In This Article Francis Ford Coppola

  • Introduction
  • Book-Length Film Career Overviews
  • Books with Significant Chapters on Coppola
  • Film Production Accounts, Scholarly Aids, Collaborators
  • Coppola Biographies
  • Pre-Godfather Film Career
  • The Godfather (1971) and Godfather II (1974)
  • The Conversation (1974)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979) and Literary Sources
  • Apocalypse Now (1979): John Milius/Vietnam
  • The 1980s Coppola Oeuvre
  • The Godfather: Part III (1990) and The Godfather Trilogy
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • Coda: Recent Films

Cinema and Media Studies Francis Ford Coppola
by
Jeffrey Chown
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 November 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0217

Introduction

Francis Ford Coppola became the first of the film school generation directors to gain celebrity, with the phenomenal financial and critical success of The Godfather (1971). Other directors would follow, including George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Stephen Spielberg, but by dint of being the first as well as most adroit in media self-promotion, Coppola became something of the symbolic “Godfather” of the film school generation. His patronage of other directors, his multiple attempts at forming his own studio, and his activities in publishing and film preservation furthered this reading. Four films in the 1970s cemented his critical reputation. They were The Godfather (1971), Godfather II (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Apocalypse Now (1979). By 1975, he had five Academy Awards, and Apocalypse Now would go on to share the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Coppola was thirty-two years old at The Godfather premiere, and his early artistic success became a vindication of the film school model of career advancement. He received an MFA from UCLA in the early 1960s and used that as a springboard toward exploitation filmmaking with Roger Corman (see, e.g., Dementia 13 [1963]). As he learned his craft, he became a house writer for Seven Arts, which resulted in the Patton (1970) assignment. Very prolific in this period, he squeezed in smaller films: You’re a Big Boy Now (1967), Finian’s Rainbow (1968), and The Rain People (1969), which the section Pre-Godfather Film Career highlights. Following the phenomenal success of the two Godfather films, public fascination with Coppola’s celebrity settled around the question of what he would do next. Never the shy introvert, Coppola flamboyantly announced that he would do a Vietnam film to commemorate America’s 200th anniversary, which would be released in 1976. The proposed film would also serve as closure to the cultural trauma of the Vietnam War. The two sections concerned with Apocalypse Now in this article will give some sense of the public furor over, as well as the canonization of, the film since its release. Due to financial over-commitments associated with Coppola’s purchase of the Hollywood General studio and the subsequent box office disaster of One from the Heart (1982) Coppola’s films of the 1980s are best characterized as of the “hired gun” variety. In the 1990s, Godfather III gave Coppola a large payday but did little to advance his critical regard. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) has been his biggest financial/critical success in the post–Apocalypse Now years. It also excited much academic commentary for its engagement with Bram Stoker and the vampire myth. As Coppola paid off his financial obligations, an earlier investment in a Northern California winery yielded spectacular financial success, which has allowed him to subsidize more experimental undertakings, represented in the Coda: Recent Films section.

Book-Length Film Career Overviews

The books in this category are all written under the aegis of auteurism, a well-established critical method where the aggregate of an auteur’s creative work is considered, usually film-by-film chronologically. This methodology follows the supposition advanced in Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema that insight into the individual film masterwork increases by a synergistic approach to the entire corpus of the auteur. Most of the books were written mid-career, so Menne 2015 has the virtue of being the most comprehensive and up-to-date, as well as being the only university press book of the group. Johnson 1977 is limited by being pre–Apocalypse Now but has value for representing an early, developing assessment of Coppola’s career. Auteurism is thought to have gotten its earliest expression with the 1950s French Cahiers Du Cinema critics. This tradition is represented with Chaillet and Vincent 1985 and with Delorme 2010. These books also benefit by publishers willing to invest in higher-quality photo production, which does much to increase the pleasure of the read. Coppola’s celebrity probably rewarded the investment. Ronald Bergan and James Clarke’s books emerge from England: Bergan 1998 is written by a working journalist/critic, and Clarke 2003 is by a prolific writer/filmmaker/director. Both works present summaries of critical assessment of Coppola’s individual films that are valuable in establishing the initial reception of the films. Chown, writing out of an academic background, is interested in challenging some of the under-girding notions of auteur criticism, and his study Chown 1988 is the least enamored with the idea of Coppola as a creative “genius.” He thinks Coppola is worthy of study more for understanding the Hollywood apparatus of commerce/art than for a romantic idea of an exemplary artist needing explication. All seven of these books contribute to the perception that the director Coppola is an important tool of product differentiation in the Hollywood system, or as Frank Capra put it “The Name above the Title.”

  • Bergan, Ronald. Francis Ford Coppola Close Up: The Making of His Movies. London: Orion Media, 1998.

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    A 100-page review of Coppola’s films through Jack done for the British Close Up series of director studies. Bergan is a critic/filmmaker who has worked for the Guardian. Odd but useful feature is that it has all the Variety reviews of Coppola’s films through The Rainmaker.

  • Chaillet, Jean-Paul, and Elizabeth Vincent. Francis Ford Coppola. Translated by Denise Raab Jacobs. New York: St. Martin’s, 1985.

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    Early trade book on Coppola’s films with abundant illustrations. Text benefits from an interview the authors did with Coppola during the making of The Cotton Club. Although the film summations are usually quite standard, the book has unusual items, for instance unpublished production stills from Tonight for Sure, and interesting anecdotes about Coppola’s interaction with writers such as Gore Vidal and Armyan Bernstein.

  • Chown, Jeffrey. Hollywood Auteur: Francis Coppola. New York: Praeger, 1988.

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    An extended consideration of how Coppola negotiated with the written sources for his films through Tucker. The title is ironic in that Chown feels auteurism ignores the collaborative aspect of modern film production to romanticize the director. However, Coppola’s career is revelatory for how Hollywood balances commerce and art.

  • Clarke, James. Coppola. London: Virgin Books, 2003.

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    Rather formulaic and superficial analysis of Coppola’s filmography through The Rainmaker. The critical judgments are adulatory, but the attention to budgets, collaborators, box office grosses and journalistic coverage of the respective films is very useful in locating the films in the larger nexus of Hollywood culture. Its value is that the coverage is comprehensive, including short film work such as Life With Zoe (1989) and Captain Eo, producing efforts, screenplays for other directors, and unrealized projects such as Megalopolis.

  • Delorme, Stephanie. Masters of Cinema: Francis Ford Coppola (Cahiers Du Cinema). Paris: Phaidon, 2010.

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    A monograph from the editor of Cahiers Du Cinema that treats Coppola’s career with unapologetic auteurism. Connects themes from Coppola’s early 1960s Corman work with his later master works. Many rarely seen stills from French archives. Coverage runs through Tetro.

  • Johnson, Robert K. Francis Ford Coppola. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

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    Only goes through Godfather II but of interest as arguably the first book-length critical study of Coppola’s films. Has a very in-depth discussion of Coppola’s relation to Hofstra University. Part of a series of director studies edited by Warren French.

  • Menne, Jeff. Francis Ford Coppola. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

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    Menne examines Coppola’s career from the perspective of postmodernism and Hollywood as a production system. Suggests Coppola’s ability to negotiate a career is emblematic for how creative artists operate in a postindustrial economy. Filmography and extensive biography.

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