The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopaedia


Authors: James M Welsh, Gene D Phillips, Rodney F Hill.

Just published by Scarecrow Press is a new, curious sort of filmograpahy/biography entitled ‘The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopaedia’. Today we have almost forgotten about Coppola compared to how his reputation used to be considered, but in the seventies he was regarded as one of the wunderkind of directors that emerged in during the decade that included Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. He made three key films of that decade that are often cited as among the best films ever made: The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979). But after the latter film, his career never really recovered with such flawed and ambitious flops as One From the Heart (1982) and the much underrated Tucker: the Man and His Dream (1988). Presented in this new book, Coppola’s controversies, key actors and film crew members, as well as family members are included and given detailed mention. His films are given detailed analysis, as well as reviews as to how they were received on release.

The films themselves are written as essays, but presented in the more encyclopaedic style of two columns of justified text per page and a rundown and analysis of such films as One From the Heart are given detailed analysis, as well as his better received films. When giving a brief outline of the actors and crew in his films, we learn some fascinating details, such as that of veteran actor Sterling Hayden (shot in the neck in a restaurant in The Godfather) who worked as a commando behind enemy lines fighting the Croatian fascists in the Second World War, or how disappointed Coppola was with British pop skiffle singer Tommy Steele as the Irish leprechaun in one of the director’s earlier films, Finian’s Rainbow (1967), in which he acted opposite Fred Astaire in the veteran dancer’s last film or about the well documented bad blood that emerged between Coppola and Marlon Brando during the filming of Apocalypse Now, as well as Martin Sheen’s well documented breakdown and near death on the set of the now classic Vietnam odyssey.

Of course there are other well deserved directors that such a book could cover, but it is the strange and inconsistent career of Coppola that makes this book so fascinating and, of course the legacy of his family, be it his father, Carmine Coppola, nephew Nicholas Cage’s successful career, or his daughter Sophia’s so-far brief, if brilliant career. It is in many ways a perfect validation and re-examination of the man’s oeuvre and, like all encyclopaedias it is a book that you can just deep into. However, it would have been nice to have an Appendix with his films listed in a complete filmography, but hey I guess I am just being nerdy.

Chris Hick

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