THE PATH TO PARADISE: A FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA STORY by Sam Wasson (Harper)
Having taken a “big picture” approach to the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Chinatown, Wasson focuses here on an individual rather than a film. This is not a conventional biography, but the saga of a man with the soul of an artist. He doesn’t play by the rules and is never satisfied because perfection is always just out of reach. He’s a dreamer, an idealist, a gifted filmmaker who has made masterpieces but rarely derives pleasure from the experience. He is one of a kind: Francis Ford Coppola.
Wasson enables us to vicariously experience the highs and lows of Coppola’s life, from a desperately unhappy childhood—berated by both parents, coming in second to his older brother, confined to his bed for months with polio—to the adrenaline rush of creating American Zoetrope, a filmmaker’s cooperative in San Francisco that attracted hungry young talent including one George Lucas. The story of how Lucas apprenticed with Coppola (and encouraged him to take the job of directing The Godfather because they needed the money) is worth the price of a hardcover book all by itself.
How and why Francis’s wife Eleanor dealt with all of this and more is no less interesting. She too has the DNA of an artist, which helps explain her high level of tolerance for his many transgressions, both personal and professional. We also derive a keener understanding of how the making of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines drove almost everyone who worked on the production to the brink of madness.
Someone else may attempt to tell Coppola’s life story but I doubt that anyone could better analyze the brilliant and mercurial filmmaker. When I finished reading the book I felt I had been on an amazing journey…and indeed I had.