A family man whose proudest achievements are not his films but his children, Francis Ford Coppola maintains, “Our families form the basis of our original view of life: I think most people are caught up in issues, experiences, and memories of their families, and I am no exception.” His newest film, Tetro, is not, however, autobiographical. Starring Vincent Gallo, it concerns the endurance test of a strained relationship between Italian brothers in the other America, south of several borders, in Argentina. “Even though this is fiction, I used what I know best: my life,” he explains.
A New Yorker by way of Detroit (his middle name comes from the Henry Ford Hospital where he was born; Ford admired a play Coppola’s father was doing in the Motor City at the time), he now divides his time between homes, children, and businesses in northern California, Italy, and Central and South America. In addition to his careers as an Oscar-winning filmmaker, writer, hotelier, organic winemaker, pasta producer, restaurateur (with Robert De Niro), and publisher, he served as the model for his friend George Lucas’ character Han Solo — who had “been from one end of this galaxy to the other” — excellent preparation for his honorary role as His Excellency Ambassador Francis Ford Coppola from Belize to San Francisco.
A born-again independent feature filmmaker, he celebrated his 70th birthday on April 7 fine-tuning Tetro, which marks a return to his original game plan to write and direct his own personal screenplays — his first since The Conversation, for which he won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1974 — and a wish almost completely obscured by his Oscar wins for The Godfather Part II in the same year. (Only the death of author/co-screenwriter Mario Puzo in 1999 would put an end to Godfather numerals.) “There was an idea that if we could make one big success, with that money I could subsidize the rest of my career,” says Coppola.
That didn’t happen. And as time marched on, it became increasingly clear: “Nobody else would want to subsidize an independent film like Tetro,” a deeply personal story. “I just feel that at a certain point you have to go back to the beginning. The best thing for me at this point in my life is to become a student again and make movies with the eyes I had when I was enthusiastic about it in the first place. What the studios want now are ‘risk-free’ films, but with any sort of art, you have to take risks. Not taking risks in art is like not having sex and then expecting there to be children. ” An interesting perspective for a man whose screen record runs even longer than his 46-year marriage to his only wife, Eleanor.
Tetro will be released on June 11. And for those eagerly awaiting the premier of his eternal “next” film, Megalopolis, don’t hold your collective breaths — he’s been writing, re-writing, and re-re-writing it for at least a decade. But Coppola is as unpredictable as he is original. Watch this space.