When you are director of films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now your work and reputation pretty much speak for themselves. Francis Ford Coppola is one of the most famous moviemakers of his time, a man who has been able to keep artistic integrity while creating movies that are also commercially successful. From Coppola’s early work–like The Conversation–to his masterpiece, The Godfather, a movie he was called in to direct after writing the Oscar-winning script for Patton, all his works represent an amazing artistic effort. During the shooting of the Godfather, Coppola took over the production and defended his ideas and his cast to the end, even risking being fired to make the movie he envisioned. Of course, its enormous success, crowned by the Oscar, eventually proved his vision of the movie was a winning one. The Godfather solidified Coppola’s status as one of Hollywood’s heavyweights.
Coppola worked with another legend, George Lucas, on his first short film as well as his first feature, American Graffiti. From these early days, a great relationship formed between the two, which continued with Lucas producing Captain Eo, a movie starring Michael Jackson and that was directed by Coppola.
After The Godfather, Coppola used his success to enable him to make Apocalypse Now, a powerful movie, the making of which was plagued with difficulties. The behind-the-scenes documentary Heart of Darkness details the arduous emotional and physical journey that was necessary to complete the picture. The film would become a cult classic and garnered much critical acclaim.
One of Coppola’s great strengths, and the reason that his movies are so compelling, is his unique ability to tell a story on film as though it were a novel, moulding it to the needs of the silver screen. Coppola doesn’t just use words to communicate his plot and ideas, but also images, music and art direction. The director knows how to draw people in, making his audience part of the movie without the use of artificial technology like modern 3D. Rather, thanks to his skills, his movies seem to reach out and embrace the viewer. These feats can only be accomplished with a clear understanding of the medium and very few in the history of filmmaking have been able to achieve what Coppola has.
Although very American, Francis Ford Coppola is of Italian origins (his grandfather moved to the US from Basilicata at the beginning of the 20th Century) and his style and his touch show a respect for Italy and a certain nostalgia. It must be noted, however, that the Sicily portrayed in The Godfather trilogy is very different in its essence to the Sicily presented by Luchino Visconti in The Leopard, two movies that are grand productions with an international cast, both very detailed, and yet very different in their DNA. It is not the genres that are different, but the inner soul of the directors, as one saw Sicily through the eyes of an American, a son of immigrants, and the other with the eye of a modern Italian looking back at how things used to be.
Coppola has a large, extended family, many of which have been blessed with artistic talents and whom the director has utilized in his films. There was his sister, Talia Shire, who played the iconic role of Connie in The Godfather trilogy, as well as Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, who took the role of Mary Corleone in The Godfather 3 after Winona Ryder had to drop out. The Coppola family also includes Nicholas Cage, who is the director’s nephew. The strength and closeness of the Coppola family is inspiring, and not exactly typical for Hollywood.
Now, in the later stages of his career, Coppola’s love for movies seems to have been equaled by his love for wine and the successful family vineyard in Northern California. Sofia Coppola, meanwhile, has become a very celebrated director in her own right. Indeed, Sofia has become the third generation Coppola to win an Academy Award.
The list of legendary films on Francis Ford Coppola’s resume is truly remarkable and he remains one of the most influential and successful directors in modern cinema.