The Prince 

At long last, the Godfather's son makes his first film, and it was not easy

Page 2 of 2

In recent years, Roman has become well-known as a director of commercials (for the Gap, among others) and music videos for such bands as Presidents of the United States of America, Daft Punk, Moby and Fatboy Slim (whose award-winning "Praise You" short he co-directed with brother-in-law Spike Jonze, married to Sofia). But Coppola knew he would be expected to make a movie, although he was in no rush despite the burden of anticipation. Sofia, five years younger, had already been to the debutante ball with The Virgin Suicides, on which Roman worked as second-unit director. (Roman often performed the same task for his old man.) It was his turn, but nothing struck him as necessary or inevitable. At one point, he was set to direct The Van Helsing Chronicles, a "sequel" to his father's 1992 Dracula in which Anthony Hopkins would reprise his role as a vampire hunter. He penned a spec script of On the Road--"just out of my own interest," he says--but it, too, did not happen. Roman also thought of adapting a comic book, having kept copies of Dr. Strange around the Dracula set.

"But it's very difficult to get a movie realized," he says. "It takes luck; it takes harmonic convergence, the right material. A lot of people asked me why didn't I do a movie sooner, as though I could just push a button. It shows a naïveté where they think I can do whatever I want at any time. The fact is, opportunities open up and close. I really kinda promised myself or felt in my heart that I'd really have to do something that really is my voice. To do something other than that would be a misstep."

Not that CQ hasn't been perceived as such: When it debuted at Cannes last May, it was greeted with critical disdain, most notably in the trades. Variety insisted that "Coppola's first film has sympathetic aims but is distressingly lacking in flair, style, wit or fun." The Hollywood Reporter claimed it was "a maddening mishmash of styles and genres with absolutely no dramatic resonance." Roman was a bit hurt by the reviews--"It was pretty bizarre," he says, "and I was kinda confused"--but, in the end, not entirely surprised. Likely, CQ was a victim of circumstance: It screened the day after his father made his triumphant return to France with his elongated Apocalypse Now Redux, and it's possible the press had a bit of schadenfreude fever going for the son of the legend.

"There were a few positive remarks, but it was odd because you feel like you did something really sincere and fresh," Roman says. "Maybe it's not great--it certainly isn't--but to dismiss it as having no value is a little harsh."

But Francis, who produced CQ, and Roman would agree that perhaps CQ needed more work. Last August, Francis asked Kit Carson to fly from Dallas to the family's estate in Napa to help reshape the movie, since it was a sort of spiritual sequel to David Holzman. They eventually recut the opening, trimmed some scenes, added others and polished the ending, and the result is a joyous piece of cinema--a celebration of all Roman's seen and done, without a hint of cynicism.

CQ, or "Seek you," is his story--and the story of dozens of other movies Roman has watched and absorbed over the years, among them David Holzman's Diary, Mario Bava's 1968 campy comic-book adaptation of Danger: Diabolik and Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, about a director unable to do the job. The film is riddled with signifiers, from Paul's cameras (the ones Francis used to shoot The Rain People) to a scene of dripping water (lifted from sister Sofia's 1999 The Virgin Suicides) down to the opening shot of the original American Zoetrope logo, created for his father's production company in the late '60s. It appeared only one other time, at the beginning of Lucas' 1970 THX-1138.

"And the last shot of CQ is the American Zoetrope logo from 2002, so it made me happy. It's another little theme of the movie expressed through the logos--to have the old and the new and two generations bonded together. They say to write what you know, so you can stand on that," Coppola says. "I just felt how wonderful it would be to do just that--to make a first film about a first film and all those experiences and all those sensations and all the experience of living that would bear into that. I saw my dad do it on his films--live a bit of the experience of that movie as part of his process, Apocalypse being a sort of famous example of kind of submerging yourself in that world and emulating the story to a degree. So maybe that was a subconscious thing I drew upon."

His friend and mentor, Carson, would agree. "Roman had to go through all of this to get to the end of that journey of revealing himself, of being comfortable talking about himself, of showing more of his insides," Carson says. "It took him a long time to pick up the [family] spear, and I think that has to do with him wanting to make sure he was good enough to pick up the spear, and he did when it was an accidental combination of fate and life."

If CQ is a product of Coppola's experiences to this point, if it's a release of so many memories and expectations, then what follows? During his talk at the university, Coppola explained that it took so long for him to make his first movie because he never found something "genuine, from the heart." Later, he will insist that CQ, for all its allusions to fathers and sons and filmmaking, has but one function: It's a movie intended only "to make you smile," Coppola tells the auditorium, smiling.

"What turns me on is just having your imagination set free and to see things realized and spring out of your imagination," he says later, finishing his cigarette. "Just the pleasure of walking onto an empty soundstage and seeing the construction of a set and see it fill out, it's a total thrill. And I'm not at all cynical about that."

Roman Coppola and L.M. Kit Carson, filmmakers and friends and co-conspirators, sit in front of an audience of 30 on the University of Dallas campus. Their appearance together, in this wood-paneled auditorium on this verdant site, completes a circle, or perhaps a dozen of them, and the moment makes Carson anxious. He feels the vibe. He vibrates. It was here in the late 1960s, on this liberal-arts college campus, where he hatched the idea for his celebrated 1968 mockumentary David Holzman's Diary, a black-and-white parody of cinema verité in which Carson, as Holzman, turns the camera on himself in order to "get it all."


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