Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola is best known for directing the Godfather series of films as well as the Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now. He's also known as a pioneer of the independent film who sought to give power to the little man. The conflict between art and economics is played out in much of his work. One of the major themes portrayed throughout his oeuvre can be seen as a reflection of the director's own inner conflicts: his most important characters face the dilemma of striking a balance between their business lives and their private lives.

The Early Years:
Coppola was born on April 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan, but he was raised in suburban New York by a creative, supportive Italian-American family (Coppola's father, Carmine, was a composer/musician and his mother, Italia, had been an actress). He suffered through polio at age 9 (which he alluded to in his script for The Conversation) and grew into a high school misfit, living in the shadow of his confident, intellectual brother August.

He studied theater at Hofstra University, where he staged the school's first all-student production and began to grow into a genuinely charismatic person. In 1960, Coppola entered UCLA film school, eventually earning a Masters Degree. Learning both in the classroom and in the field, Coppola's years at UCLA were highly productive: he worked in various capacities on several soft-core porn films as well as projects for low-budget king Roger Corman; he wrote the Samuel Goldwyn Award-winning script "Pilma, Pilma" (which was never filmed); and he directed his first feature, the Corman-produced Dementia 13, while in Ireland in the summer of 1963. His first studio directorial assignment, the big-budget box-office disappointment Finian's Rainbow was released in 1968.

The 60s were a prolific time for Coppola, having written or collaborated on over a dozen screenplays (including the screenplay for "Is Paris Burning?", co-written by Gore Vidal).

The Golden Age:
He started off the 1970s with an Oscar winning screenplay for Patton (1970, co-written with Edmund H. North) and he secured legendary status with the release of The Godfather in 1972. The film, co-adapted with Mario Puzo from the his bestseller, became one of the highest-grossing films in movie history and gained Coppola another Oscar for best screenplay adaptation. The film also earned the Oscar for best picture and a best director nomination for Coppola. The film is widely considered to be among the best films of all time, and is, in fact, number three on the AFI's list of 100 Greatest American Films and number one on the IMDB. It is seemingly a paradox: a hugely popular commercial success, on the one hand, an artistic achievement of almost unequalled proportions, on the other.

As a result of The Godfather's success, Coppola became a wealthy man and he became a powerful figure within the film industry. Coppola made a sequel to the film in 1974. The second Godfather was vastly different in both style and scope, presenting a darker, richer work that relied less on traditional action pieces than the first film. Taking the two films as a whole, the story of the Corleone dynasty is a compelling narrative that is perhaps the most important achievement in American cinema during the Seventies.

Sandwiched between the two Godfather films, Coppola made what many consider to be his best work: The Conversation. The film is a paranoid masterpiece, once again exhibiting Coppola's main theme in which the main character has difficulty maintaining a balance between his work and his private life. Often overlooked in favour of The Godfather films and Apocalypse Now, The Conversation remains one of Coppola's most important films.

After the success of The Godfather Part II (both financially and critically) Coppola spent five years and an enormous amount of money on a reworking of Joseph Conrad's difficult novel "Heart of Darkness". A series of nonstop catastrophes wreaked havoc on the production: a typhoon destroyed sets, crucial helicopters were often unavailable, and the star of the film, Martin Sheen, had a heart attack. Other problems plagued the production as well, but Coppola was at the peak of his career, determined to make it work. The film, Apocalypse Now, went on to become one of the most acclaimed war films ever made. In 2001, Coppola re-released the movie with 49 extra minutes of footage, and, suprisingly, the new scenes added context and tempered the pace of the film. The new version was dubbed Apocalypse Now Redux.

Coppola In The Eighties and Nineties:
The Eighties proved to be a very unsuccessful part of Coppola's career (though it would be near impossible to follow his run in the Seventies). Some consider the film One From the Heart to be the turning point of his career as it failed miserably in the box office (despite its visually spectacular and complex nature). This failure seemed to have hindered Coppola's creative output, but some masterpieces still made their way to the screen, including The Outsiders (which launched the careers of several young actors, including Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, and Patrick Swayze), Rumble Fish (often cited as the director's favourite of his films), and Gardens of Stone, which may have been influenced by the sudden death of his son Gio in a boating accident.

Coppola kicked off the Nineties with the third and final installment of The Godfather series, often criticized as the worst of the three films (partly because of the performance of Coppola's daughter, Sofia, in a pivotal role). After that, he took on Bram Stoker's Dracula. A flawed piece that nonetheless has its moments of brilliance, Dracula was at least a visually interesting picture, unlike his next two films, Jack and The Rainmaker. These last two films lack the spark of Coppola's former glory and Jack is Coppola's worst effort to date. Coppola hopes to regain that spark with his latest effort, Megalopolis, which is slated for release in 2002.

Coppola's influence even stretches beyond the film industry. He owns a winery and a cafe, he publishes a short story magazine called Zoetrope: All Story (a companion company to his American Zoetrope, a film production company).

Plus, the movies themselves!

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