Al and Francis are Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside at Lincoln Center Tribute to
    Francis Ford Coppola

By Jerry Tallmer


© Photo by Lois Siegel

Jerry Tallmer
New York City journalist and critic
 One of founders of “ The Village  Voice”
 Created the Obie Awards (Off-Broadway Theatre) in 1956

There once was a famous pair of football players, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, the Mr. Outside and the Mr. Inside of a powerhouse West Point team of that day and age. Al Pacino won't remember them - he was only 5 at the time, but Francis Ford Coppola, who was 11, surely will. The all-embracing artist who (between masterpieces) tossed off the screenplay of "The Great Gatsby" will just as surely remember the revealing short story about a quite different Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside by a sometime screenwriter named F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to Francis Ford Coppola, May 7, 2002, in Avery Fisher Hall, had a Mr. Inside and a Mr. Outside of its own. Their names were Pacino and Coppola.

Let us begin with Mr. Inside, because he spoke before the showing of the "Godfather" (I, II, III) clips, and the man who had made those movies - and a flock of others in an immense, fecund, world-shaping career - had to wait for the end of the proceedings to have his say.

Pacino opened with a throwaway that brought down the house: "I have to say I owe a lot to Francis." Then he got serious by getting even funnier.

  "I don't know if it's common knowledge," said the Michael Corleone of all three "Godfather" films, "but there was a little controversy over the casting" of the role. (Pacino's total film credits at that point had been "Panic in Needle Park" and a bit in "Me, Natalie.")

"Francis wanted me to do the part, but," Pacino informed the assemblage, "nobody else did. And finally I, myself, didn't want to do it. I told Francis: 'I don't want to do it,' and Francis said" - Pacino let out a Coppola roar - " 'You're gonna DO it!!' "

Not long later Al Pacino of the South Bronx found himself in Sicily -- "a young, inexperienced actor" -- for the scenes of Michael Corleone's first marriage. Coppola is telling him: "Go around and speak to all the people in the girl's family" and a nervous Pacino is saying: "You want me to talk Italian to all these people?" The answer was yes.

                                                       "And then Francis says: 'Now get the girl -- your wife -- and waltz her around,' and I say: 'No, Francis, I can't waltz,' and Francis says: 'It doesn't matter, JUST DO IT . . . and then get in the car with her and drive off,' and I say: 'Francis, I can't drive,' and Francis is looking up to heaven and saying: 'Why did I pick
HIM?' "

In Lincoln Center, Pacino shifted gears once more.

"We're doing the cemetery scene," he said. "We're burying the Don, burying Brando. We've worked all day and it's now 6:30 p.m., and I'm starting to go home, and then I see Francis sitting at the gravesite. I go up close and I see he's crying. I ask why he's crying. And he says: 'They won't give me another setup. Won't give me another shot.'

 

"And I thought: This guy is crying over one shot. Maybe there's a movie here."

Yes, there was.

And for all the adversity that has fallen these past few years on Mr. Outside - "the one-man commercial avant-garde," as critic Richard Corliess puts it, who "in a criminally timid time for American movies" gave the world the "Godfather" trilogy, and "The Conversation," and "Apocalypse Now" - maybe now, against all odds, there's to be a movie here once again, 30 years after the first "Godfather" picture . . . a new Ford in our future. Indeed, it's to be called, most fittingly, "Megalopolis." Said Mr. Inside: "Francis is going for it. Francis is always going for it."

Let us keep Mr. Outside waiting in the wings - or in the honoree's balcony box - while we touch on a few of the other highlights of an evening that began with George C. Scott as George S. Patton (script by Edmund H. North and Francis Ford Coppola, 1970) bellowing at the ranks: "I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country."

