Coppola savors breaking the moviemaking rules
Hollywood is built on the great contradiction between art and commerce. Commerce holds most of the aces, though art peeps out often enough to make the game interesting.Skip to next paragraph
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Francis Coppola finds this stimulating. But it isn't complicated enough for him. So he started his own studio, Zoetrope, and set out to revolutionize the movie world -- a bearded Napoleon armed with ambition, a vast love for film, and the latest electronic doodads.
So far, his campaign has been inconclusive. Coppola and company have turned out a string of successful pictures, from ''Apocalypse Now'' to the ''The Black Stallion.'' They have also teetered on the brink of financial oblivion -- almost plunging over the edge when their latest project, ''One From the Heart,'' found itself millions of dollars in debt, and still far from finished.
The money was found, the picture was completed, and it opened in 11 cities a week ago. But this hardly spells success for Zoetrope. Many critics found the film a dud, and $23 million is a hefty budget for a dud to recoup. If it fails, Coppola could lose the enterprise he has spent a dozen years building.
If it posts a profit, though, Hollywood had better look out. Coppola has dreams he hasn't even started to realize. If he has his way, and if his skills are equal to his aspirations, he could give us a radical new electronic cinema that's different from anything we've ever seen.
Like fabled Hollywood itself, Coppola is contradictory. Meeting last week with a handful of journalists in New York, he tossed out a multitude of ideas that careened off one another like billiard balls rushing in opposite directions. A few samples:
* On his own ability: ''I probably have genius but no talent. I was never a talented kid.''
* On his own success: ''I'm an extremely wealthy person who sometimes has trouble coming up with $500.''
* On his new movie: ''Someday people may measure films by whether they came before 'One From the Heart' or after it.'' Then, a few minutes later: ''It's just a dumbbell valentine I made, so girls and little children would like me.''
Coppola might not get too much argument on that last point. ''One From the Heart'' is yet another contradiction -- a great big beautiful bore. Made with the latest film technology, crammed with theatrical magic, it wastes these resources on a trite story with dreary characters. It's all style, without a shred of substance. Despite its R rating and occasional nudity, Coppola sees it as an ''innocent'' romance full of charm and optimism. But he's wrong. Happy endings don't mean a thing if there's nothing to build up to them. And pretty packages are disappointing if there's nothing inside.
Still, there is one very impressive thing about ''One From the Heart'' -- its refusal to follow the usual movie patterns. With his cinematic know-how, Coppola could have ground out a more conventional version of the same story (about a couple who break up and get together again) with a lot less risk. Instead, he surrounded his simple plot with all kinds of visual innovations. The lighting design, for example, is more expressive than the performances. This says little for the actors, but it demonstrates Coppola's expertise in technical matters.
How does Coppola feel about all this? He disagrees with the critics of ''One From the Heart,'' insisting the film will be a financial success. But he also looks beyond the moment -- this is just one movie, after all -- and glows with enthusiasm about the future.
''I believe in a cinema of many possibilities,'' he said last week, settling on a sofa in his New York hotel suite. ''I want to work in different styles and be unpredictable, just to get interested again. I don't like going to the movies anymore. Years ago, you could choose from 20 kinds of films to see: swashbucklers, musicals, comedy, social drama, romance, Abbott and Costello. Now there's just three or four things you're allowed to make: screwball comedy, psychosocial stuff, and space opera.
''You don't have diversity anymore,'' he continued. ''It's like a 55-m.p.h. speed limit. But what if you want to go 2,000 m.p.h.? There are plenty of areas in life where you have to stick by the rules. In this field, it shouldn't be that way.''