It was my birthday yesterday, and — as I learned in the afternoon — it was also the birthday of the late Carmine Coppola, music composer and father of director Francis Ford Coppola.
On his birthday, Carmine (1910-1991) used to take his family to Coney Island every year. It was always a happy day. So Francis used the day to stage an outdoor Italian “festa” in Brooklyn. The occasion was to announce the October 9, 2001 release of The Godfather movies on DVD in a lavish set from Paramount Home Video. He also wanted to show off his new pasta factory at the edge of Park Slope.
A nice birthday present, for Carmine, and for me.
But first, even bigger news. For years Francis Ford Coppola has owned the rights to Jack Kerouac’s beat classic, On the Road. Now — after much wrangling to get everything right — the most important novel of a generation is about to be translated into film.
This is of the same magnitude as if The Catcher in the Rye or A Confederacy of Dunces finally made the journey to celluloid.
Coppola confirmed for me yesterday that Joel Schumacher has been set as director, and that novelist Russell Banks’s screenplay looks good. What Coppola could not confirm, but seems to be the buzz, is the casting.
According to sources knowledgeable about the Kerouac estate’s doings, two actors have settled into the primary roles. If all goes to plan, look for Billy Crudup as Kerouac and Brad Pitt as Dean Moriarity, the character based on Neal Cassady.
Maybe it’s too good to be true. It sounds it. But when I asked Coppola about the casting all he could say was, “I don’t know who Joel has in mind yet.”
Schumacher is an interesting and inspired choice for On the Road, especially after making Tigerland. He excels at male friendships, and is equally good at moving large ensembles of young people around. While Tigerland showed his talents lay in things other than John Grisham novels, On the Road could at last be the film that lands him award status and critical acclaim.
Kerouac is suddenly quite a bit in the news lately. In late June, acclaimed writer Joyce Johnson will workshop a play based on her book of letters with Kerouac called Door Wide Open. Tony Torn, son of Rip Torn and the late Geraldine Page, will direct. John Ventimiglia, of The Sopranos, will play Kerouac. Actress Amy Wright, Rip’s wife, will do the honors as the grown-up Wright reminiscing about the writer. I’m told the script is like butter, and that investors should be lining up to write checks.
Meanwhile, among the zeppole and Ciao Bella gelato, Francis Coppola came to announce the DVD version of The Godfather.
The three films, plus a disk of outtakes, interviews, commentary and a documentary, will hit stores on October 9. Paramount Home Video is going to make this the biggest DVD release ever — or die trying.
Among the Coppola fans who came to pay their respects during this unusual and clever afternoon outing: Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior from The Sopranos and Johnny Ola in The Godfather: Part II; newly slimmed-down New York restaurant star Drew Nieporent, of Nobu and Tribeca Grill fame; and legendary documentary maker Albert Maysles, who was hoping to include Coppola in a series he’s doing for the Independent Film Channel.
(Paramount publicists, not knowing who the director of Grey Gardens was and presumably not caring, did all they could to block Maysles’ access. I dare some movie publicists to start learning about the business they’re in and stop acting like they’re controlling attendance at a high school dance.)
Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, was on hand as well. He introduced her as “my first wife.” They’ve been together through thick and thin, as described in Eleanor’s book, Notes (about the making of Apocalypse Now), for 35 years, give or take.
Coppola addressed a question from one Italian journalist about his countrymen always being depicted as criminals.
“I think over the years The Godfather has outgrown the stigma of gangsters. I think people realize today that Italians are good anything they do including being gangsters.” He also told Fox News’s Bill McCuddy, who was in the invited audience, “There will be no more Godfather movies. Period.”
Coppola also told me later by the way how pleased he was by the reaction to the updated Apocalypse Now which wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
“You never know when people are going to respond to something. It was really (well) received. It was ahead of its time.”
Just a quick reminder that Alicia Keys’s debut album on J Records, Songs in A Minor, is being released today. This is the most dynamic and astounding debut in pop music since, since I don’t know when. Certainly with potential to be bigger than Macy Gray or Erykah Badu, Keys is a monster talent with looks, a voice, and musical chops.
“Girlfriend” is being played on the radio now, but there are singles galore including “Fallen,” which is destined to be at the top of the charts for some time. Keys makes her debut on Oprah on June 21 and on The Tonight Show a night or two later. And then the cat will be out of the bag, as they used to say.
Ironically, Keys was a 16-year-old artist at Sony Music four years ago when she was dropped from Columbia Records. The head of black music, Michael Mauldin, caught up with her again when she landed at Arista Records. He became her manager after leaving Sony.
When Clive Davis was forced out of Arista, Keys was one of the artists he picked to go with him to J. Now Mauldin — who was dumped by Sony — is about to have a huge success with a former Sony singer. (Mauldin is also the father of rap impresario Jermaine Dupri.)
The record business is really a roulette wheel, isn’t it? And right now, Alicia Keys is about to win big. Really big. Run, don’t just walk, to pick her album this week at your local record store. You will not be disappointed.