Francis Ford Coppola, Part I
Where do artists get their ideas? Seriously. Do ideas spring up while facing the white page? Are they random notions that appear without warning while looking for a new broom at Target? Are they inspired by that last fight with a spouse, or the way one's grandmother stared at her husband’s empty easy chair? Well, I’m a writer, and I can tell you that it’s hard to parse, because it’s all of the above, and more. The people who write novels and make movies don’t understand where their ideas come from any better than anyone else.
On the other hand, there’s this notion, popular until the annihilating effect of postmodernism rendered interpretation silly, that in a sense every artist of worth only has one idea, rendered over and over and over again in finer and finer relief. And if that artist has restlessness in her soul, like most artists do, that idea gets refined, developed, riffed on, remixed and rewritten so that it remains fresh throughout a career and throughout a lifetime. Because in a sense, artists are always making a kind of self-portrait.
With this in mind, I thought it might be neat to work our way through the work of some classic Hollywood directors. The big guns, the ones you remember, the ones whose work is indistinguishable from that of others in the history of film.
Who better to start with than a director who changed everything in the 1970s, disappeared for a decade, and has recently returned in a humbler form? Francis Ford Coppola, director of this week’s classic Hollywood movie:
1966’s You’re a Big Boy Now.
The man who would direct The Godfather, the most popular, influential, and critically acclaimed movie of his generation, started in a somewhat silly, very 1960s way, with a countercultural coming-of-age movie that was all about sex, drugs and the Lovin’ Spoonful. Only the lack of a guy in a gorilla suit keeps You’re a Big Boy Now from being a perfect '60s freakfest. In Coppola’s defense, these were the times in which he was living.
Like the rest of the country, the Hollywood movie machine had by the mid-'60s found itself in a cultural and financial blind alley. The breakdown of the studio-system monopoly and the rise of television contributed to the radical drop of box office, but the real problem stemmed from Hollywood’s inability to figure out just what floated the boat of young America. Then, like now, it’s the young who fork over the most when it comes to entertainment.
Out of desperation, Hollywood turned to gigantic productions and desperate technological measures: widescreen, 3D, monumental special effects. Sound familiar?