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After the critical and commercial disaster of “One From the Heart” and the failure of his Zoetrope movie studio, a bankrupt Francis Ford Coppola found himself at “the beginning of a very continuing low period.”
He had to pay off creditors, who were, as he puts it, “holding everything,” including his beloved winery.
“So I didn’t have a lot of leeway,” the 66-year-old filmmaker told The Associated Press. “I had to get a job every year and in the late ’80s it got even worse.”
Even he calls it a “fall from grace,” going from directing “The Godfather” I and II, “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now” as well as writing “Patton” — accumulating five Oscars in the ’70s — to a director-for-hire of such movies as “The Cotton Club,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Gardens of Stone.”
A labor of loveThe job Coppola took in early 1982, “The Outsiders,” may have seemed like one of those projects, but it came to him through the mail — and became a labor of love.
A librarian at the Lone Star Junior High School in Fresno, Calif wrote him:
“We are all so impressed with the book, ‘The Outsiders’ by S.E. Hinton, that a petition has been circulated asking that it be made into a movie. We have chosen you to send it to. In hopes that you might also see the possibilities of a movie, we have enclosed a copy of the book.”
“It was signed by like 110 little signatures,” he recalled. “Who can ignore that?”
He didn’t. And on Sept. 20 he’s putting out a two-disc DVD with a version 22 minutes longer.
Over the years, Coppola has received letters from kids praising the movie, but wondering why more of their favorite book wasn’t in it.
“I think for me, the showdown was when my granddaughter’s class asked me to come and show the film and I was embarrassed to show the normal version,” says Coppola. “So I cobbled together a version of the whole movie, the whole novel, and I remember looking at it and wondering, ‘Why did I ever cut this down?”’
The chief addition to the movie (subtitled “The Complete Novel”) is a long opening sequence that better establishes the characters. There is more of the Curtis brothers, including one scene showing an intimate conversation in bed.
“There was a little bit of tittering when the young boys were in bed, partly because they were such beautiful kids,” Coppola said. “But of course, brothers have slept together in beds for hundreds of years.”
Also new is more rock ’n’ roll replacing his father’s sweeping, orchestral score. Coppola had originally wanted to do the whole film with Elvis Presley songs.
Escaping the backlash
Making the film in the first place amounted to an escape for Coppola. “One From the Heart,” a lavish musical for which he supplied much of the $24 million budget himself, was savaged by reviewers and yanked from theaters.
“There was a bit of a backlash against Francis at that point,” says Matt Dillon, who starred in “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish” for Coppola. “He had succeeded at such a daring, high level for so long.”
And Zoetrope had been put up for auction.
So as a getaway, Coppola took up the offer of the kids from Fresno and headed for Tulsa, Okla., where he would shoot “The Outsiders” and then decide to adapt “Rumble Fish,” another S.E. Hinton book.
“It was, I hate to say, maybe therapy,” said Fred Roos, who produced “The Outsiders” and many of Coppola’s films.
Harkening back to the crucible of making “Apocalypse Now” a few years earlier as well as the “Heart” fiasco and bankruptcy, Roos said: “He just wanted to get out of town and be with kids, young actors.”
Coppola, ever concerned that “The Godfather” threw him off his original, smaller ambitions, saw it as a return to his natural self: “I think it was more like the original Francis before ‘The Godfather’ who just wanted to make personal films and use sensible-sized crews and equipment.”
First look at Tom CruiseFor the ’50s teen drama about the battle between the kids from the wrong side of the tracks (the “Greasers”) and the preppy kids (the “Socs”), Coppola assembled a cast of then up-and-comers: Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez and Tom Cruise.
Dillon remembers extensive rehearsal for the film — conceived of as an epic, widescreen “Gone With the Wind”-for-kids — but doesn’t recall a downtrodden Coppola.
“I never got the sense that he was licking any wounds,” the actor said. “Who would know better than Francis about the ups and downs of being a creative person, to roll with the punches?”
More punches would follow. Though “The Outsiders” was a modest success ($26 million in domestic box office), the critics didn’t like the sentimentalized tale of troubled kids fending for themselves in a seemingly parentless small town.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times said the movie wasn’t “conventionally bad. It is spectacularly out of touch, a laughably earnest attempt to impose heroic attitudes on some nice, small characters purloined from a ‘young-adult’ novel.”
As with “Apocalypse Now” and “One From the Heart,” Coppola succumbed to pressure to shorten “The Outsiders.”
“And sometimes, the wise thing to do is to lengthen,” he maintained.
After “Apocalypse Now Redux,” the 2003 reissue of “One From the Heart” and now “The Outsiders,” Coppola said he’s done with revisionism and continues to think about what his next film might be.
He’s taken a year’s break from “Megalopolis,” a script about New York in the future that he’s labored on for more than two decades.
“‘Megalopolis’ is like being in love with a beautiful woman who doesn’t want you,” he said. “So you don’t get to meet anyone else and you don’t get her.”