by Jonathan Cott
Francis Coppola is nothing if not ambitious. In his films, he has defined, re-created and explored the obsessions, passions and contradictions of the American psyche with the grandiosity of vision of the great nineteenth-century American novelists. Each of his three major movies represents a different type of narrative — moving from the historical realism of The Godfather to the nightmarish hallucinations of Apocalypse Now and now to the radiant midsummer night’s dream world of One from the Heart.
As ultimate an American work of art as Robert Frank’s photography book The Americans or the Band’s second album, Coppola’s new film, set in an imaginary Las Vegas, tells the story of Hank, who works at a junkyard called Reality Wreckers, and his live-in girlfriend, Frannie, who works at a travel agency. Breaking up on a Fourth of July weekend, they discover and then go off with their fantasy mates — the circus girl (Nastassia Kinski) and the piano player (Raul Julia) — only to come back to each other at the end.
This archetypal plot, however, is only one of four major elements in the movie, the others being: the haunting score by Tom Waits (Coppola has called his film “a fable with music”), which is sung with wonderful chemistry by Waits and Crystal Gayle; the elaborate lighting and color effects by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (as Frannie walks out on Hank in her classic farewell scene, Storaro changes the Las Vegas street down which the heroine walks from a rainy sunset to dazzling neon night by means of 130 light cues); and the multimillion-dollar set by production designer Dean Tavoularis — a set that conveys the idea of Las Vegas in such an extraordinary way, seeming more real than Las Vegas itself, that it “compels us,” as Shelley said about poetry, “to feel that which we perceive and to imagine that which we know.”
Coppola informs us that he controlled this multilayered film with video monitors, designing and laying it out by electronic simulation (“I made the film spatially rather than linearly,” he says). Because of this high-tech approach, he has been criticized, with Luddite outrage, by several critics who have failed to see how the director’s technological wizardry has been at the service of an inspired fairy-tale narrative. As professor of folk literature Max Luthi writes: “The fairy tale frees things and people from their natural context and places them in new relationships, which can also be easily dissolved… Everything can enter into relationship with everything else: that is the actual miracle and at the same time the simple foregone conclusion in the fairy tale.”
In this sense, we see Hank and Frannie “materializing” their fantasy lovers as a kind of literal wishfulfillment. Or we hear the circus girl telling Hank, “To lose a circus girl, all you have to do is shut your eyes and she’ll disappear,” and then see him close his eyes while we watch her magically vanish before our eyes. And we are always conscious that the more Hank and Frannie appear to be drifting apart, the more we see them superimposed on the screen, prompting the question, “Who is dreaming of whom?,” to which the answer seems to be, “Both, of each other, and their dream is the film.” In One from the Heart, Coppola has created his most graceful, most inventive and wisest work, gently and beautifully reminding us that, in the words of Thoreau, “our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
The following interview took place at the director’s New York City hotel suite two nights after the January 15th preview of the film at Radio City Music Hall.
The French poet Mallarmé once said, “Everything in the cosmos exists in order to emerge as a Book.” It sounds as if the world, as you see it, exists to end up as a Movie.
I guess my life was meant to end up as a movie in which I try to understand or put together all those big issues about Love and Life and Sex and the Meaning of Life. But that vision is my fun. Each time, you learn. And then, when you do the big project, you can take from everything that you’ve done and all your experiences and figure out how to synthesize.
When I was young, no one ever liked anything I ever wrote, and then I got shy about it, so I started to direct. And people were very impressed with the way I could dazzle them on the stage, because I had been the stage-crew guy who built the scenery and did the lights. And I always had the best show. But I really wanted to be a writer, and I was very hurt by my own opinion that I had no talent. And later in life, I started to realize that, you know, talent shmalent: I wrote stuff. And it didn’t matter whether it was good or bad. It’s like if I made you macaroni tonight and it wasn’t too great, you wouldn’t pick on me, you’d be happy that I tried. And somehow I began to realize that it didn’t matter whether you “had talent,” although in my family, that’s what the issue was.
It seems that everyone in your family has talent.
