By/Por Mathew Barone – Special for LWR
Having directed THE GODFATHER, APOCALYPSE NOW, and countless other films, you’d think Francis Ford Coppola would’ve been in a retrospective mood at his Storytellers talk. But you’d be mistaken.
It could’ve been a career retrospective—really, who would’ve blamed anyone involved? As directorial master Francis Ford Coppola told the Tribeca Film Festival audience yesterday during his Tribeca Talks: Storytellers event, he’s 77 years old; not to mention, he’s directed some of the greatest films of all time, including The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979). So if anyone deserves to step back, let the young bucks take over, and bask in his achievements,, it’s Coppola, yet his conversation with novelist/Town & Country columnist/friend Jay McInerney didn’t focus on the past. Because as far as Coppola is concerned, he’s nowhere near done with cinema yet.
For about half of their conversation, which took place inside the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Theater, Coppola and McInerney discussed what’s next for the iconic filmmaker. His looking-ahead plans couldn’t be any more forward-thinking.
As mentioned above, Coppola is 77, but if you ask him, he’s actually “50-27,” a numerical breakdown that honors his all-time favorite age, 50. Since turned “50-15,” or 65, in 2004, Coppola has been playing with form and release strategies through the self-made indie films Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009), and Twixt (2011). But those three experimental films were just practice for his most ambitious endeavor to date: the “live cinema” project Distant Vision, a 500-page script that he’s hoping to break up into six individual “stage plays” and that follow three generations of an Italian-American family through the “conception, birth, and domination” of television.
After fine-tuning its numerous moving parts through test runs on college campuses like Oklahoma City Community College and UCLA, and using local repertory theater actors, Coppola ultimately intends to shoot Distant Vision as a “beautiful movie performed live.” Theoretically, it’ll air on TV not unlike how networks have delivered their recent live renditions of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and Grease—except he doesn’t want Distant Vision to look anything like those transparently staged-in-the-moment productions. As Coppola puts it, with delightful soap-opera-targeted shade, “Cinema doesn’t look like The Young and the Restless.”
When an audience member pointed out that NBC is currently prepping a live take on A Few Good Men, Coppola reasoned that Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay makes sense for the format, since it’s a “courtroom drama,” but that he’d rather make live TV’s own “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Since Coppola’s biggest talking point centered around cinema’s next phase, McInerney inevitably brought the conversation around to 2016’s most controversial film topic: Sean Parker’s Screening Room and the potential of one day losing in-theater moviegoing altogether. Naturally, Coppola, ever the old-fashioned cinephile, prefers visiting theaters to watching films at home, though one part of the theatrical option does piss him off. “My wife and I love to go to the movie theater,” he said, “but I yell at the screen because they show commercials…in a movie theater!”
Coppola is optimistic about the survival of movie-houses partially because he knows people less than half his age who still share his excitement. His 29-year-old granddaughter, Palo Alto director Gia Coppola, continues to goes out of her way to see new movies on opening Friday nights so “people can’t tell her if they’re good or bad” and potentially spoil her first-time experiences.
It’s that undying connection to the younger film-loving crowd that keeps Coppola energized and inspired to push his beloved art-form as much as possible. During the audience question round, a fan from Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is where Tetro was partially shot, asked Coppola if his last three films and Distant Vision make him “feel like a film student again.” A big motivating factor for Coppola’s late-stage artistic progression is, he reasons, a sense of realistic self-awareness. He cited how acclaimed playwright Tennessee Williams spent the latter part of his career depressed over being unable to match the successes of his first two major plays, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, which is a mind-state Coppola has no desire to emulate.
“I know I won’t make another Godfather,” he admitted, acknowledging the difficulties for directors his age to make films with large cultural impacts in this modern age of superhero blockbusters. The same audience member asked if the lukewarm, if not outright negative, receptions to films like Tetro and Twixt have bothered him. “You always think your films are misunderstood,” said Coppola. “You’re always insecure.”
One person who definitely understands Coppola, though, is his wife, Eleanor, who was in SVA crowd and, on her husband’s request, stood up and took a bow. Coppola informed everyone that he and Eleanor have been married for 53 years (!); he then proudly told the audience that Eleanor just finished directing her first movie—at the age of 79.
Clearly, age ain’t nothing but a number in the Coppola household