The most personal of all films in Francis Ford Coppola’s repertoire was born between two big projects that helped Coppola gain the reputation he enjoys today, the first two parts of The Godfather trilogy. Two huge, big-budgeted movies, and a tiny personal story filmed between them, but an expertly made film that captured the nation’s state of mind and emotion after the Watergate scandal. The Conversation, starring the great Gene Hackman, is a subtle and restrained film about a professional eavesdropper, lonely and alienated, who uses his nifty gadgets to invade the privacy of the people around him. Coppola began meddling with the idea in 1966, but the first draft was penned three years later, with the film hitting theaters as late as 1974. The impact it made at the box office was negligible, even though it was hardly a failure. But with time, the film’s reputation grew, and today it’s considered one of Coppola’s very best. One of the perks of managing this website is definitely the challenge of finding rare treasures. This delightful discovery, a Filmmakers Newsletter interview from May, 1974, conducted by Brian De Palma, illuminates the process of this little masterpiece’s creation. And who’s more qualified to conduct such an insightful conversation with Coppola than a passionate fellow filmmaker.
Filmmakers Newsletter was a well-respected magazine with articles abounding in technical information, as well as extensive analyses of both contemporary films and those who played significant roles in the historical development of the art and business. This particular article can be classified as an impressive read thanks to the sheer quantity of interesting details regarding the development and production of The Conversation, but also to Coppola’s honest answers to De Palma’s perceptive questions. The fact that we’re talking about a piece of journalism virtually lost to the rest of the world only enhances the value of the interview, a six-page exploration of Coppola’s filmmaking technique, personal preferences, inner motivations and desires both before and after he steps onto the film set.
If you care to find out the nature of the connection between The Conversation and Henry VIIIth, why Coppola’s not in awe of Hitchcock’s artistry or why the acclaimed director admits the commencement of shooting often finds him in a “pants down” position, we urge you to read this wonderful interview as soon as possible. You can download the PDF version: The Making of THE CONVERSATION: An Interview with Francis Ford Coppola by Brian De Palma.
Unseen photos from The Conversation—filming the famous opening scene in Union Square. Still photographer: Brian Hamill. Courtesy of the edit room floor.
A Legacy of Filmmakers: The Early Years of American Zoetrope, narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, covers the rise and fall of the struggling young studio during the late 1960s and early 1970s, touching on everything from the influence of Easy Rider to the bitter clash between Warner Bros. and American Zoetrope over the film itself. In all fairness, though, it’s great to see Warner Bros. swallow their pride by allowing this documentary to be presented objectively (one might be reminded of the clash between Universal and Terry Gilliam over Brazil, and the wonderful documentary produced for the Criterion Collection). Among other highlights, A Legacy of Filmmakers features short interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. —Randy Miller III
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