(photo credit: AP)
Francis Ford Coppola's first film in ten years, Youth Without Youth, premiered at the Rome Film Festival last week, and expectations for the most recent film by the director of The Godfather series and Apocalypse Now were understandably high. The film, based on a novel by the Romanian Mircea Eliade, takes place on the eve World War II and tells the story of a 70-year-old professor (Tim Roth), who is struck by lightning and suddenly starts becoming younger and smarter. Critics were respectful but underwhelmed. Ray Bennett's review from The Hollywood Reporter was typical of most: "[I]t proves to be a muddled fantasy about the transmigration of souls. Handsomely made on a low budget, the film has the polished look of a Coppola film with expert contributions from some master craftsmen. But the story is full of arcane references that many will find nonsensical, and the performances are a letdown. Lacking coherence and suspense, the picture is likely to attract a cult following while disappointing Coppola's fan base."
Coppola responded at a press conference, saying, "I think we should be tolerant of artists who want to break new ground and not require them to make gangster films all their lives." He also recently ruffled feathers in Hollywood when, in a GQ interview, he criticized some big-name actors - Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson - for going for big paychecks in undistinguished movies and essentially just phoning in their performances. But in the Rome press conference, Coppola backtracked, saying, "I have nothing but respect and admiration for them," although his criticism was absolutely on the money. However, anyone who wants to make a comeback in Hollywood had better not say anything negative about A-list actors. Still, if anyone has the right to criticize them, it's Coppola. In the late Seventies he paid Marlon Brando $3 million for three weeks work on Apocalypse Now, only to discover, when Brando arrived in the jungle where they were shooting, that the actor weighed 300 pounds, hadn't read the book Heart of Darkness, on which the film was based, and wanted to completely improvise his part. Anyone interested in finding out more about this chapter in the filmmaker's life should rent the documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
VANITY FAIR magazine recently came out with a list of the top 10 soundtracks of all time:
2.A Hard Day's Night
3.The Harder They Come
8.Saturday Night Fever
10. The Big Chill
The magazine called the winner, Purple Rain, "the best badly acted film of all time," and they may be onto something. On the other hand, although the tracks "When Doves Cry" and the title tune will always be great dance songs, I have to question the #1 ranking for Purple Rain. Maybe I'm just showing my age here, but I would put A Hard Day's Night in first place, because it virtually created the concept of a pop soundtrack in which the songs and the action are intertwined. And although the movie is far inferior to A Hard Day's Night, I'd put Help! the Beatles' follow-up film, somewhere on the list. The way to determine the worth of a soundtrack is to imagine a film without it, and Purple Rain could have worked equally well (or nearly as well) with the music of Prince's next three albums. The same is true of Pulp Fiction - you could put another 20 rock songs from the same era in it and it would be fine. But in A Hard Day's Night, there would be no movie without those songs. The same is true of The Graduate. Without that particular Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, without "Mrs. Robinson" and "The Sound of Silence," the movie would be a dated Sixties melodrama and not a timeless classic.
THE BAND'S VISIT may have too much English dialogue to be eligible for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but that didn't stop it from winning the Grand Prix at the Tokyo Film Festival last week. Nir Bergman's Broken Wings, about a Haifa family coping with the death of its father, won that same prize five years ago. Looking back, the win for Broken Wings at Tokyo heralded the new era of quality Israeli filmmaking, and in the years since, Israeli films have gone to win major prizes at Sundance, Cannes, Montreal, Berlin, Varlovy Vary and dozens of other festivals around the world.