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, 1995, etc.) marches respectfully from Coppola’s birth in Detroit (his middle name was for the automaker) to UCLA film school and through all his films and legal skirmishes. There’s much here, and it should be great fun—his training with Roger Corman, his friendship with George Lucas, his run-ins with the press (including the “I pattern my life on Hitler” remark)—but it’s not. For starters, there’s not quite enough new stuff on the popular films, though a lot is provided on less well-received efforts. On The Godfather, details of the transformation of ponytailed Brando into Don Corleone, James Caan’s prep work for the role of Sonny, and “persuasive methods of blocking production” (e.g., bomb threats) are catnip; more would have been welcome, particularly given the space granted Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club. Quotes from actors such as Talia Shire and James Caan provide fresh air, but the many Coppola quotes are stifling. His relentless attacks on the press and the film industry, combined with his excessive optimism (or misreading) regarding reaction to his films, undercut reader interest in yet another quixotic venture (say, Tucker), no matter how visionary the director is. In addition, Schumacher’s intermittently off-the-mark film analyses (viewing Peggy Sue Got Married from the male protagonist’s perspective) and bland descriptions (the disastrous casting of daughter Sofia Coppola in The Godfather, Part Three is simply “one of the most controversial casting decisions of his career”) will make film-literate readers feel patronized and suspicious. Coppola emerges as a boorish genius and the book as a comprehensive but exhausting read. When it ends and the glazed eyes refocus, you’re left with the unsettling realization you’ve just spent 500 pages on the man who directed One From the Heart. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 1999
ISBN: 0-517-70445-5
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999


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