Several years ago, a group of us took an emergency road trip down to the house I’d grown up in, because my mom had instructed me that either I came and got the dollhouse my grandfather had made for me or else she was going to get rid of it. One of the people who came along agreed to pay half the expenses provided we stopped at a winery at some point on the way. She was the only one of the four who drinks wine. However, her guide book informed us that the Coppola winery had his Oscars on display, so that was where we went. I’d never been in a room with Oscars before, and getting two people to care about the side trip was probably as many as we were going to.
The first time I ever saw The Godfather, I was going through the Great Library Project and had gotten to the letter “G.” I told the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time about it, because it turns out watching all three on the same day when you’ve never seen them before can have an influence on your mood, and he told me that I was now done—I didn’t need to see any other movies, because I’d seen the greatest movies ever made.
Honestly, I’ve chosen the photo I have because that first story is how I mostly think of Coppola. I’ve seen nine of the movies he’s directed, nine of the movies he’s written (there’s some overlap there!), nineteen of the movies he’s produced (overlap there, too, of course), but when I think of him, what I see in my head is that airy room north of San Francisco full of awards and memorabilia and light. I see Lucas and Spielberg and Scorsese when I picture them, but with Coppola, I don’t. Probably because I’ve seen fewer interviews with him.
Of course, the other way you could picture Coppola is his family tree. He’s another former Corman employee, of course (and, yes, we’ll get to Corman), and goodness knows he’s helped launch a person or two to stardom, especially if you consider those movies he co-produced with Lucas as well. However, let’s look at how many family members have won Oscars. Francis himself, of course! But also his father, Carmine, for Best Original Score for The Godfather Part II. His daughter, Sofia, for Best Original Screenplay for Lost in Translation (which he produced). His son, Roman, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Moonrise Kingdom. His nephew, Nicolas Cage, for Best Actor for Leaving Las Vegas. His sister, Talia Shire, has been nominated twice for acting, for The Godfather Part II and for Rocky. We won’t mention his step-nephew or ex-brother-in-law, I think, but possibly we could.
Like Scorsese, he developed his abilities as a filmmaker during a sickly childhood. In Coppola’s case, a bout of polio that left him pretty well housebound for a while. He spent time working with puppets, which desperately makes me wish for a Coppola-Muppets collaboration. I wonder if, these days, instead of sickly childhood, you get early access to digital recording equipment as a gateway drug to filmmaking. I guess a lot of directors who grew up with camcorders would agree and point to themselves as the halfway point between the two?
Also like Scorsese, he’s pictured for a specific kind of movie; presumably, people’s first thoughts are either The Godfather or Apocalypse Now, though that sort of ’70s New Hollywood Epic in general, I think, is how people remember him. Not so much The Outsiders, though. Tucker: A Man and His Dream, or that movie he did with his nephew, Peggy Sue Got Married. It just feels as though he’s been attempting to branch out for years, sometimes more successfully than others, and he’s kind of not allowed to in the public imagination.
Still, he’s got the wine for consolation. These days, he doesn’t even need to work within the studio system at all, because the wine pays the bills. According to the friend who drinks it, it’s decent enough wine, too.