The other half of that parlay is a stretch of footage that for beauty, terror, bizarreness, irony, insanity, sheer excitement, and twenty or fifty other things stands alone in the pantheon. The quick cut in Avery Fisher Hall was from George C. Scott, with his jaw, his helmet, and his ivory-handled pistol, to Civil War-hatted Robert Duvall on the beach, stripping to his bare chest to announce: "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning" as he flicks poker cards one by one atop a ditchful of Vietnamese corpses while Richard Wagner's mad Valkeries -- attack helicopters, rockets blazing -- scream in over the ocean to set the entire jungle on fire.
                                                                                 
                                                                                                               Coppola on set  "The Rain People"

It was Shirley Knight who that same Tuesday evening said: "If from tomorrow on, no other films were ever made, 'Apocalypse Now' would stand as one of the most incredible proofs that art exists." Exactly. She also said, with a glance up toward the man who had directed her in "The Rain People": "I do not know how you were chosen to reveal the best and worst of humanity . . . [but] you give to the world that most precious of gifts: yourself." A nice ditto was provided by Diane Lane when she blew a kiss to the man in the balcony box who had taught her, among other things, how to make gnocchi, and why not to use bad language. "Who talks like that?" he had demanded of the "Rumble Fish" teenager.

Bernard Gersten, the Joseph Papp alumnus who produces theater at Lincoln Center, recalled how one fine day many years ago Papp's  Public Theater received a surprise visit from Francis Coppola. Gersten took him on a tour of the premises. Seven years after that -- "22 years ago this week" - Gersten received a phone call out of the blue, asking him to come out to California to help Coppola launch a voluntary collaborative studio, to be called Zoetrope - "an old-style Hollywood studio . . . replicating the Public Theater spirit." They made four films, rediscovered Abel Gance's "Napoleon," fought the good fight for two and a half years -- "and then succumbed to the relentless pressure of bankers and financiers."

It was this theme that was picked up when, to the tolling of a bell -- the bell that had started sounding during Michael Corleone's confession to the murder of his brother - a bearded roly-poly Santa Claus, Mr. Outside himself, suddenly, quietly, mysteriously materialized on stage, camera in hand. He pointed the camera out at the vast auditorium; it flashed; he had his picture of all of us.

"Years ago," said Francis Coppola, "when I started - I was 22 - I was chosen as a Samuel Goldwyn laureate. I met Jack Warner, Darryl Zanuck, Mr. Goldwyn, all those people. Mr. Goldwyn once called me into his office and told me he liked my films for their 'spontanuity.' So, here tonight, I have no idea what I'm going to say, I'm just going on spontanuity."

Much the same thing had happened, he said, in the '70s, when as a presenter at the Academy Awards he had somehow started talking away about the limitless technological future of films - "but always based on human talent." Pause. "And, of course, what I told everyone is true: Cinema continues to be a marriage of humanity and technology."

Cinema. Cinema, yes - "a glorious art form that utilizes all the other arts." But Hollywood - what passes for movies these days? - not exactly . . . or ninny on your tintype, as people of Coppola's father's generation used to say. "A wonderful thing," declared the director of "The Godfather" and of "Apocalypse Now," with bitter irony: "A movie can be made for $100 million - on one weekend." Pause. "For me, it's as if the entire medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry were only making tranquilizers and Viagra."

No wonder Zoetrope went under. "Movies today are merely collateral" for Wall Street and other corporate monoliths. "The cinema is being flogged to produce revenue." And everything repeats and repeats, like so many cans of Coca-Cola. "I haven't made a flop in six years - in ten years - but of course I haven't made a film in five years . . . My hope," said Francis Ford Coppola, "is that people of cinema can step forth and be something other than employees."

He took a breath. "Art is the radar of society. Although I worry about a film industry which does not allow someone in my category to make films any more, I am, yes, working on a film." And then he smiled. "I find it easier to make a film to raise $15 million than to ask someone for it."

The audience rose to its feet. As Al Pacino was saying, go for it, Francis, go for it.


Film Fanatics


Lois Siegel's Home Page