The Conversation — dir. Francis Ford Coppola

While we were in the Soviet Union filming Dersu Uzala, the hotel restaurant was continually filled with the haunting strains of the theme music from The Godfather. Vodka glass in hand, Kurosawa would say, “That Coppola—what a director! I thought Part One of his Godfather series was perfect, and then he amazed me by surpassing it in Part Two. Usually the sequel is a poor imitation.” Seated in a restaurant in a foreign land, we spoke Coppola’s name with much admiration.

Coppola has said that before starting to shoot a movie, he often looks at Kurosawa’s movies for inspiration. Although he has many favorites, one that he singles out for admiration is The Bad Sleep Well, where he marvels at the directorial technique of letting the audience in on the entire setup right away, in the opening wedding scene.

While Coppola was editing Apocalypse Now, Kurosawa called at his Zoetrope Studios in San Francisco and was treated to a special screening of a small part of the film. An unassuming man, Coppola showed him the opening scene, remarking how intimidating it was to have Kurosawa view his work. To the sublime music of Wagner, helicopters flew in formation, filling the screen.

"Wonderful," said Kurosawa. "You captured the scene well. It must not have been easy."

Coppola got up and went over to the screen, pointing to the space beside it: “Actually there were a lot more helicopters in the air, here, and here, too. They didn’t get in the range of the camera.” He sounded rueful. Today, of course, with computer graphics the number of helicopters could be increased ad infinitum.

Coppola often traveled to Japan with his family, and always made a point of having dinner with Kurosawa. They remained close for a long time.

[ Teruyo Nogami, Waiting on the Weather: Making Movies With Akira Kurosawa ]

Ken Russell on The Godfather: Part III

"The director has his daughter in it. What’s his name? Coppola, yeah. And she’s the ugliest girl you’ve ever seen - not her fault, but she shouldn’t be exposed in close-ups. And at the end there’s this scene where they’re watching Cavalleria Rusticana and everyone starts killing everyone else, and then the Godfather comes out with the director’s boring daughter, who’s bored everyone to death by not being able to act or even walk properly, and suddenly she’s blown apart with a shotgun and everyone in the audience shouts ‘Hooray!’ Now that was good. I wouldn’t have got that in my sitting room. That was worth turning out and paying good money to go to the cinema for."

The Coppolas at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. Apocalypse Now would share the Palme d’Or with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum that year.

The Coppolas at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. Apocalypse Now would share the Palme d’Or with Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum that year.

Francis Ford Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now.

Francis Ford Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now.

On the set of The Godfather.

On the set of The Godfather.

On the set of The Conversation.

John Marley and Francis Ford Coppola on the set of The Godfather.

John Marley and Francis Ford Coppola on the set of The Godfather.

Ten films by Francis Ford Coppola

The Rain People | The Godfather | The Conversation | The Godfather Part II | Apocalypse Now | The Outsiders | Rumble Fish | The Godfather Part III | Dracula | Tetro

"An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?"
Francis Ford Coppola (born April 7, 1939)

"An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?"

Francis Ford Coppola (born April 7, 1939)