Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Life

Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Life

by Michael Schumacher

View All Available Formats & Editions

Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life is the first complete picture of the internationally renowned and controversial cinematic genius who directed such films as the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and dozens more -- some wildly successful, some utterly disastrous. He is Hollywood’s perennial outsider, admired and respected


Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker’s Life is the first complete picture of the internationally renowned and controversial cinematic genius who directed such films as the Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and dozens more -- some wildly successful, some utterly disastrous. He is Hollywood’s perennial outsider, admired and respected for his courage and individualism, but still criticized for being a gambler in a business where success is measured by box-office receipts.

Michael Schumacher tells the entire history of this masterful filmmaker. Coppola reveals for the first time:
* The whole story of his early years, including his “skin flick,” his slasher movie, and his years with Roger Corman.
* The reason behind the most controversial casting decision of his career: putting his daughter, Sofia, in The
Godfather, Part III.
* The impact of the loss of his son, Gio, on his work and his life.

With unprecedented access to Coppola’s friends, critics, peers, casts, and crews, Schumacher creates an irresistible read, showing all the aspects of one of the most complex, conflicted filmmakers of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is not an authorized biography, though it often reads like one because Schumacher systematically defends director and screenwriter Coppola against the critics who have panned his films as contrived, excessively violent or a triumph of style over substance. Still, he presents a brisk and astute portrait of one of the most influential directors of the past 30 years, adept at both operatic blockbusters (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) and smaller personal movies (John Grisham's The Rainmaker). The inner man remains elusive, although Schumacher--biographer of Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs and Eric Clapton--delves deeply into such personal crises as Coppola's childhood polio, during which he recuperated by making home movies; his protracted affair with a young, unnamed screenwriter, which nearly wrecked his marriage; and the devastating impact of his son Gian-Carlo's tragic death in a boating accident in 1986. The book's real strength lies in its flavorful behind-the-scenes re-creation of the making of all of Coppola's movies. Cameos of Nicholas Cage, Marlon Brando, Winona Ryder, Fred Astaire and many other stars nearly steal the show. Schumacher tends to portray Coppola as an uncompromising visionary who waged a career-long battle to free himself from the Hollywood dream factory's constrictive commercial dictates. Yet the lingering question is why the relentlessly driven filmmaker abandoned his creative, auteuristic endeavors in favor of safer, more profitable work-for-hire films. In any case, Coppola fans will rejoice. 16 pages of photos. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Coppola made his reputation as a director by winning back-to-back Best Picture Oscars for The Godfather, Parts 1 and 2. The exuberant Coppola was like a godfather to the new American cinema movement of the 1970s. Since then, contend critics, he has not fulfilled his early promise, eclipsed by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and others. Schumacher (There but for Fortune: A Life of Phil Ochs) has written a comprehensive review of Coppola's turbulent career with the cooperation of the director and many of his colleagues. Topics include Coppola's start directing nudie movies, his apprenticeship under B-movie mogul Roger Corman, and his friendship with George Lucas. On the personal side, Schumacher describes the involvement of Coppola's family in his films, including father Carmine, wife Eleanor (herself a gifted filmmaker), and son Gio, whose death in a boating accident devastated Coppola. Film buffs will enjoy the juicy details on the making of the Godfather films and anecdotes on the chaotic shoot of Apocalypse Now. Coppola is a larger-than-life subject, and this book deserves a large audience in public and academic libraries.--Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 castingdecisions 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)

Product Details

Random House, Incorporated
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
9.17(w) x 9.16(h) x 9.16(d)

Read an Excerpt

Francis Ford Coppola, the second of Carmine and Italia Coppola's three children, was born in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, on April 7, 1939. Francis's older brother, August, an enormous influence in Francis's life, had been born five years earlier, on February 16, 1934, and his sister, Talia, who, as Talia Shire, would become a successful actress, would arrive in 1946. Francis received his name from his maternal grandfather, Francesco Pennino, and from the sponsor of the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour," a radio program that employed Carmine Coppola as an assistant conductor and musical arranger. After her son had become an internationally known film director, Italia Coppola would remark that she had slight regrets about Americanizing Francis's name because he seemed the most deeply connected to his Italian heritage.

