Sunday, March 20, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola's Inspiringly Bad Movie


The year was 1963, and a young and very gifted would-be filmmaker got his first major break. A producer wanted (according to Wikipedia's account) to make the next Psycho on the cheap. He hired a man named Francis Ford Coppola to write and direct a movie that had a haunted Irish castle, a dead little girl, a family secret, and a beautiful blonde femme fatale who is trying to play a con that involves a scene where she strips down to her underwear. How could that possibly fail?

And yet, the product of all this greatness, Dementia 13... is nonetheless a bad movie. The acting is somehow wooden and melodramatic at the same time. The action scenes are hokey. The dialogue is packed with so much exposition it reminds you of that wedding party floor collapse disaster that made the rounds on Youtube a few years ago.

Why do I bring this up? Because you can still see Coppola's passion come through. A deeply twisted plot teams up with unnerving camera angles and great atmosphere, and they put on a brave, desperate struggle against a horde of classic B-movie flaws to see which will win out. The first death scene shows a corpse floating underwater at night while catchy, somehow creepy rockabilly plays. Then the corpse blinks, and you realize the movie is all about breaking your heart.

Coppola spent almost a decade after this movie working on stuff you've never heard of... and then he created The Godfather, The Conversation, Godfather II, and Apocalypse Now. And then he went and did some other cruddy movies, but managed to create a few more good ones as well.

Good films, bad films, half-good films, genius films, godawful films, and of course Godfather III, which can only be described in the language of Mordor, which I will not utter here. The lesson, in your humble correspondent's opinion, is you will never be completely vindicated, or completely cursed, by anything you do. Every project is a fresh start.

Whatever you're working on, just go ahead and keep at it until they plant you.

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