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Soft Focus

The Precocious Careers of George Lucas and Francis Coppola

MYTHMAKER; The Life and Work of George Lucas; By John Baxter; Avon: 450 pp., $27.50

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA; A Filmmaker's Life; By Michael Schumacher; Crown: 524 pp., $30

November 21, 1999|PETER BISKIND | Peter Biskind is the author of "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood."

The good news here is that Schumacher has been extremely thorough in excavating secondary sources, and there is the occasional nugget, like Coppola's hilariously disastrous attempts to help out Jerry Brown in his 1980 bid for the presidency. He elicits some good new material from director Carroll Ballard, who has been under-interviewed on the subject of his patron and rival. But the reader will look in vain for social or cultural analysis or any attempt to put the films in context. Schumacher is so busy defending Coppola from all comers that he does the director a disservice, failing to explain why the pictures of the golden period--"The Godfathers," "The Conversation," "Apocalypse Now"--are as brilliant as they are.

Nor does Schumacher make much of an effort to answer explain why the director's career took a nose dive in the '80s from which it has never recovered. He does finally get around to the $64,000 question--in the Epilogue: "What happened to Francis Ford Coppola's career? Did he expend all of his artistic energy during the seventies? Was he overrated as a filmmaker? . . . Did he simply lose interest in putting himself on the line in film after film? Did he grow complacent, once he had rebuilt his personal empire?" Good questions all, but we'll never learn the answers from Schumacher, who, by titling the preceding chapter "Full Recovery" (in apparent reference to "Dracula"), implies that nothing happened to Coppola's career that couldn't be fixed with an overblown remake.

With tongue, one hopes, at least partly in cheek, literary critic Stanley Fish recently called for an end to biographies because, in the absence of "master narratives," biographers have lost the ability to explain anything. He exempted celebrity biographies because contingency and accident are the very stuff of celebrity lives and therefore there is no need to explain anything. So perhaps what seems like Schumacher's inability to find the "meaning" of his subject's life is actually a hip refusal to go there. Maybe it's better to just go with the flow.

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