Francis Ford Coppola

Group members: Leanne E. and Kimberly R.

Francis Ford Coppola

"I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians."
- Francis Ford Coppola


Francis Ford Coppola was born on April 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan to Carmine and Italia Coppola. Coppola was immediately immersed in the performing arts; his father Carmine was a musician in NBC's Symphony Orchestra, his mother Italia was an actress, and his sister Talia Shire starred in Rocky. In 1946, he and his family moved to New York City, where a few years later, at age nine, Coppola came down with polio. After his year-long recovery, he started making his own movies with an 8mm video camera and a tape-recorder.

Coppola attended Great Neck High School on Long Island, where he began his study of film-making, music, and theatre. In 1955 he went on to attend Hofstra University in New York, majoring in theatre arts. Coppola completed his formal education in film in UCLA's graduate program.

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At UCLA, Coppola caught the attention of director Roger Corman. Eventually Coppola impressed Corman so much that Corman allowed him to direct his own film. The product was Dementia 13 (1963), Coppola's first major film. In the same year, Coppola married Eleanor Neil, who also served as set decorator for Dementia 13; the two are still married. Their eldest son Gian-Carlo died at age 22 in 1986 in a boating accident; their daughter Sofia (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation) and their other son Roman (The Darjeeling Limited) are both involved in the film industry. Coppola is also related to some other prominent names in film, including actor Nicolas Cage.

Coppola is most famous for The Godfather series, the first part of which was released in 1972 and has now become a classic. The Godfather starred, amongst other notables, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and Robert Duvall. It received many awards and achieved great success.

Perhaps Coppola's second most popular and acclaimed movie is Apocalypse Now (1979), a Vietnam War epic that did well both in the critics' eyes and the box office. Like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now's cast was star-studded. Coppola once again cast Marlon Brando and Robert Duvalll; other stars included Martin Sheen and Harrison Ford.
Nicolas Cage, Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola
Nicolas Cage, Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola

In addition to directing, Coppola has worked as both a writer and producer. He has contributed to the screenplays of movies he has directed (including The Godfather and Apocalypse Now) as well as to the 1974 film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby. As a producer, Coppola's credit list becomes even longer and more impressive. Not only has he helped to produce some of his daughter Sofia's movies (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette), but also Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999), Robert Duvall's Assassination Tango (2002), and Robert De Niro's The Good Shepherd (2006).

Film Content & Themes

"You have to really be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise you'll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost."
- Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola's films generally analyze social issues.

One of Coppola's most prominent themes is family and the relationships between people forced to live and work together. The Godfather (1972) follows the Corleone family, The Outsiders (1983) gives cinematic life to the Greasers and the Socs (from the S.E. Hinton novel), and Apocalypse Now (1979) offers an examination of the bonds between soldiers.

Aside from his fascination with fictional families, Coppola often casts his own extended family members in his films. His sister Talia and his daughter Sofia both had roles in The Godfather (1972), while Nicolas Cage played in Rumble Fish (1983) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).

Another of Coppola's favorite themes to explore is that of self-discovery. Coppola's films often trace the journeys toward maturation of their main characters, as in Apocalypse Now (1979), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), and You're A Big Boy Now (1966).

Coppola has expressed a particular preference for a number of actors and actresses. Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Marlon Brando, Nicolas Cage, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, and the late John Cazale have all frequently appeared in Coppola's films.

Style / Vision

"Art depends on luck and talent."
- Francis Ford Coppola

The main characteristics of Coppola's films are interaction with the audience and balance.

The characters reach out to the audience, drawing the them in to their deepest thoughts and feelings. Coppola's films contain little irony because they need none; his films entertain and grip the audience without irony.

Coppola retains throughout his films a sense of balance between the intellectual and the emotional. The intellectual and emotional aspects of his films build upon each other, leading to multiple climaxes that are quickly dispersed. He artfully explores the space between sentimentality and abstraction without leaning to either extreme.