My father had talent and my brother had talent. I didn’t and my sister didn’t and my mother didn’t — no one else did. And as we grew up, you really wondered and hoped that (a) you’d have a girlfriend, and (b) you’d have talent. In military school, when I was sixteen, I wrote a musical. It was romantic and all about Casanova and magic and stuff. And I finished it, and either I read it or my roommate — who was a very talented, intelligent kid named Louie Cohen — read it, and I knew it was no good. So I wept and wept for five hours because I had no talent. And Louie Cohen came and said, “You don’t even know if you have talent.” So the issue of talent was an important thing, but then I realized that you don’t have to have talent, you just have to have a lot of enthusiasm.
When did you finally realize that you were talented?
You know when I knew I had some talent? I’ll tell you the day I knew, because I remember it. It was right dab smack in the middle of the shooting of Apocalypse Now. I was in the middle of the Philippines, and one day I knew I had talent. That was the first time I knew it. When I was a kid, I always thought I was a scientific genius. Today, as I sit here right now, I think I have genius but no talent, really. I mean, I know film directors — Roman Polanski is one, and David Lynch, who did The Elephant Man, is another one — who just have that talent. They’re like the kids who could draw in school, and they’d do beautiful work, and you couldn’t draw like that. And they didn’t seem to do anything to deserve it. That kind of talent I don’t have. My talent was more like something that came out of wanting it. As I said, I think that I have real scientific talent. That sounds silly because I’m a movie director, but if you went to half a dozen of the top people in the field of video and electronics and you asked, “What about this guy? Is he some phony?” they’d say, “He has real talent.” I promise. Really. And that means a lot more to me, because that’s going to be the means wherein I get to make the Big Picture, because I’m going to try to figure out a system of electronic cinema, what have you, that will enable me to make a movie where you’ll see Perry pulling into Tokyo Harbor in 1854 — the whole spectacle of that story. Because my Big Movie will be about Japan and America, about East and West, about Male and Female. In other words, the kind of movie I want to make is so broad in its image-scope that I couldn’t do it if I had to go and shoot it. I’ll have to be able to almost synthesize it. And that’s where the real electronic cinema comes in — I’m trying to figure out how to get the system that will make it possible to do that.
So you think that through electronics more dreams can be realized?
Yeah. No limit.
Hollywood in the Forties and Fifties used to be called the Dream Factory. You seem to have taken that literally.
Well, I call it Consciousness Replacement. When we make science-fiction jokes around here, we call it CR. It’s a very interesting subject, more interesting than people would really care to discuss. I have dreams about building a Radio City Music Hall of the future in which you could put on a show for loads of people, but with all these holograms so you could be there. And I sent someone around to find out if that would be possible — to work on electronic holograms — and how much money it would take. And when the guy came back, he said, “There’s a lot of research: electronic holograms are totally possible.” No one’s anywhere on it, including the Russians, contrary to rumor. But more interesting is that it would be no more difficult or costly to put the images directly into the brain. What the experts are saying is that for the amount of money, time and research you’d need to make a 3-D-hologram, it would be easier to induce it in the mind.
What do you say to that?
The only thing anybody can say to that is, my God, of course that’s going to be possible! It’s logical. This is just stuff I think about or talk to people about. I had a wonderful friend in France, a man named Joseph Polonsky, who passed away last week. He was the top research designer of Thomson-CSF, which produces video cameras. He was in charge of research, but his other field was the biochemistry of the brain. And we had many talks about the inevitability of one’s being able to introduce images and sounds directly into the brain. With my Popular Mechanics mentality — my love of machines and stuff — it seems clear that someday in the near future it will be possible to put One from the Heart directly into your mind. And you could be in it.
In your recent film projects, you always seem to be in a state of high-risk taking, of always being on the brink. Do you thrive on this tension? Do you indulge in it for the sake of publicity? If One from the Heart fails, will you really be in the poorhouse?
