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Back behind the camera

Francis Ford Coppola...   | Photo Credit: Reed Saxon

The British Film Institute and critics hailed Francis Ford Coppola's “Apocalypso Now” as the best Hollywood film in the past three decades. He was recently given an honorary award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. A versatile and bold writer-director-producer, Coppola who was recently in London, was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Kolkata for an interview.

“Whenever someone speaks from Kolkata, I remember Satyajit Ray's call, praising me for ‘Godfather I'. He complimented me particularly for my discovery, Al Pacino, whom he considered the best actor of the 1970s. According to him, Marlon Brando was untouchable in ‘Godfather'. We know of Indian cinema through Ray's works and, to me, his best is ‘Devi', a cinematic milestone.”

Long sabbatical

The director took a long sabbatical from filmmaking. He has released just two movies since 2000 (“Youth Without Youth”, 2007 and “Tetro”, 2009). Coppola confesses, “The present artificial scene in world cinema does not inspire me. ‘Tetro' is my latest creation starring Vincent Gallo and is set in Argentina. The film is about the rivalry of creative differences in an Italian family living in South America. In this film, I have stressed on fine arts and human approach to it as well as how it gives birth to competition, which leads to dirty rivalry. I desperately wanted to move out of crime, special effects and urban U.S., which is no more of interest.”

The man who changed the face of international cinema with “Apocalypse Now” is happy but not overjoyed that the British Film Institute has honoured his masterpiece. He explains, “I opted for the Joseph Conrad novel as it had sharp humanitarian contrasts and deliberately shifted the backdrop from North Africa to Vietnam as I felt the Vietnam War was wrong. When the film was first released in the mid-1970s, it did not receive much appreciation. That hurt as “Apocalypso Now” is far ahead of Godfather in terms of content, cinematic excellence and historical relevance. Martin Sheen was at his best delivering a controlled and passionate performance. Marlon Brando himself was inspired by his character of Walter E. Kurtz as he felt he could identify with it.”

Coppola, the writer of films like “Is Paris Burning” and “Patton”, laments that script writers don't get their due in Hollywood, as they did during the 1950s and 1960s. He admits, “A script is the backbone of a film. No director or actor can go beyond his script. Of course there are rare exceptions like Sergei Eisenstein in ‘Battleship Potemkin', Sir Charles Chaplin in ‘Monsieur Verdun' and John Ford in ‘How Green Was My Valley'. My best script is, of course, ‘Is Paris Burning'. I ought to have concentrated more on the French Resistance's contributions in World War II. Many criticised my anti-Russian attitude in ‘Patton' and felt I portrayed General George Patton as a psychic. This is wrong, as Patton was against Communists right from the beginning. He was eccentric in certain aspects but never a psychic. Had he been so, he would have never become the outstanding military commander that he was.”

He pauses and says, “Yes. Speak Softly Love by Mino Rotsa, the background song of Godfather I, is still the best musical score I ever picturised. Even Ingmar Bergman hugged me after watching it. The tune is sublime, isn't it? There was a unique combination of violins, cellos and the English flute.”

Where does Hollywood stand in comparison to European cinema? Coppola laughs, “Hollywood has, of course, been influenced to a considerable extent by European cinema. Remember the sequence in Brian D' Palma's ‘ Untouchables' when, as the perambulator moves down the stairs, Kevin Costner points his revolver and shoots. It has a direct influence of Sergei Eisenstein. Even the box office grosser ‘The Magnificent Seven' is a take off on Akira Kurosawa's ‘Seven Samurai'. Of course European actors like Sophia Loren and Peter O' Toole have performed commendably under the direction of Hollywood directors.”

Cannes today

What does the icon have to say about Cannes today? He laughs again. “Cannes was once the Mecca of cinema. The awards were more prestigious than the Oscars. Films like ‘Diary Of Anne Frank', ‘Lawrence Of Arabia', ‘Night Of The Iguana', ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips' and even ‘ Godfather I' received standing ovations there. Now the open market has reduced the status of Cannes. I agree with Jean Luc Goddard; Cannes is now a forum for fashion parades and filmy picnics. This is unbearable.”


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 6:07:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/Back-behind-the-camera/article15718304.ece

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