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The Religious Affiliation of Director
Francis Ford Coppola


Coppola is indeed an Italian-American, and he is best known for his the acclaimed "Godfather" films about overtly Catholic maffia families. Yet Coppola himself seems to have had an unusually secular upbringing.

From: Sean Smith, "Fr. Blake Explores Lives, Work of Six Catholic Filmmakers" in The Boston College Chronicle, 13 April 2000, Vol. 8, No. 15 (http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/rvp/pubaf/chronicle/v8/a13/blake.html):

Capra is one of six prominent American directors whose use of Catholic symbolism and imagery Fr. Blake explores in his new book AfterImage. Sub-titled The Indelible Catholic Imagination of Six American Filmmakers, the book also examines the films of Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock...

Fr. Blake selected the six not only for their stature in film history but because they represent different kinds of Catholics, from Scorsese and De Palma's contrasting experiences as Italian-Americans to Ford's upbringing in a Maine Irish-Catholic setting, as well as the English-born Hitchcock's eventual metamorphosis as an American Catholic.

"For all these differences, their films show an unmistakable and identifiable spiritual kinship," Fr. Blake said. "Almost without exception, they display a Catholic sense of sin, guilt, atonement and redemption. Their most virtuous heroes struggle with grace as members of a communion of sinners. They seek redemption within a community rather than as individuals, and often salvation is mediated by a loving, self-sacrificing savior."

...Fr. Blake... devotes a chapter to each filmmaker, offering a brief biographical sketch with particular attention to the director's Catholic background.

In his section on Coppola, Fr. Blake identifies "The Conversation" as the director's most Catholic film and describes the protagonist's failed attempt at salvation through good works, ending with his isolation from the redemption of love. The film exemplifies a central tenet of many Coppola films, the conflict between public morality and private life.

From: Richard A. Blake, S.J. (a Jesuit), "Finding God at the Movies ... And why Catholic churches produce Catholic Filmmakers", website: Woodstock Theological Center (http://www.georgetown.edu/centers/woodstock/report/r-fea79a.htm):
To an astounding extent that I had never suspected until I started to look into the matter, the movies are really a Catholic medium... Catholics have been... over-represented in the creative side. Think of some of the key filmmakers that even casual film audiences know by name: Hitchcock, John Ford, Frank Capra, Scorsese and Coppola...

From an early age, Catholics learn to tame the mysteries of life and death with the hardware of the material universe. By dealing with the here-and-now rather than fleeing it, Catholic filmmakers allow their characters to seek a form of redemption in their day-to-day struggles... Coppola and Scorsese have their heroes wrestle with the conflict between tribal loyalties to the family or the mob and their own personal integrity, but they too find redemption... All their characters seek personal integrity and redemption in the midst of a community. Their struggles are rarely couched in spiritual terms, but they are invariably religious quests with milestones along the way marked by Catholic images. The Catholic imagination is more than catholic, more than sacramental - it is profligate. It sees the workings of grace everywhere.

From: "Francis Ford Coppola: A Biography," by Jon Matthew (http://www.twyman-whitney.com/film/celluloid_profiles/coppola.html):
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1939, Coppola's Italian-American family moved to New York after his birth. His grandparents emigrated from Southern Italy circa 1900... At age 10, Coppola contracted polio while on a Cub Scout trip and was paralyzed on his left side. Bedridden for nine months, he watched TV continuously and turned to making puppet shows as entertainment... Gradually Coppola recuperated and was able to return to school.
Michael Schumacher's detailed biography of Coppola makes no mention whatsoever of Catholicism or Coppola's religious background: Francis Ford Coppola: A Filmmaker's Life. Crown Publishers: New York (1999).

Even Coppola's wedding was secular (Schumacher, page 35):

On February 2, 1963... Francis Ford Coppola married Eleanor Neil in a small ceremony in Las Vegas, capping off a whirlwind romance that had begun less than a year earlier. For Coppola, the timing of the wedding was more a practical issue than a matter of having an overwhelming desire to get married at that very moment. He was once again hearing noises about the draft, and being married was one way to avoid conscription. Not that he and Ellie wouldn't have married in any event: The two were deeply in love and, as Ellie joked years later, she was beginning to feel, at twenty-six, like an old maid, especially since most of her friends had already tied the knot.

Francis was also eager to get married. "I very much wanted a wife, a family, and children when I was young," he later remarked.

The Las Vegas location for the ceremony was also largely a matter of practicality. Ellie, a tapestry maker, created her murals for businesses, and she had recently sold one to the Las Vegas airport. She and Francis, along with ten family members, took a train to Las Vegas, giving all the chance for a brief, intimate vacation while Ellie took care of business... Ellie remembered... "We got married in the most attractive little wedding chapel we could find, and we stayed at the Dunes..."

From: Les Keyser, Martin Scorsese, Twayne Publishers: New York (1992), page 44:
In a scintillating analysis of Scorsese's religious dimension, "The Sacraments of Genre: Coppola, De Palma, and Scorsese," Leo Braudy demonstrates how the gap between Catholic visions of salvation and capitalism's images of success defines these Italian American directors' content and technique.

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