The real answer, from my point of view, is that I just say what the facts are: in this case, that I’m working on a film, I’m told that the money’s gone, and that if I want to go ahead, I’ll have to risk something of my own. And by that point, I’m so far into it that I say okay. In other words, I get into this position because of my optimism and my willingness to keep going. And then that tends to be the story that the people who write about me want to go for. If they ask me, “If the picture’s a flop, will the company go out of business?” and if I say yes, it’s because that seems to be the case. But it’s not the idea I want to push out onto the public. In fact, I regret that I’m treated more as a charlatan or a con man than as a professional person, and to be honest with you, my feelings are hurt. I feel that I’m not reckless or crazy. It’s just that I’m primarily interested in making films more than amassing money, which is just a tool. If someone suddenly gave me a billion dollars, for instance, I’d only invest it in my work. I will say yes to anything that sounds reasonable to me, and sometimes I get in a little deep because I want to participate so much.
Before the Radio City Music Hall preview of One from the Heart, many people said they were going to see the film in order to find out whether or not you’d fail.
The idea of risk attracts us like a street fight. People are like that, and I don’t hold it against them. But what I do disapprove of is when journalists covering the event apportion all their attention to just that one point and make that the story. You know, like an airline stewardess — she lives with that, too. But people don’t ask, “Well, how do you feel about flying every week?” It isn’t on my mind as much as it’s on the press’.
It’s funny, since a theme of One from the Heart is risk itself.
I’m very interested in risk and chance and gambling, and I think I understand the principles behind them. When I gambled with real money in gambling casinos — although I never gambled big money — I always won. Because I understood that the secret of gambling is that, when you feel good, when you have a good inkling that you’re on a winning streak, you bet everything you have. And then you get out. And I wouldn’t be surprised that I continue to be an extremely wealthy person all my life, as much for my gambling instincts as for any work I might do. I’m not worried about being poor, and may be that’s why it doesn’t seem to me all that much a risk. All I’m really doing is financing one project with the proceeds of the ones before it, so that I can continue to go on and have a little more say in what I do and how I do it. If I had to use other people’s money entirely, then I’d have to make films more like what they wanted me to make. But if there is a mistake, if something goes wrong, if there’s an overrun and we’re all sitting there with egg on our faces, then someone’s gotta put the money up or we don’t go on. So of course I have to put it up.
But I think that doing original films of quality on subjects that are provocative makes for good business. Apocalypse Now grossed $100 million. We’re a very high-growth future — like in two years we could be in the stock market and be a billion-dollar company, so people should watch out, be more serious about watching us.
How did One from the Heart come about?
The key to it, for me, is that I enjoy doing theater more than making films. The process of theater — the way you congregate everyone together and build the scenery and go through it and have a performance — is what I really enjoy. During the early years of my career, I was always a little frustrated by the fact that it really wasn’t so much fun to make films: the process is very strung out and long, and you don’t have the same camaraderie, the same coming together. You don’t get that thrill. So part of me flirted with doing theater again.
Several years ago, I directed the play Private Lives in San Francisco, and I did a kind of unusual production, the seeds of which, really, were where One from the Heart sprang from. I treated the play so that a lot of the songs commented on the action, although they weren’t sung by the performers. But then I also liked the notion that the performers could, at any time, at a certain moment, burst into song — it didn’t have to be so unified. And I think that, along with some study or investigation of Japanese theater I’ve been doing over the years, influenced me. Specifically, the notion that in Japanese theater, all the elements — the scenery, the music, the dancing, the singing — step forward to tell that part of the story which each element can best tell. So that if a guy is now going to take a journey for five years, maybe the curtain would move. It’s like a jazz band, say: the stage set, like a trumpet, gets up and does a great solo, and then the lights — the drums — do a solo. You can get at emotion in Oriental theater in a lot more different ways than just Freudian naturalism.
Now film — although it didn’t start out that way — has, because of the marriage of commerce and art, quietly shrunk until you can work in any manner at all as long as the story dominates everything and as long as the acting has a kind of Freudian realism-Actor’s Studio style. But an art form has got to be broader than that. You’ve got to be able to skin the cat a lot of different ways.
In the Japanese puppet theater, the bunraku, you find an amazing interrelationship between and among the puppets, the visible puppeteers, the reciters of the text and the musicians.