Analysis of Key Film

"Stay gold, Ponyboy."
Ralph Macchio as Johnny

Coppola's 1983 film The Outsiders exemplifies two of Coppola's favorite themes: family and social warfare. With Johnny (Ralph Macchio) as his best friend and Darrell (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe) as his semi-supportive brothers, Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) tackles what it means to be a Greaser or a Soc, and finds himself along the way.

The movie starts out with a fight between rival gangs the Greasers and the Socs, during which Johnny kills a Soc who tried to drown Ponyboy. The two boys get out of town, taking up residence in an abandoned church. They stay there for four days, playing cards, eating bologna, and reading Gone with the Wind. At sunrise one morning, Ponyboy recites Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." Later, Dallas (Matt Dillon) comes to the church to visit Ponyboy and Johnny, but while the gang is out to lunch the church catches fire with schoolchildren inside. Ponyboy rushes to save the kids, with Johnny following willingly and Dallas following reluctantly. They save the children, but Johnny suffers severe burns when the roof collapses on him. Grief-stricken, Ponyboy and Dallas vow to beat the Socs for Johnny's sake.
The Outsiders (1983)
The Outsiders (1983)

At the climactic fight between the Greasers and the Socs, the Greasers defeat the Socs, who flee in their Ford Mustangs. When Ponyboy and Dallas visit Johnny that night to inform him of the victory, Johnny dies. His last words are "Stay gold, Ponyboy." Overcome with emotion, Dallas robs a store clerk and is shot down by police officers. The rest of the Greasers rush to his side, but Dallas dies moments after being shot. The movie ends as Ponyboy discovers a letter from Johnny inside his copy of Gone with the Wind that insists Ponyboy take Dallas to see a sunset, and interprets the Robert Frost poem.

This film analyzes warfare between the lower class and upper class. Because Ponyboy and the Greasers come from the East Side of the city as opposed to the North Side, the rest of the world sees them as 'white trash,' despite Ponyboy's and Johnny's repeated acts of selflessness, heroism, and loyalty. The film also discusses the role of family and bonds in the characters' lives. Johnny's parents constantly fight, and Ponyboy's parents were killed in a car crash, so he lives with his two older brothers, one of which works two jobs and dropped out of high school. Although Ponyboy's brothers can be far from supportive - his oldest brother argues with him and causes him to run away - they come together at the end of the movie, reunited with Ponyboy.

Coppola's extensive use of close-ups lets the audience understand the characters and the relationships between the characters. Close-ups also help the audience identify important moments in the story. Coppola uses close-ups between Johnny and Ponyboy at the drive-in movie, under the stars, in the abandoned church, and in the hospital. These shots make Johnny's death towards the end of the movie even more poignant, as the audience can more strongly identify with Ponyboy's feelings of pain and loss.

Some possible motifs and symbols include the knife, trains, the sunset, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, and "Stay Gold" by Stevie Wonder along with "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.

Major Films & Awards

"A number of images put together a certain way become something quite above and beyond what any of them are individually."
- Francis Ford Coppola

  • Dementia 13 (1963) - Coppola's first filmexternal image 250352~Apocalypse-Now-Posters.jpgpatton-DVDcover.jpg
  • Patton (1970) - His first Academy Award - Best Adapted Screenplay
  • The Godfather (1972) - Academy Award for Best Picture
  • The Godfather Part II (1974) - Three Academy Awards for Producer, Director, and Writer
  • The Great Gatsby (1974 - screenplay writer)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979) - Two Academy Awards and a Golden Palm Award from Cannes Film Festival
  • The Outsiders (1983)
  • The Godfather Part III (1990)
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
  • The Rainmaker (1997)
  • The Outsiders: The Complete Novel (2005)
  • Youth Without Youth (2007)

Visuals / Trailers

"The essence of cinema is editing. It's the combination of what can be extraordinary images of people during emotional moments, or images in a general sense, put together in a kind of alchemy.
- Francis Ford Coppola

Trailer for The Godfather (1972).

The "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" scene from Apocalypse Now (1979).

Trailer for The Rainmaker (1997).

Francis Ford Coppola discusses his film Youth Without Youth (2007).

Sources / Links

Image Sources

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