Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Youth Without Youth

Did you guys know that Francis Ford Coppola has a new movie coming out toward the latter half of this year called Youth Without Youth? It's written, produced, and directed by Mr. Coppola himself, marking his return to personal filmmaking.

His screenplay was adapted from the Youth Without Youth novella by Romanian author Mircea Eliade. The film stars Tim Roth as "Dominic Matei, a professor whose life changes after a cataclysmic incident during the dark years prior to World War II. Becoming a fugitive, he is pursued through far-flung locations including Romania, Switzerland, Malta and India."

Before starting principal photography in October '05, Coppola wrote a few entries in his diary on
the official film site. His words, frankly, hit a little too close to home...


I've been thinking about what seems to be a repeating pattern: artists who distinguish themselves when they are young, and then never can quite reach those levels again. There are many examples, especially in literature, the theater, and of course in film. I think of some of the greats I've admired in my own life: Tennessee Williams, who wrote THE GLASS MENAGERIE and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE when he was in his thirties and then was tormented by critics as well as himself for failing to match those achievements later in life; Norman Mailer, who was twenty-five when he wrote THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, and kept working, reaching ever upward and not quite making it; Joseph Heller, who wrote CATCH-22 in 1961 and never topped it; J. D. Salinger, who wrote his two great books and stories early on and then nothing; and many others, including poets and playwrights who took their own lives rather than face the fact that their creative summits seemed to have passed. Many artists arrive at what seems to be the peaks of their careers when they are quite young, and though they try hard, find that in the eyes of critics, their readers or audiences, and perhaps even themselves -they never match or outdo the work of their youth. Even the great Fellini tormented himself over what he felt were a series of failures beginning with GUILETTA DEGLI SPIRITTI. But there have been exceptions, of course - few but great. Think of Shakespeare, who continually seemed to be able to reinvent himself; and Akira Kurosawa, who made magnificent films throughout his long life despite great periods of depression. Braque never was able to outdo the work of his younger self, but his colleague Picasso did. And when Giuseppe Verdi was eighty years old and considered at the end of a beloved career, he astonished all with the great work FALSTAFF. Why is this? What are the reasons? Is it only that genius at the level of Shakespeare, Verdi, Kurosawa and Picasso is as rare and precious as it would seem, or are there other factors as well?

You can read the rest here.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day. Hehehe...


GameArs said...

The key, if you ask me, is not to give up on yourself. If you write your magnum opus at the age of 30 and then compare everything else you do in life to that one work, you are cursing yourself to a life of torment.

Take each project and each artistic endeavor as it's own, individual and distinct work. Art has nothing to live up to. It doesn't need to be compared to another piece of art to be qualified, although sadly, this seems to be what we do anyway.

I think if you leanr to love youself, then you will love your creations, no matter if they are loved by others or not.

GimmeABreak said...

Since I've achieved no lofty heights from which to fall and because I'm already old, everything looks up to me! hehe

Mim said...

You could try to be like Mozart, who composed hundreds of pieces of great music and died in his early thirties.

You could try to be like Beatrix Potter, who didn't achieve success until after both her parents died, when she was in her forties.

Or you can be like yourself, and always do the best you can. In the words of Doc Brown, "If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything."

Mystery Man said...

I think those heights really are attainable and that's exciting to me and also quite terrifying.

Anonymous said...

There was a very interesting article in Wired (here is a link) that discussed this exact topic. The researchers came to the conclusion that there are 2 types of geniuses:

Conceptualists - Many geniuses peak early, creating their masterwork at a tender age ...

Experimentalists - ... while others bloom late, doing their best work after lifelong tinkering.

- Joe

Mim said...

That makes sense. I know some writers who seem to have an instinctive feel for story structure, but they have a hard time applying theory. Everything is from the gut.

Ann Wesley Hardin said...

So many factors have to fall in line at the same time to make a Great Work that it's truly amazing that any get done at all. It helps me to approach it this way.

I'm a late bloomer, and I see my writing getting better -- not the sexual aspect of the writing, but the comedy ;) Maybe the sex will follow? One can only hope. But I digress.

With books I've always had the opinion a writer has one Magnum Opus inside, if he or she is lucky. Most writers don't get two. Harper Lee quit after hers. Was that a giant loss to us? Not sure. But what she *did* give us was so freakin' awesome that multitudes of lives are better because of it. Other examples on my keeper shelf include Lonesome Dove and The World According to Garp.

As far as movies, Coppola was fortunate to have way more than one Magnum Opus, and plenty of arguably lesser, but still outstanding works.

