Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Old Masters: Coppola, Frisell
On the other hand, Coppola himself is a delightful conversationalist (and, as you can see from this crude snapshot, a gifted gesticulator). Clearly his escape to Romania with a skeleton crew and cast has rejuvenated him. And if Youth Without Youth has turned out to be a damp fizzle, it’s hard not to share his excitement at the prospect of more guerrilla filmmaking. My interview with him has just been posted at Propeller, and you can read the whole thing here. A typical exchange went like this:
Coppola: It turns out that Eliade used to write these little fables--maybe for fun, maybe to play around with some of the ideas that were derived from his studies. And when I first read Youth Without Youth, it was like a Twilight Zone thing. Every two pages, something extraordinary would happen to this man. He's hit by lightning. When he wakes up, it turns out that he's young again, and also smarter. Then he turns into two personalities, and one seems to be sending messages about the future of the human species. I said to myself, this is the craziest story I ever read! And I started to become really excited about it: I could make this movie, I could go to Romania. Just bring a crew there, not spend a lot of money.Again, you can read the whole thing here. Meanwhile, a week ago Saturday I found myself in the presence of a slightly younger Old Master: Bill Frisell. I had instantly signed up for the guitarist’s master class at the Blue Note, then spent a couple of weeks in a state of high anxiety. What if each participant were called upon to execute three blazingly fast choruses of "Giant Steps"? As it happened, there was no playing involved. I did drag my guitar down to the club, where a line of fans stretched halfway down the block. But the class consisted of an extended Q-and-A session, with Frisell seated onstage. After a few questions, he did pick up his powder-blue Telecaster, and played a few tunes to illustrate his answers: "Strange Meeting" (his own composition, which he obligingly inched up from C to D-flat at the request of an audience member), "Days of Wine and Roses," and a hauntingly transformed "Someday My Prince Will Come."
Propeller: Your excitement about the project makes it sound very rejuvenating.
Coppola: Yes. You know, I didn't count on being so successful so young, with The Godfather. Of course it was great--suddenly I had some money and status. But naturally it bent my career out of shape. I had made The Rain People and The Conversation, and I assumed I would go on to shoot more of these personal films.
Propeller: But that didn't happen.
Coppola: No. So at age 65, I did find myself wishing that I could be that kind of young, European-style film director--like Fellini, when he was making pictures like I Vitelloni. I never got to do that. So I thought, Why can't I be like that now? I'll just go to Romania with the attitude and the budget of an 18-year-old.
What struck me most was his humility. As he explained in a response to one question about his improvising strategy, he hears much more in his head than he can possibly express on the instrument. "I just play fragments of what I'm hearing," he confessed. In fact he argued that a player's limitations are the single biggest influence on his or her style--an accurate statement about almost any artist, I think, but all the more striking when uttered by somebody with such technical and conceptual finesse. I did manage to raise my hand at one point and ask whether Frisell planned to make any further recordings with Vinicius Cantuaria. "I'd like to," he said. "I've lost track of him over the past year." He went on to praise Cantuaria's fluency as a songwriter. "He's a melody machine," said the guitarist. True--and coming from Frisell, who invariably opts for burnished bits of melody rather than one more sprint through the harmonic labyrinth, something of a self-portrait.