Art

50 years later, Francis Ford Coppola reflects on the legacy of the “godfather”.

Francis Ford Coppola will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 21, almost 50 years to the day since The Godfather hit theaters. While that film propelled his career into the stratosphere, Coppola’s impressive performance cemented him as one of our greatest writers in the years that followed with films like The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and of course the Godfather sequels.

The filmmaker is both excited and practical about the honor. When someone is surprised they don’t yet have a star on the Walk of Fame, they say, “The way the picture is opened is that the studio that financed or distributed it gets paid to put your name on the to bring street . Having either funded or distributed my own films, I’ve never had the good fortune of a studio taking on this event.”

He’s also quick to point out that George Lucas, his longtime friend and legendary filmmaker, doesn’t have a star. “If anyone deserves a star on the Walk of Fame, it’s George,” he says. “I’ll give him mine.”

At the same time, Coppola admits that receiving such an award is a particular thrill, although he is “shy” about being singled out. “Although it may seem like I’ve been an anti-Hollywood rebel, I’m actually a Hollywood creature. I was created by Hollywood and am very proud to be part of the Hollywood tradition. If I can be a part of this group, this wonderful tradition of Hollywood, it makes me happy.”

Coppola certainly earned his place in Hollywood history with The Godfather, which was released on March 24, 1972. To commemorate the anniversary, Paramount Pictures re-released the first film to theaters in late February and is releasing a 4K Ultra HD release of the trilogy. The restoration was overseen by Paramount and Coppola’s production company, American Zoetrope, and will be available March 22nd.

Coppola’s impressive output in the 1970s included Apocalypse Now, starring Robert Duvall.
Courtesy of United Artists / Everett Collection

Though it’s been 50 years, Coppola says it’s gone quickly. “I remember everything that happened so well,” he says of the shoot.

He also has vivid memories of the film’s release. “You’re always so worried when these movies come out because of these first opinions; You hope it goes well and it’s not in your control,” he says. “But by far the greatest treasure is the test of time. When people look back at what you did 50 years later, that’s an honor in itself.”

Bringing The Godfather to the big screen is its own famous story, one told by many. In fact, Paramount Plus will release the limited series “The Offer” – based on producer Albert S. Ruddy’s perspective – in April. Coppola has nothing to do with the project, noting, “That’s probably the producer’s point of view, but I don’t think it really reflects what really happened.”

Coppola was initially uninterested in the project, which was based on Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel.

“Mario Puzo wrote some nice novels, but they wrote ‘The Godfather’ to make money,” says Coppola. “Mario loved his family and wanted to take care of them, so he wrote a book that he thought would become a bestseller, but it was a bit of a pot boiler.” Coppola says they had about the “sensational” ones elements and focuses on this classic, almost Shakespearean story about the father and his three sons who might succeed him. “I dissected the book very carefully and left out many pages, but Mario was for it.”

In fact, Coppola says one of the best parts of the experience was getting to know Puzo, who they call “a wonderful man.” He adds that he has great respect for all authors: “That’s why his name is above the title. It says ‘Mario Puzo’s The Godfather’, it doesn’t say ‘Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather’ because he created it.”

Coppola continues: “If you look at all my paintings you will always see that I put the author above the title. It’s John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, it’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And it really should be ‘John Milius ‘Apocalyse Now’. Because the author does the heavy lifting.”

Coppola came to the project after directing films such as the Roger Corman-produced Dementia 13 and the 1968 musical Finian’s Rainbow. He had already won an Oscar for writing 1970’s “Patton,” though he says he got fired from the project for the very thing he’s proud of now — the opening scene where Gen. Patton turns directly to an invisible troop audience.

“I once said that the things you do when you’re young that get you fired are the same things that get you lifetime achievement awards years later,” he recalls.

When asked if he knew at the time he was going to do something special with The Godfather, Coppola bluntly replies, “I thought it was going to be a special failure. When you make a film that goes against the grain of the times, films like that are tough. You are not doing what everyone expects or wants of you.”

Coppola hopes to continue swimming against the current with his next film, the long-matured Megalopolis, which would mark his first film since 2011’s Twixt. He’s hoping to shoot it in the fall, but notes, “When you decide to shoot a movie against the grain, it’s harder to fund, but it’s set for 50 years.”

Lazy loaded image

The Godfather Part II was released in 1974 and, like its predecessor, won Best Picture at the Oscars.
Courtesy of the Everett Collection

It has been reported that Coppola plans to invest $120 million of his own money after selling part of his hugely successful wine empire. Though little is known about the film’s plot, Coppola will say, “I’m going to do Megalopolis and I’m going to tell you people are going to be scratching their heads and going, ‘Wow, this has so much to offer.’ I don’t understand at first that we understand now. That is my hope.”

Of course, as for the filmmakers who inspire him today, he cites his granddaughter Gia Coppola, who he says “represents five generations of the family in the film business.”

It starts with his grandfather Agostino Coppola, who built the first Vitaphone sound system; his father, the composer Carmine Coppola; Sister Talia Shire; nephew Nicolas Cage; and daughter Sofia Coppola.

He also cites Denis Villeneuve and Cary Joji Fukunaga as “wonderful filmmakers on the big-budget scale.” He says, “But I don’t think they necessarily get the chance to make the films in their hearts. I think they’re being asked to make films that don’t go against the grain. We have a wealth of rich, great talent and I would give them more responsibility because they are capable of it.”

Not that Coppola has anything against big-budget entertainment – “I loved ‘Deadpool’, I thought it was great,” he notes – but he hopes the filmmakers will take risks in the future.

“Cinema aims to illuminate contemporary life and make us understand what is going on. So we need the artists to give us a vision of what’s going on.”

TIP SHEET
WHAT: Francis Ford Coppola receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
WHEN: 11:30 am March 21st
WHERE: 6667 Hollywood Blvd.
NETWORK: walkoffame.com

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