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an open letter to francis ford coppola

6.27.99

Dear Francis,

Okay. First of all, let me just say you're a world-class filmmaker on the basis of four classics alone: GODFATHER I and II, THE CONVERSATION, and APOCALYPSE NOW. Granted, that last film was 20 years ago and you haven't done anything original since, but we all give you those four movies. You're a man of respect.

Having said that, I've just heard that you and Mario Puzo are developing a GODFATHER PART IV. Focusing on Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) and also flipping back in time, GODFATHER II style, to tell the early story of Sonny Corleone (rumored to be played by ... Leonardo DiCaprio???).

Now, Francis, with all due respect, I think I speak not only for myself but for millions of GODFATHER fans when I say:

WHAT ARE YOU, FUCKIN' STUPID?????

I mean, Jesus Christ! Do you need the money that badly? Is your vineyard shrivelling up or something? I thought that, between the box-office successes of the awful JACK and the entertaining hackwork RAINMAKER, and the big judgment you got Warner to pay you for your aborted PINOCCHIO project, you were pretty much out of the hole. Having sold out with the Robin Williams jerk-off and the John Grisham thing, you would now have the freedom you needed to make the films you really want to make -- the bold, daring, original, ambitious projects you've been nurturing for decades. So what's next on your docket? GODFATHER IV. What the hell is that?

For one thing, you've been saying for 27 years now that you never really wanted to enter the world of the Corleones. That you did the first movie for the money. That you did the second one in order to do everything you wanted to do in the first one but couldn't. That you never wanted to make any more GODFATHER movies after II. Cut to 1990, here comes the decent but flawed and unnecessary III, and there you are again saying "This is it, I ain't doing any more GODFATHERs." Now here comes a fourth one. What are you gonna tell us this time? "Really, seriously, I mean it, this is absolutely my last GODFATHER movie." Yeah, right. I'll believe that after you and Puzo are dead and Paramount announces that out of respect for you guys, nobody else can do any GODFATHER films. (Not bloody likely. Reverence for Hitchcock didn't stop his PSYCHO from being thrice sequelized and remade.)

First of all, Al Pacino is the GODFATHER saga. You can't make an INDIANA JONES movie without Harrison Ford, you can't make a TERMINATOR film without Arnie, and you can't make a GODFATHER movie without Al. When you killed off Michael in that dumb-ass little scene with the orange, a lot of us cringed but at the same time were happy that you seemed to be saying, "Okay. He's dead. No more GODFATHER movies." Andy Garcia is a fine actor, but his character Vincent doesn't have the weight or fascination of Michael Corleone, who began as an innocent and ended up a ravaged, despairing diabetic with a crumbling mob empire. Vincent began as a hothead and became the Don only because Michael was too tired to go on. As Pauline Kael wrote, Michael "seems to hand his empire over to a loyal bodyguard," which is essentially all Vincent is.

Second, you really don't have any more story to tell. You have said everything you have to say about criminals. And what you didn't say, Scorsese said. And what Scorsese didn't say, Tarantino said. And what Tarantino didn't say, THE SOPRANOS is saying now. I mean, c'mon, Francis, it's been done. It's been done by you three times before, and it's been done by many, many others since 1972.

Third, if you're gonna go down the GODFATHER II path, you couldn't have picked a worse parallel father-son team than Vincent and Sonny. They're both hotheads; you want to make a compare-and-contrast saga about two guys who get easily pissed off? Aside from that, GODFATHER II was about the making of one Godfather (Vito) and the gradual unmaking of another (Michael, whose moral fate is sealed when he orders the death of his own brother). But Sonny was never a real Godfather. Sure, he took over for like five minutes when the old man was wounded, but it wasn't long before he got ventilated at the toll booth. So basically you're gonna be making a movie about two guys who got handed the keys to the Corleone kingdom because the real Godfathers were home in bed.

A better idea might've been the one you guys were rumored to be batting around before: same parallel structure, only the flashback sequences would focus on Vito in the 1920s and '30s, played again by Robert De Niro. We would've gotten to see what happened to Vito between GODFATHER II and GODFATHER I. Even that idea, though, seems like self-cannibalism. And how the hell are you gonna fit GODFATHER IV into the GODFATHER SAGA when you decide to edit the whole series together chronologically again? (Don't even get me started on how you fucked up GODFATHER II for television by taking apart its dual-layer structure and tacking the young Vito scenes before GODFATHER I. You lost the entire point of the contrapuntal Vito and Michael sequences that way.)

Not to mention how much shit you're gonna catch from the fans if you actually decide to cast Leo as the young Sonny. Uh, no, I'm sorry. DiCaprio is a good actor, sometimes better than good (I don't hold all that teen-idol shit against him), but he doesn't look like he'd grow up to be James Caan. If you want someone as the young Sonny, why don't you cast the young Sonny -- I refer, of course, to Scott Caan, who got good notices earlier this year for VARSITY BLUES. He's a dead ringer for the old man and he'd do a good job -- but then you might not get beaucoup dollars from Paramount unless you sign big names. C'mon, dude, you resisted Madonna, you can pass up Leo. You're Francis Ford Coppola, remember? Just because you got your ass kicked in the Phillippines doesn't mean your balls belong to the studio. Dig in your heels and cast whomever you want. Hell, you cast your own daughter last time, and I won't even fuckin' get into that, man; let's just say that the one good thing about a GODFATHER IV is that it can't possibly have Sofia anywhere near it.

If you really wanted to make a different GODFATHER film, I would've suggested you go all the way with it and turn it into THE GODMOTHER. I mean, hell, the most compelling character in GODFATHER III isn't Vincent -- it's Connie. Until Vincent takes over, she's the one who's really calling the shots -- she's the one who orders Vincent to whack Joey Zasa. C'mon, man, she's your sister and she's also a fine actress. Let her carry a GODFATHER movie.

Barring that, Francis my brother, I would advise you and Super Mario to leave well enough alone. Unless you wanna set it 200 years in the future and have Michael Corleone cloned from DNA (Michael Corleclone?), don't bother going back to the well a fourth time. GODFATHER III was barely justifiable as it was, though at least you could say you were bringing the saga to a proper closure. Michael is dead; there is no more story. For someone who has professed to be uncomfortable with the GODFATHER movies, you seem awfully eager to dust off those cannolis one more time.

You're starting to remind me of your protege, the guy who recently came out with the fourth installment of his most successful series. It sucked. Don't do what George did. Yeah, GODFATHER III was weak in comparison with the first two, but the fans have gradually accepted it into the trilogy, the way STAR WARS fans have learned to tolerate RETURN OF THE JEDI. What you have now is fine: a trilogy with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Don't pull a PHANTOM MENACE on us, Francis. I guarantee you the critics will be gunning for it, half the fans just won't be interested in any GODFATHER story without Pacino, and it'll flop like an epileptic fish.

You can't be so hard up for material that you have to resort to this. You're not getting any younger, man; don't waste your autumn years on this shit. Maybe George Lucas is a hack who keeps having to rehash his former glory, but you're better than that. Or at least I thought you were.


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