That’s precisely what I’m interested in. And what I did is that when I went to Japan after Apocalypse Now, I began to develop a new project that was so big for me, both intellectually and technologically, that I realized that, okay, if I aspired to do that in eight years, then everything I did from then on would somehow contribute to that project. And that project was a group of four films very loosely based on Goethe’s novel Elective Affinities, which is the story of a man and his wife and another guy and another girl.
More specifically, it’s about a husband and a wife; the former falls in love with a girl who comes to live with them, and the wife with another man. And what begins with a series of chemical attractions turns into an alchemical sense of relationships in which everyone and everything get transformed.
Exactly. But my idea is to make it a quartet of works in which each part will fit in and qualify the other, each part will present a different season and a different character. Everything will be based on four, and it will have many levels to it. One part will take place in the period when the Americans and the Japanese first met, another in postwar Japan, another during the period of the Sixties— the business-Mishima-gay-bar scene — and the fourth time period will be the future. This last part will deal with an enormous space telescope the size of the Graf Zeppelin that America and Japan send out into the universe because of its incredible capacity to witness the birth of the universe. And the last ten minutes or so of the movie, at the moment that it gets to that point, will be what it sees. It’s a crazy thing, and I run through it for fun in my head.
So I was walking around in Tokyo, reading Goethe, reading Mishima, going every day that I could get in to the Kabuki, and also coming out of a very difficult — if you’ve read my wife’s book — personal romantic mess. I felt I was kind of alone in Japan, trying to get hold of myself. And then I happened to come upon Armyan Bernstein’s script, which had been sent to me, and I carried it around, and I read it. It was set in Chicago, and I thought, what would happen if you just took the story —a guy, a girl, another guy, another girl (as simple as it could be, dumbbell but sweet) — and set it in Las Vegas? And I’m walking down the Ginza — the Ginza’s in the heart of Tokyo, and it looks just like Las Vegas — thinking that Las Vegas was the last frontier of America. When they ran out of land, they built Las Vegas, and it was built on those notions of life and chance — which, to me, are sort of like love. You know how things come together when what you’re interested in and emotionally attached to, just by accident, kind of hits a resounding thing in you? So I said, why don’t I take the dough (they were offering me a lot of money) and do One from the Heart, except not set it in Chicago and not make it like one of those films that they make a series out of — relationship films — but make it like a kind of Kabuki play set in Las Vegas! That way I’d get all that money, I’d be able to keep Zoetrope [the Coppola-owned studio] going, and I’d get to learn how to use this style in a movie.
Well, of course, it backfired on me. MGM and I made a deal, and I was going to sit down and write a new script — a new story and new dialogue. And the fact that I didn’t is why MGM now owns seven and a half percent of this picture; for no other reason than I had already started to go and make it, and we were starting to plan how to do it, and I didn’t own the script. So that this notion of, “Well, I’ll do it and make a lot of money,” ended up that in the long run I had to finance the whole thing myself with no help from MGM whatsoever. Which goes to show: never do anything for the wrong reasons, because nature will shake its finger at you. But, of course, at that point I was in love with the notion of working in this kind of a form.
Then another thing happened to me, and that is that Governor Jerry Brown was going to enter a primary in Wisconsin, and he wanted to know if I could help. So I got this idea: instead of spending the little campaign money that he had for a commercial here, a commercial there, why not blow it all on one live media event? In other words, take everything we had and somehow try to attract a big commotion. I felt that, in the politics of the future, it was live television, not just television, but live television, that would be important. So what we did was — all in five days, it was a wonderful adventure, one of the best in my life — in five days, we rented a broken-down video truck from some local station, and then Dean Tavoularis and the whole Zoetrope SWAT team flew there. We picked the Capitol building, which looks like the one in Washington, and Dean mounted flags and what have you. And we took an ad: THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME: A LIVE EVENT, FRANCIS COPPOLA (blah blah blah) GOVERNOR BROWN. My idea was to have a guy come out and on live television express himself. And then I started getting really fascinated. We got an Eidophor, which is this enormous $400,000 video projector — like the one Werner Erhardt used — right in the Capitol so that the crowd there listening to the speech could see it. And my idea was that Jerry Brown would look so much like the president of the United States, standing in front of the Capitol and talking to the people, that they would think he was. And it would be going out on live television. And I had this idea that I was going to have all this imagery of America on videotape — like The Plow That Broke the Plains, beautiful stills, images — and they were going to be on these electronic slide projectors, so that as the governor was speaking (he was behind a blue screen), I could put him in conjunction with those images and just stage this total crazy thing that would be going out live.