So what's my point? I guess I'm trying to wrap my mind around an artist not being satisfied with one towering achievement. I mean, everyone wants to do more, but plenty don't even get one. Would I be satisfied (many years hence) with my one--if I get it?

As a reader/viewer it doesn't bother me if someone puts out a string of mehs before or after the MO. As long as I have the MO, I'm happy. But then, we're always easier on others than we are ourselves, right?

Mystery Man said...

Joe - Sorry for the delay responding to your comment. I had to read the article! I so thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll have to return to this subject. Thanks so much.

Mim - It really is. Thanks for that.

Ann - That's very true. With respect to Coppola, it's tough. Of course, we'd all take at least one good opus, but this guy has at least 3. So what do you do once you've had your opus(es) but it's in your blood to continue the art? You can't stop doing what you love. It's not healthy to be idle either. But then, to have everything constantly viewed as a disappointment because your new work will never be as good as your opus, that's hard to take over time. It's like the musician who has one runaway hit and that's the only song the audience wants to hear regardless of how many new albums come out. That's the wrong way to think, isn't it? Some people you're willing to take the good with the bad. I will certainly do that with the Coppolas. I love them. Father, daughter, and on rare occasions, I can actually watch Nicolas. I especially love their wine. Oh, baby.

I don't know. I think we should view it as a steady devotion to the craft and just not care. In my latter years, I'd like to be a master at work composing epic works like Tom Stoppard and his Russian Utopian trilogy. I think you just have to keep at it regardless of what they say.

GimmeABreak said...

This may be a little off-topic but I think I enjoyed Captain EO more than any of FFC's other pieces (and the "making of" documentary with FFC and Michael dancing was pretty entertaining). Of course, it's no secret I'm not a big Godfather fan so...

Mim said...

Ann, I must humbly take exception to the implication that The World According to Garp is John Irving's only "Magnum Opus." I found the Cider House Rules a very impressive master-work. His very recent novels have not quite reached the level of "Garp" or "Cider House," but "Son of the Circus" certainly covered a lot of ground, both spiritually and physically.

I think Irving has managed to produce at least two Magnum Opus's (Opeii?) and several other works that do not quite measure up in stature, but that stand quite strongly by themselves on the shelf.

Sorry for the rant. I'm just a huge Irving fan. Can you tell?

Shares Dream World said...

I think M. Night Shamylan(sp?) is heading down that path. The Sixth Sense would be hard for anyone to top.

Ann Wesley Hardin said...

Mim, I can tell ;) As soon as I typed TWATG I thought to myself, but what about the Cider House Rules? So you won't get any argument from me on that one. No matter how you might be itching for one ;)

I also enjoyed Hotel New Hampshire. I still maintain TWATG was the finest, but alot of my reasons for saying that are personal. Garp, To Kill A Mockingbird and Lonesome Dove took me apart and put me back together a changed young woman. Cider House Rules, not so much. Maybe I need to read it again.

Instead of hijacking MM's thread further, I will now go out and get Son of The Circus on your rec. Seems we have similar tastes!

Ann Wesley Hardin said...

But then, to have everything constantly viewed as a disappointment because your new work will never be as good as your opus, that's hard to take over time

Yeah, it would be, MM. I guess it's surprising to hear it come out of a legend's mouth. It sounds like he's humble about his gift and his contributions, as opposed to, say, Picasso. LOL. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. And I totally agree with you on taking anything from any Coppola, with Nicholas being the weakest link in a strong chain. Lost in Translation is one of my favorite films of all time.

Hey, I've got a bottle of their wine on my sideboard (seriously). *Pop* Here's to Magnum Opii!

random8r said...

The trouble with age is that experience comes with it.

With that experience, comes a certain type of knowledge.

When that knowledge comes, because it is *MY* knowledge, I identify with it, and I supply my energy to it.

I call this clinging to the past. How can I provide energy to this moment now if half or more of it is going towards sustaining the past?

People can't synthesize knowledge with energy very well.

The knowledge gained from experience tends to lock the energy into a stale pattern, and the energy dies there - it forms a hard, permanent thing.

This is the problem.

Mystery Man said...

Hey man, thanks for the comment. I completely agree.

It's funny you should say this. Coppola concluded his diary by saying, "I've begun to think that the only sensible way to deal with this dilemma is to become young again, to forget everything I know and try to have the mind of a student. To re-invent myself by forgetting I ever had any film career at all, and instead to dream about having one."