Francis Ford Coppola 1933–
American director, producer, and scriptwriter.
Along with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, among others, Coppola established the reputation of the textbook filmmakers. He is also a producer and the head of Omni Zoetrope (formerly American Zoetrope), a studio he started in 1969 to help young filmmakers produce their work.
Trained in film at the University of California at Los Angeles, Coppola worked with Roger Corman as an assistant director and writer. Corman offered him his first opportunity to direct on Dementia 13. But Dementia 13 was not well received and his next film, You're a Big Boy Now, was overshadowed by Mike Nichols's The Graduate, released at the same time as Coppola's film. In retrospect, many critics find You're a Big Boy Now a fresh, zany look at the disillusionment and the joys of growing up.
In 1968, Coppola directed his first—and perhaps his last—musical. His version of Finian's Rainbow was released, amidst a barrage of negative reviews. All during production, Coppola was plagued by the problems of an inexperienced filmmaker attempting to create a large-scale musical. Warner Brothers, however, dealt the death blow. The studio, sure of the film's success, expanded the 35mm print to 70mm to give it the aura of a grandiose musical. In the process, however, Fred Astaire's feet were cut off the bottom of the screen. When his next film, The Rain People, received a lukewarm critical reception, Coppola's future looked questionable.
The brilliant success of Coppola's adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather established Coppola in the film world. While Part I was in production, Coppola fought for three things: Marlon Brando for the part of Don Corleone, Al Pacino for the part of Michael Corleone, and the adaptation of the film as a period piece rather than setting it in the present. Because of these aspects of the film, among others, Coppola transformed what some considered a strictly sensational novel into an epic of family loyalty within the world of organized crime.
Coppola's most recent project, Apocalypse Now, has become as notorious as it is famous. Stories of the difficulties of production and the skyrocketing costs have given the film an aura of unbridled extravagance. For many critics, this has detracted from the film and jaded their perception of it. In The Movie Brats Michael Pye and Lynda Myles have said of Coppola: "[There is] a fatal flaw that eats at Coppola's filmmaking. He makes appropriate noises to hearten his liberal constituency … and then concentrates on performance, style, and rhythm. His skills do not present the message he says he intends." The critical response to Apocalypse Now echoes this view. Most critics find it lush, overwhelmingly beautiful, spectacular … and empty. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)