It sounds like a combination of Eisenstein and The Wizard of Oz, with the phony wizard creating his illusions from behind the screen.
But everybody in show business is a phony. That’s it. And this was something that just happened like a little prairie fire. We got it all together, there were thousands of people present, and it was all supposed to start with a helicopter getting a shot with video of the whole event. That was when it was going to say, Live From Madison. And I’m in the truck with my guys and the helicopter starts to come, and I see it on the screen, and the guy is typing in the titles: LIVE FROM MADISON, WISCONSIN, but it came out misspelled, and he had to go back and do it again. I mean, it was that way because we had gotten the equipment only two days before; we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. So what happened is that it started, and the first part was incredible because I was taking the faces of the people in the crowd. But after a while, all the pictures started going out, and I’m talking to the newsreel cameramen, and I’m saying, “Get me a shot,” and all I see is their feet because they couldn’t hear anymore, and I’m screaming at the guy and the intercom breaks down and I’m punching . . . . It looked as if we were coming from the moon. Then the chroma-key didn’t work, so instead of the images being behind Jerry Brown, they were in his face. And it was altogether one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen in your life. It looked as if it were a transmission from some clandestine place on Mars. It was the best night of my life.
How did Brown do on election day?
He lost the state. But the point is that when I came back to California, I thought, if you had a truck with all those buttons, and if you said, “Do that,” and it would do that, and if you could also edit electronically, you could make a movie by staging an event and then not just film it but “osmoss” it. It’s like if I stage an event out on the street and then have the means not just to photograph it simply but to photograph it in every way, to get its sound and to edit it . . . it’s almost as though you’d be able to capture that event in a very profound way. So why not then stage One from the Heart by going to Las Vegas with this new super-duper video approach, just as if it had worked in Madison? Go to Las Vegas and pull up on the street, and, instead of just directing a moment, which is to say a shot, set up a situation, sort of like taking theater and actually putting it on a street in Las Vegas — and shooting it not like a movie, but like a baseball game. Of course, this struck a real harmonious chord with my idea concerning the Japanese theater, because I was now interested in the notion of trying to do for film something that was more a performance, and less of an archival, piece.
You say you’d read the script for One from the Heart in Japan and that you’d been obsessed with the idea of Elective Affinities. Did you sense the similarities between them, both projects being about four characters?
Never in a thousand years did I think that One from the Heart really dealt with those issues that the Goethe novel did. But I figured that if you were going to do a story about a guy and girl who are together but breaking up, and about another girl and another guy who come into their lives, then, in some way, you were going to be dealing with feelings that you already had about that subject, and that you’d find things out about it. So that finally, when you started to approach the subject in another context, you’d bring more to it, you’d be working on something that was in the same universe. What I was really interested in was discovering how to realize this combination of theatrical elements, specifically the music. Because the Elective Affinities that I dream of making is really an opera, and it would use music and poetry and dance in order to try to work toward an understanding or a dramatization of my feelings about the subject.
As it is, I thought that One from the Heart goes straight from your heart into the viewer’s heart, and I’m puzzled why people are having problems with it.
I think the real reason that some people have trouble with it is because the film really is innocent, and you can’t look at something innocent through cynical eyes. If I were to tell you the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” that could either be charming or tedious depending on how cynical you are. I think it’s very interesting that after the screenings at Radio City Music Hall, we knew for sure that the people in the artistic and intellectual community liked it proportionately better than the press. Which kind of tells me that the press is cynical by nature.