Both of Coppola's parents were first-generation Italian-Americans, the children of immigrants who left Italy for the United States around
the turn of the century. Great ambition and artistic talent ran on both sides of the family. Francesco Pennino, a musician and songwriter, worked for a time as Enrico Caruso's pianist; his grandson would eventually honor him by using a fragment of one of his musical plays, a melodrama called Senza Mama, in a scene in The Godfather, Part II. But Pennino's biggest contribution to Francis Ford Coppola's life and career could be traced to his enthusiasm for movies: He operated several movie theaters in the New York area, and he was responsible for bringing a number of silent Italian films to the United States. He had connections to Paramount Pictures, which led to his being offered a job writing scores for thecompany's silent films, but Pennino, for all of his love of the movies, wanted nothing to do with Hollywood.
Augustino Coppola, Francis's paternal grandfather, while not a musician himself, encouraged his large family to study music, and two of his sons, Anton and Carmine, went on to have careers in music. Augustino worked as a tool-and-die maker, and he could boast of building the first Vitaphone sound system for Warner Bros. He, too, was immortalized in a scene in Godfather II: A group of Mafia hoods enter and demand that a gunsmith oil their machine guns, which he does while his young son plays the flute nearby. In real life, Augustino Coppola was similarly approached by neighborhood toughs; he oiled their guns while little Carmine stood nearby. "Who's this?" the gunmen wanted to know. "It's all right," Augustino Coppola assured them. "That's my son. Don't worry. He is studying the flute." When Augustino had finished working on the guns, the men gave him money for Carmine's musical education.

Evidently, the Coppola side of the family had a number of colorful characters in its ranks. As an adult, Francis would remember hearing all kinds of stories about his Italian ancestors--tales of robberies and "honor" slayings and the kind of mayhem that might have fit perfectly into one of his Godfather movies.

Mostly, however, there were stories of poverty, of the classic struggles that Italian immigrants went through to gain a foothold in the new country.

Carmine Coppola's youth had been anything but easy. He was left-handed and, like many left-handed kids at that time, he had to endure the rappings on the hand administered by well-intentioned teachers and adults trying to "convert" the youngsters to right-handedness. In addition, Carmine stuttered--a condition that led him to humiliating experiences in the classroom. Learning to play the flute became an urgent means of self-expression.

It also led to the most moving moment of his young life.

"My father was very attached to his older brother, Archimedes," Talia Shire remembered. "They were about a year or so apart, and my father loved his brother beyond belief. When Archimedes started kindergarten, my father became so uncontrollable that they couldn't be separated, so the teacher was kind enough to let Carmine Coppola sit in his diapers in the back of the class and go through the kindergarten with his older brother.

"When, at the age of seventeen, Archimedes was in the hospital and dying, my father desperately played the flute to make a couple of bucks for blood transfusions. My father visited his brother in the hospital, and Archimedes said, 'Carmine, you have a gift. Would you play for me?' So my father brought his flute and played for him. It was devastating for him."

Carmine studied flute on a Julliard scholarship, and he was accomplished enough to be offered jobs with prestigious orchestras, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Not long after Francis's birth, Carmine was hired by the NBC Symphony Orchestra in New York City, where he played as first flautist for Arturo Toscanini--a position that would have thrilled any musician in the country. Carmine, however, had great aspirations. He wanted to write every kind of music conceivable--songs and serious music, perhaps even a Broadway musical or two--and his ten years with the NBC Symphony Orchestra were tinged with his own dissatisfaction over his inability to strike out on his own. He studiously worked to establish the kind of connections that he hoped would prove helpful, but nothing was forthcoming. Every night when the Coppola children said their prayers, they added a final adjoinder, imploring God to "give Daddy his break."

Life in the Coppola household revolved around Carmine's tempestuous career. The family moved often, even in the New York area--so much so that Francis soon lost track of the number of schools he had attended. He was always the new kid in school, always struggling to catch up with the curriculum in his new school, always the outsider--at least until he told his schoolmates that his father was a soloist for Toscanini; then he became a kind of schoolyard celebrity, a status he clearly relished.

According to August Coppola, Carmine Coppola's career in music had a subtle but very important influence on his children's development.

Meet the Author

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER is the author of five books, including biographies of Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, and Eric Clapton. He lives in Wisconsin.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >