10/17/01 - Charles Lyons of Variety got a much fuller scoop from Coppola
himself. Here's a quote, direct from Lyons' piece:
"The mayor is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the past, while an
architect-planner is dedicated to leaping into the future. When a
massive renovation project is planned for an area running from 8th
Avenue to the Hudson riverbank and from 34th to 20th streets, it becomes
the nexus of a battle over vision, scale and profits, involving 'every
layer of society from workers, labor unions, the man on the street to
the idea men, the money men and all those involved with them,' Coppola
As he talks, a few rooms away, the festival is hosting a day-long symposium on "Cinema and its responsibilities", co-chaired by French intellectual, Bernard Henri-Levy, in which various film-makers and academics are agonising over the vexed relationship between the US and the Arab world and asking how cinema can help heal the breach. This is a subject that Coppola, too, is eager to address. He claims to feel entirely at home in a Muslim country in northern Africa. "My grandmother was born in Tunisia," he explains. "My brother is a scholar and even as a boy, I was interested in Arabic poetry. I know something of Arabic and Islamic culture and it really grieves me that in my country today, they know nothing of the fact that the Arabs were one of the major contributors to world civilisation. Back in the 13th century, it was world civilisation - the science, astronomy, poetry and history."
If he was "a person of influence" in the United States, he continues, one of the first things he would have done "after the tragedy in downtown Manhattan is to have begun a programme so people could read more about this incredible culture... I'd tell them that this is the civilisation that most contributed to you. It's not just some fundamentalists like those Oklahoma City fundamentalists." He has no doubts that the US government will take further retributive action against "terrorists": "that is the so-called Bush America. There will be more violence in response to that violence... we live in a world in which the strong always brutalise the weak."
It's a measure of his contradictory character he is that he announces in one breath that's he's simplifying his life - selling off several of his food and hotel businesses and giving his company, American Zoetrope, to his children Roman and Sofia (both also directors) - in order to spend more time reading, writing and thinking. Then he declares in the next sentence that he's pressing ahead with what promises to be his ambitious film project yet, Megalopolis. As the title hints, it's a sci-fi epic on a scale which will make Fritz Lang's Metropolis look puny.
"The theme is the contest between the past and the future," he explains. "Although it is set against the backdrop of a giant modern city like New York, it also speaks of Rome. The founders of modern America based many of their ideas on the Roman republic."
The inspiration comes partly from Lang and partly the 1936 Alexander Korda classic, Things to Come (based itself on HG Wells's book). The film will have a utopian dimension. ("It's a vision of the future in which the priorities of life are ritual, celebration and art.") It will also touch on recent events in New York. (He was filming in the city at the time of the Twin Towers disaster.) Over the last year alone, he has shot 60 hours of second unit footage. It is, he freely acknowledges, a Quixotic endeavour. The screenplay has already been through endless revisions. "I understand that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace 10 times and so I am comforted by that."
Hearing him describe the endless battles to raise the budget for Megalopolis, which he has been developing for nearly 20 years, it's hard not to be reminded of Orson Welles, another great director who - in the twilight of his career - was always hatching some grandiose new project or other which the studios wouldn't touch with a barge pole.
Moreover, many of the young actors Coppola originally hoped to cast in Megalopolis are too old for the parts. Matt Dillon, for example, also a guest in Marrakech, was pencilled in to play a West Point cadet who goes awol to become a window-cleaner in New York. ("Francis talked to me about that part way back when I was in Rumble Fish," Dillon explains. "I don't even know if that part exists any more, but I certainly would be too old to play it.") Another young (and then unknown) actor he met in Paris and became friendly with has since "turned into Russell Crowe".