Were you at the press conference after the first preview screening? Do you know the first question they asked me when I came out? This was after Norman Mailer and Joe Papp and Elliott Feld had the courtesy and consideration to come backstage and tell me they liked the film. I felt so good, and then I went to this press conference, and I looked over, and this guy said: “Mr. Coppola, how do you feel now that nobody likes your film? How do you feel that it’s terrible?” I said, “Whom did you talk to?” He said, “Well, everybody.” I said, “How many people?” And he replied, “Fourteen.” He couldn’t even say, “We want to think about it before we pronounce it dead.”
What no one really understands is that the executives and the press — the marketing control of the movie business — are exactly the same thing and have the same reasons to be in collusion.
I heard people, before seeing the film, wondering why you had to construct a set of Las Vegas when Las Vegas already existed. But while watching the film, I realized that you’ve actually created a Las Vegas of the heart.
In fact, that’s the next point to the story I began telling you about Japan and Elective Affinities, because then I said to myself, hey! I’ve bought a movie studio, which is like getting a theater. What the hell am I going to Las Vegas for? Let’s build it inside the studio and totally control it and have the sets be on one stage, as on Saturday Night Live, and have the actors literally perform it like a play — “Ready, begin!” — and do the whole movie as a performance and then go back and put the cameras in different places with the transitions, music, everything. There’d be nothin’ like it!
So then what happens is that a month goes by and everyone’s working and we’re trying to get the deal, and Dean Tavoularis says, “I can’t build all this stuff so fast,” and gradually we start going into the art department and see these sets start coming out of the street — Dean’s building the whole goddamn street! And then he says, “I want to take a couple of neon signs and move them around,” but then, when it comes out, it’s INTERSECTION FREMONT STREET. And we say, hey, what’s going on? And Dean, in his mind, couldn’t get with the idea of creating the illusions of the movie with matte shots and trickery on that level. He wanted to build the fantasy — that’s what cost the extra ten or so million dollars.
So by using unreal characters in an unreal setting, you create true reality.
By letting out the reins of style and allowing myself to manipulate sets and music, as they do in Kabuki, and having things turn blue and lights going up and walls going through and getting the audience into the ritual of it, then, in the last five minutes, when Frannie leaves Hank and the plane flies over him — which was an effect — and then he walks around for two minutes in a dark room and when she finally comes back, I wanted the audience to feel something, I wanted to benefit from all the theatricality. But in the last moment, it would be real. You’d be glad she came back. That’s why at the end, there’s a very extended part where you hear the song One from the Heart, and it’s all in the dark — it’s Hank’s most dark scene, and it lasts a long time. And then, when Frannie walks in, and the lights come up — sometimes you have to be in the dark for a long time to enjoy when the lights come up.
Soap opera, which looks so real, feels so unreal. But your film, which seems so unreal, feels real.
If you eat a fast food hamburger, it’s exactly the amount you want to eat, it’s perfectly flavored and proportioned, it’s designed to fit a need. And yet, after you eat one, you realize you’re not getting a lot from it. Then, if you eat a meal that’s homemade and eccentric, you’re eating something that’s alive, and then you feel so much better. It takes no genius to say that our television movies are like the lines at McDonald’s. Everyone knows that.
And you know why? It’s because, back in the days of live television, when there first was this wonderful medium, and writers and producers were just madly running around behind schedule, calling actors in at the last minute, there was a really honest, beautiful, artistic period. And then some guys in suits looked at it and said, this is too big for them. And so the next thing you knew, they organized and merchandized it. And they created the television industry.
Could you say who “they” are, exactly?
The guys who have it clocked from the Wall Street levels of business, all through the business marketing. When they see that, hey, we could make a lot of money with this, then they destroy it. Marvin Davis buys this company, someone buys another. What happened? We had Hollywood — it was a weird place, but it was a show-business place. And some guys said, hey, this is too big for them. So they turned movies into television, too.
