Francis Coppola expressed his personal artistic visions of filmmaking through the use of overriding themes and visual styles. These themes and visual styles would be with him throughout his career as a filmmaker. The one theme that can be found consistently in Coppola’s films is the sense of humanism. He also uses bond of family, loneliness, search for love, living on the fringes of society, alienation, dark side of the human mind, outsiders, corrupt world, and realism & fantasy. The visual styles he uses that give it the look of a Coppola film are: framing, close-ups, lighting, shadows, and darkness, he often uses the camera to reveal character. He has also experimented with his films using different techniques such as: documentary camera, plain, simple, electronic sounds, haze, surrealism, editing styles, breaking the fourth wall, artificial worlds, and staged worlds. The fact that he does this, shows how strong his body of work really is, and the ability he has to hold on to his core beliefs and have them radiate through all of his films. Which makes it easy to know when your watching a Coppola film.
In 1984 Francis Coppola was looking for more directing work. So, he decided to work with Robert Evans a well known producer who worked on, Odd Couple, Godfather, and Chinatown. Evans had a property called The Cotton Club, in which he wanted to be his next project. So, he asked Coppola if he would be willing to take the project over and direct the story of The Cotton Club. It’s a rather interesting story, the Cotton Club is in the middle of Harlem, but they only serves to white patrons. Coppola accepted the job, and was given complete creative control on the film. One of the most predominate visual styles found in this film are the rich textures of the world. It’s as if he painted the world on the film, it looks beautiful. Some of the themes, The Cotton Club has throughout the film are of alienation, power balance, undone by a corrupt world, realism & fantasy and has the underlining theme of humanism at it‘s core. It’s a story of power and fame, and the lengths at which people will go to stay in the lime light.
This next film, Coppola hires his nephew Nicolas Cage as the lead male in the film called, Peggy Sue Gets Married. Some people say he was fine in the film, while other really hate his nasally voice in this film. I found it to fit well with his character and enjoyed his performance. This is a film about Peggy going back in the past to find herself and try to fix the things she hates about her film in the present. She ends up changing nothing and realizing she still loves her husband and could never live without her kids. The most notable visual style was how dreamy the film looked, as well as how bright the world in which everyone lived in. Even though it’s a much different film, from anything else Coppola has done before, it still has the same themes he has been using in all of his film: finding love, outsider, bond of family, and humanism.
In his next film, he wanted to do something a little different, so with some help from George Lucus, Coppola made a modern day David and Goliath story about Preston Tucker a genius and flamboyant man who wanted to make a reliable and affordable car for everyone. The film was Tucker: The Man and His Dream, and was a story that Coppola could relate to. They both were very successful people, but due to the powers to be, they could never fully do their own thing. In Coppola’s life it was the studios, due to going wildly over budget on a few his films, he has always had to take work from the studios to pay back all his debts. Then in Preston Tucker’s situation, all he wanted to do was to build reliable cars for everyone, but the big car companies made it impossible for him to succeed at building his dream car for the world. This was a dark film at its core, where the big car companies try to man handle Preston Tucker, but the he handles everything make light of the dark side. Some visual styles I wanted to note were the golden hues in the colors, split screens, and the rich textures of American history. Also, in this film the camera was always moving around, which makes for a very active and moving film. The themes in this film are bond of family, outsiders, corrupt world, and with an overall tone of humanism.
With this next time Coppola went back to his bread and butter. Throughout his career when he felt he needed to connect with the film audience or to pay off debts he would direct a save bet film, and this is one of those films, Godfather III. The only difference is that this film is sixteen years after Godfather II. Coppola continues his great story telling with this film, even though its considered to be the weakest of the trilogy, it still has great complex characters, strong themes, and innovative visual styles makes this one of his bests. Humanism is the underlining theme as he explores family values, it also has themes of; the bond of the family, loneliness, outsiders, dark side of the human condition, and people living on the fringes of society. This being the last in the trilogy, Michael is looking for redemption from all of his sins. Now that he’s older and doesn’t want to live the gangster life anymore he tries to rebuild his empire through doing clean business. With this his daughter plays a huge role in this film, who just so happens to be played by Coppola’s own daughter. This is said to be the worst element of the film, due to her lack of acting skill, but he was put in a hard spot when Winona Ryder was unable to play the role. I believe the film works with her in the film, because she is so naïve and wholesome, this is Michaels driving force for change. This film much like the first two films, has the same themes and visual styles. Those visual styles are the use of shadows, and the use of camera movements to reveal characters. One of those key moments was when Michael confesses to the priest the camera slowly digs deeper into Michael as to reveal his pain. Coppola may not have captures all the charm of the first two films, but he sure can tell a great story.
For his next film, Coppola went into the fantasy and horror genre, which is something he has yet to do. The film was Dracula, staring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins. Dracula is a redemption story much like Godfather, and Conversation. Vlad Dracula’s wife kills herself after believing her husband was killed in battle, upon return he denounces god declaring he will return from the grave to avenge her death. This is what drives Dracula to keep searching for his lost wife, until he finds a young woman who looks like his wife. He then does everything in his power to lure this young woman into his arms, away from her new husband. This film has themes of alienation, search for love, dark side, realism & fantasy, and this is tied all together with heavy over tones of humanism. An example of this could best be explained when Dracula searches for his lost wife, and this tires to court this new young lady in England. The visual styles are what really drive this film above all others. He uses blood in many different ways such as love, passion, hate, and death. It’s the most erotic film of Coppola’s in my opinion, due to all of the nudity and erotic female vampires. One of the last things I want to mention about this film is that it was filmed completely on sound stages, which gave it a very theatrical look because of the sets and this led to the use of a lot effects. It’s a very surreal fantasy world that Dracula lives in wonderful envisioned by Coppola.
For the last film we watched in class was the great Coppola film, The Rainmaker. It’s a story about underdogs finding their will to keep fighting. Even though it’s not one of those Coppola films that look visually like all the rest, it does stands on its own visually. The visual styles are much more simplistic, but he still uses the camera to reveal characters. For example, this is a move Coppola always does when revealing characters, when Donny Ray is talking while laying in his bed, the camera moves in slowly to show his pain as he talks. It’s in the way Coppola tells a story, that you know it’s apart of the master filmmakers body of work. The film’s driving theme is of humanism, as well as, corrupt world, bond of family, outsiders, and again he tackles another David and Goliath story. A young newbie lawyer, up against the corrupt and powerful insurance companies, in hopes of blowing the top of their corrupt business practices. The bond of family in this film is so strong it needs to be noted, even though its not the conventional family unit. Through the interactions that Rudy Baylor has, he finds an older woman, who gives him shelter, an abused wife who later turns into his girlfriend, and a best friend that he meets at work. This is a bond of family that stays throughout the film, even if it’s not conventional.