Saturday, September 15, 2007

The auteur

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an appreciation of Francis Ford Coppola as part of its fall film preview. The writer, A.O. Scott, notes that much of Coppola's career has been overshadowed by his early successes, namely the first two "Godfather" films but also "The Conversation" and the spectacle that is "Apocalypse Now."

Scott points to some excellent films that Coppola directed in the 1980s, which may not be in the same league as the aforementioned classics but which are worthy of mention nonetheless. Perhaps my favorite is the 1987 film "Gardens of Stone", which centers on the soldiers assigned to the honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery during the Vietnam War. The film features strong performances from James Caan, James Earl Jones and D.B. Sweeney. Caan is a drill sergeant and Vietnam veteran who is embittered by the war, and Sweeney is the idealistic young soldier he takes under his wing. It's hard to think of another film that so deftly portrays the camaraderie that soldiers share and that leads them to lay down their lives for one another, no matter what they think of the war they've been sent to fight.

It is, in other words, the perfect film for our times.

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3 Comments:

Blogger bobby said...

Jonathan,

Much has been said (as well as criticized) about Coppola's work. As good as the first two Godfather films were, they were still the brainchild of author Mario Puzo who wrote the novel in the late 1960s. Many people forget that Francis is and Oscar winning writer (Patton) and possibly one of the best producers of the 1970s – interesting given his disdain for the "Hollywood" machine.

The Conversation is one of the most underrated films of all times. It is keystones of the 1970s "Paranoia" films that include The French Connection, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, Dog Day Afternoon, Chinatown, All the President's Men and even Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.

What makes The Conversation so special is the film's understated progress, the patience it takes to examine of the psyche of a surveillance expert and his slow unravel into self-destructive paranoia. The Eerie Sound design of Walter Murch. The solo piano music that underscores what Harry has either figured out or is imagining. Also, if you pay attention to Coppola's direction, you realize the camera is used like a actual surveillance camera - we see only what is in the range of it's view, nothing more.

This film is also layered upon layer with subtle clues to Harry Caul's secret world.

It is definitely one of my top 5 all time favorites. Undeniably one of Coppola's best and anyone who shares this sentiment has my utmost respect.

-bob

12:51 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

There's nothing I can say to add to your excellent critique of "The Conversation."

I think Coppola deserves a lot of credit for the style of the "Godfather" films (and for the casting) though certainly the story was relatively unchanged from book to film. (And of course the flashbacks in part II came from the original novel.) "The Godfather" is, in my mind, of the best book-to-film adaptations.

1:07 PM

 
Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Oops, dropped word. It should read "one of the best."

1:07 PM

 

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