They call me reckless on a business level, but I’ve had Zoetrope for twelve years. We’ve never made a flop. We’ve never lost large amounts of money. Exhibitors and theater owners have made big money on pictures I either directed or produced, or on talent that I discovered and gave the first start to. I’ve done so much for them, and yet they resent even putting me in a position where I don’t have to go to one of them with my hat in my hand and have them tell me what movies I can or cannot make. They want to tell me, “Francis, lookit, you don’t wanna do that kind of thing. Japanese and Goethe — it doesn’t go. That’s like Wiener schnitzel and sushi, you know? Come on. I’ll let you do Godfather III and follow it up with Annie II. And you’ll have more money than you could dream, and you could fool around with this electronic shit.” That’s the kind of dialogue I get. But what it really comes down to on the bottom, bottom line is: who gets to run the movie business? And as far as the film critics, it is: who gets to say what a movie can or cannot be? Those are the kind of issues that I’m concerned about. You see, if people realize that art can be anything it wants to be, then so can the society. And therefore, there are counterforces that try to keep the status quo as long as they can.
I really like the last shot of the movie, with the curtain closing across the screen as if it were a window.
That’s the whole theater idea — that the show should start with a curtain opening and end with it closing. You see, I’m really the head of the only professional film repertory company in the world that owns its own theater and operates every department from miniatures to music. And that’s a helluva thing. And I’m proud of that. When the movie announces, “Filmed entirely at Zoetrope Studios,” you should realize that not many studios now could do that kind of work, even if they wanted to.
If it weren’t for George Lucas and myself, the American film industry, in that regard, would have little in common with the way it used to be. And why? Because the guys who own it and control it don’t love movies. If they loved movies, they would invest in talent, they would have apprentices, they would go into the new technology. How can we allow people who don’t love movies to control the industry? Or people who don’t love cars to control Detroit? That doesn’t make any sense. They think in Hollywood that no other country can grab domination of the world communication industry. But they think wrong. Some other country could, and will, do it because they’ve left their flanks so open. The American electronics industry — Motorola, RCA, Zenith, etc. — didn’t guess for a second that Japan was going to beat them. Never. And it’s the same with Hollywood. They’re finished.
During the past twenty years since you started making movies, what films of other directors were most important to you?
I was very impressed with Ashes and Diamonds and with films like Vitelloni, by Fellini. I was very impressed the first time I saw Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. But I also loved Lawrence of Arabia and movies like that. Of the directors of my generation, I like Billy Friedkin’s The French Connection, George Lucas’ THX 1138 and American Graffiti, Scorsese’s Mean Streets, and I enjoy Spielberg’s films. These people are tremendously gifted and wonderful, but they don’t always keep their sights high enough, in my opinion. It seems as if they just want to keep confirming over and over again that they can make the most successful kinds of films.
Godard once said that movies are not a way to make money, they’re a way to spend money. Do you think it might be possible that the new technologies will eventually allow young filmmakers to make films again for a reasonable amount of money?
Absolutely. Everybody will use it, everybody will make films, everybody will make dreams. That’s what I think is gonna happen. You’ll ship ’em over to your friend, and he’ll ship one back. I think kids — sixteen-and twenty-year-olds today — I find them extremely bright and idealistic and ready to go. I think that, very shortly, there’s going to be a whole way to approach things, and the designers and the architects and philosophers and artists are going to be the ones to help lead the society. And they’re the most qualified to do it.
You know what I think? I think people are afraid of me, basically. They’re afraid that if I ever got like too much power, I’d change their lives, and they’re right! It happened in San Francisco. I had City magazine, I had a movie company, I had theaters. The people of San Francisco said, if this guy really starts getting a lock on the heart here in town, what’s he liable to do? And so they just immediately hacked me down. And they’re right to be frightened, because if I ever did get . . . let’s say One from the Heart made two trillion dollars; I mean, who knows what will happen? I actually think it’s going to do real well. But let’s say it does extremely well, as well as Star Wars. People know that I would spend that money next year, and I would spend double that money. And if I ever really got a lot of dough, I would change the movie business.
I made the statements about electronics and cinema four years ago at the Academy Awards. And do you know how embarrassed I was at the way people laughed at me? Yet everything I said has come true, but they laughed at me that night. I’m only a minor representative of the times. I may be a schmuck, but you can be sure that some other people somewhere are going to start doing the same kind of stuff, and the world is going to change. Right in our lifetime. As for myself, I’m not worried. What the hell! If I don’t do it with this film, I’ll go and invent some little gadget that will make billions!
Rolling Stone, March 18, 1982