Entertainment

Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection

by Jake Mulligan
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Tuesday Dec 11, 2012
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Francis Ford Coppola has had an eclectic career, to put it very lightly. How the same man who helmed "The Godfather" also gave us the Robin Williams opus "Jack" is an unanswerable query that will be passed on from generation-to-generation. But this Five Film Collection, which features the prolific wine-maker’s greatest films that don’t feature the Italian-American Mafia, paints a pretty picture. Featuring two stone-cold masterpieces, two interesting curiosities, and a late career return to personal filmmaking; this collection showcases one of America’s most iconic filmmakers at his very best.

We start off with "The Conversation", released the same year as "Godfather II", and perhaps just as good. A Watergate-era paranoia thriller featuring Gene Hackman, the plot is a riff on Antonioni’s "Blow-up", and was later similarly appropriated by De Palma’s "Blow Out". But the stately cinematography and mysterious editing is pure Coppola; his camera coldly surveying his characters as their veneer of control (Hackman is an audio surveillance man,) slowly dissipates into uncontrolled chaos.

A second undisputed masterpiece, the incomparable "Apocalypse Now", shows up in two versions. You get Coppola’s "Redux" cut from the late 90s, but I’d recommend sticking to the (roughly) 150 minute theatrical cut, which provides a experience far more manic and singular. One of the last artistic triumphs of the ’New Hollywood’ Coppola helped define, "Apocalpyse" renders Vietnam - and as such, the American counter-culture - as a sick acid trip leading inevitably to destruction. Or rather, self-destruction; born (as it so often is in his films) from misplaced ego and hypocrisy.

The second curiosity (next to the worth-watching but clearly inferior "Redux" cut of "Apocalypse") is early 80s musical "One From the Heart", which mixes Tom Waits tunes with soundstage-set neon cinematography and endless Brechtian distancing devices. It seemed a New Hollywood tradition for respected auteurs to try and fail to revive the Hollywood musical genre - Scorsese tried with his underrated "New York New York", and Bogdanovich with "At Long Last Love". Unfortunately, Coppola found even less success than they did, as his "Love" never coalesces into anything other than a formidable piece of craftsmanship.

Rounding out the package is "Tetro", a late career character piece featuring some of Vincent Gallo’s best acting. It also features some of Coppola’s best visuals; boasting stunning black-and-white cinematography that gives the film an elegant look and stunning compositions that fill every frame with innumerable details. But the shockingly disparate collection of films are hardly the only attraction here, as each of the 4 discs (both cuts of "Apocalypse" are housed on one Blu-ray,) is packed with a number of extras.

"Tetro" is contextualized by a number of behind-the-scene features that show snippets of the film in their unedited entirety, as well as by interviews with composer Osvaldo Golijov and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. (currently earning accolades for his work on "The Master".) But the prime attraction here is a commentary with Coppola and actor Alden Ehrenreich, which enriches several of the films more esoteric moments and provides some lively insights into both the film and Coppola’s newfound position as a Hollywood outsider (he funded the majority of "Tetro" personally.)

"Apocalypse", likely due to featuring "two" films on the same disc, only features a Coppola commentary in addition to the feature. "Conversation", however has two absolutely must-listen interviews: one with Coppola, that details his lack of trust for scripts and reliance of on-set improvisation, and one with editor Walter Murch, who was tasked with finding in these improvisations a narratively coherent, audaciously intellectual experience (he, against all odds, succeeded with flying colors.)

You also get a number of screen tests, a very short student film from Coppola, a look at the San Franscisco locations ’Then and Now’, archival interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes (from the time of the films release,) trailers, and even 50 minutes of Coppola dictating the script (audio only.) But it’s "Heart", which of all the films is the only one available exclusively through this collection, which gets the best treatment.

You have a feature commentary with Coppola, detailing his desire to shoot the film entirely on personal soundstages featuring then-revolutionary digital effects. There’s a half-hour documentary on his production house American Zoetrope (which survives to this day,) that doubles as a look into his clashes with the studio over "Heart". You also get shorter featurettes on Coppola’s soundstage ("The Electronic Cinema",) on Tom Wait’s contributions, and on the making-of the film. There’s also a selection of more esoteric featurettes: a pres conference following a 1981 screening of the film, a video of Coppola speaking to theater exhiitors, a few music videos, trailers, videotape-sourced rehearsals, and even a stop-motion demo displaying how Coppola’s post-produced visual style would be incorporated.

But the real goldmine for hardcore fans is the 30 minutes+ of deleted scenes and alternate tracks (from Waits’ score) included alongside the rest. Like "Conversation" and "Tetro", the disc is packed with extras so densely that you’ll be digging through the package for weeks. But with this program of films, you won’t hear a single complaint from me. Francis Coppola may not have always been a great director. But collected here are truly great films.

"Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection"
Blu-ray
Lionsgate.com
$39.99

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