Black Collar Workers


  • Axl Rosenberg


In a lot of ways, Francis Ford Coppola is to cinema as Metallica are to metal. He directed four incredible movies (the first two Godfather films, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now), all of which still hold up as examples of the craft at its finest, and then he devolved into self-parody. (The Godfather: Part III is pretty much his version of “The Unforgiven IV,” and if you don’t remember Jack, consider yourself lucky.) He basically sired one of Hollywood’s royal families (His children, Sofia and Roman, are also film directors, and his nephew is Nicolas Cage, who changed his last name in an effort to achieve success based on his own merits), and these days, Coppola makes his money via his winery (I’ve had some of his wines, they’re actually quite good!), and then self-funds small, personal art films, like 2007’s Youth Without Youth and 2009’s Tetro. These movies generally open to middling reviews and are seen by an audience of about ten people, but it doesn’t really matter, because Coppola is doing what he wants and he seems happy.

Why am I rambling on about this dude? Because he recently gave an interview to The 99 Percent in which he basically advocates illegal downloading, and the concept of the artist as an unpaid worker:

“You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

“This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

“In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, ‘Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.’ Because there are ways around it.”

Coppolla’s point is valid; as Vince just argued while we were discussing this article, the concept of “artists making money is [relatively new] compared to the entire history of humankind, where this was not the case,” and “Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were all poor as fuck.” Or, as he later said more succinctly: “People will make art if they’re inspired to.”

But, just for the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I have two counter-arguments to this assertion:

  • Tradition is not always a good thing. We didn’t have modern medicines for millions of years, but that doesn’t mean that we should all buckle down and get ready for a world without penicillin. I know this is an extreme example, but hopefully you see my point.
  • Artists who make a living from their art will have more time to make more art. Obviously, this isn’t ALWAYS a good thing — Metallica sucks now, but Pig Destroyer, the members of which all make their livings via other outlets, continue to stick the landing with each and every release — but I’d rather have Misha Mansoor in a studio (or his bedroom, such as the case may be) making music than going “Ah, I’m too tired” after a day of sitting in a cubicle or whatever. (On a semi-related note, our friend Eyal Levi also discussed this idea at some length in the past, asserting that one can make his or her living from music without actually being the person making the music — which, as I understand it, is actually how most of the members of Daath survive.)

Gizmodo, who first directed us towards the interview, also make a great point when they remind us that it’s easy for Coppola “to take such a radical stance” since  he  “has already found great success in and out of the Hollywood system.” In other words — people who have money are less likely to care about money. I’m sure Coppola is intimately involved in the ins and outs of his wine business, but I’m also sure he has a large staff who can attend to that business when he has to disappear for six months to make his latest film.

But debating this subject might be squabbling over a moot point — illegal downloading obviously isn’t going anywhere, and artists might have no choice but to return to their penniless days of yore soon.

Still, y’all should duke it out in the comments section — I’m curious to see what you folks think.

And in the meantime, I leave you with this photo of Coppola during one of the many, many stressful days on the set of Apocalypse Now (captured brilliantly by the documentary Hearts of Darkness, which is almost as good as Apocalypse itself), just because I like it, and I think it’s pretty metal:



Thanks: Brian

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