The one-two punch from Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola about how superhero movies aren’t cinema did not reflect what Coppola meant to say when he was quoted in Lyon, France, while being awarded the country’s Prix Lumière honor for career achievement. That is how Coppola now feels about it, after watching his comments fuel so many stories that put directors of those films in the position of having to justify their work.
While Coppola on Monday was busy battening down the hatches as wildfires ravaged Sonoma County near his Napa Valley vineyards, the filmmaker found a moment to convey his displeasure to Deadline over how his answer to a question about Scorsese’s superhero film misgivings was misinterpreted as a condemnation of those films. In truth, Coppola — who in his time has risked his personal fortune on passion film projects more often than any of his peers — was commenting on the danger of the growing numbers of tentpole film franchises where the clear priority is commerce and not art. And yes, Coppola is fully mindful that he has gone the sequels route on The Godfather, the first of which is widely considered the best reprise ever, and the last one that Coppola told me earlier this year he intended to re-cut and hopefully re-release as he did this year with Apocalypse Now and The Cotton Club.
I had time to ask two questions of Coppola in a moment of chaos, one to clarify his comment on the “despicable” term he meant for films made as commerce over art, and another on the late Bob Evans, with whom he had numerous famous creative battles on The Godfather and The Cotton Club, which he described in vivid detail in that Deadline interview. Under the fresh Coppola comments below are the actual verbatim translations of what the filmmaker said in France.
DEADLINE: Francis, what are your feelings about superhero films?
COPPOLA: Personally I don’t like the idea of franchises, the notion that you can keep repeating what is essentially the same movie for financial gain — in other words, what is a formulaic approach.
I feel that approach is taken to reduce the economic risk of movies, and I feel the “risk factor” is an element that makes movies sometimes be great. Also, the formulaic film draws most available resources to them, leaving little for more daring productions, reducing diversity.
In some ways I think the cinema is like food; certainly you can add things to make it tempting, tasty and enjoyable but it must also be nutritious to qualify as real food.
DEADLINE: What memories can you share about Bob Evans, with whom you had a complex relationship?
COPPOLA: Robert Evans was certainly one-of-a-kind, with an instinct of what a good movie should be. In the end, I feel lucky I got to know him, and yes, I felt some love for him. That’s probably what made our many differing opinions so passionate.
Here is what Coppola actually said in France.
QUESTION: Francis, do you agree with your friend Martin Scorsese that Marvel films are not true cinema?
COPPOLA: You know I’m sure you’re extracting from whatever Martin said. The gist of his statement. If you asked him is there is cinematic talent, cinematic expression, is there great even work in certain Marvel films, he would say yes. But what his point his, is that the concept of the Marvel film which has eaten up all the oxygen, which is to say the resources is not really is more of a theme park ride than what we would call cinema. Yes, I agree with him. (Pause for translation) But also television commercials is cinema – but is it a beautiful form of cinema? No.
QUESTION: How come there is no new new Hollywood so to speak today, considering the state of things of political turmoil you are describing?
COPPOLA: Well you know because of the lack of risk in the production. Marty Scorsese says that the Marvel picture is not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. Arguably, I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again, which is the Marvel movies. A thing that has no risk to it, I’ve said before, making a film without risk is like making a baby without sex. Part of it is risk, and that’s what make it so interesting, that’s why we learn so much when it’s made.
Also, there is a philosophy that a person of riches can be just or unjust. It’s very important when you talk about it. To gain riches unjustly, just uses up, it doesn’t contribute. Wealth is only what is just, what brings more to the society. Cinema is the same way. Real cinema brings something, a wonderful gift to society. It doesn’t just take money and make people rich. That’s despicable. (Pause for translation) So Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema, he didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just said it is.”