For a director to stand out today with the abundance of movies coming out they must be unique. A director utilises many skills to produce and promote a movie which becomes associated with them, and becomes their authorship.
Sofia Coppola is an American screenwriter, director and producer. Her father is Francis Ford Coppola, also a well-known director for films such as The Godfather. Sophia has a distinct authorship which focuses around the intriguing concepts of her movies and how she portrays this visually. I will be depicting how Sophia’s authorship is constructed using her most popular movies lost in translation and virgin suicides.
Lost in translation starred Bill Murray as a faded movie star and Scarlett Johansson as a neglected young woman, as they go onto form an unlikely bond in Tokyo. Virgin suicides is about group of male friends who become obsessed with five sisters who are sheltered by their strict parents. Just from these descriptions you may think there seems not a lot of depth to the story’s and this is correct, these films are more a visual experience than story driven movies. This has become prominent with Sophia’s movies being stated to put ’emphasis on style rather than content’ Belinda Smaill(2013)however the content of the movies does follow a running trend with serious topics such as adolescence and coming of age in virgin suicides, or isolation is lost in translation. This is part of Sofia’s authorship. She seems drawn to stories centred on characters longing for a sense of acceptance and need for emotional stability during difficult transitions in their lives.
Sophia uses the visuals to highlight these key issues. In lost in translation the key theme is isolation and she utilise balance to portray this. When bob and charlotte both arrive in Tokyo they feel isolated, lost in this city. Visually this can be seen in several shots where bob and charlotte take up one side of the frame without any counterbalance. The two that stood out to me is when bob arrives in the taxi with himself shrouded in darkness on the left whilst the bright lights of Tokyo is on the right. Another is when charlotte is confined in her hotel room with her dark silhouette on the right looking out into the day time of Tokyo on the left. Tokyo becomes a visual representation of their emotional states as tokyo is constantly lit and booming with colour, while the main characters are more concealed in the shadows symbolizing their loneliness and detachment from the outside world. As the story progresses and they start to balance each other out which is also represented in a more balanced composition such as one of the final scenes where bob is playing golf with a constant lighting, showing charlotte lasting effect on him.
There are numerous other ways Coppola shows this. Firstly, she makes use of wide shots, for example when Bob is sitting alone in his hotel room. This emphasises his loneliness by drawing attention to the empty space around him. The frame remains static, symbolising how his life is at a standstill. By pausing at this moment Coppola provokes the viewer to consider his sad situation and evokes pity. Out of focus shots is another stylistic choice showing a disconnect from the characters towards the outside world. Lastly, Coppola employs hand held camera work for when Bob and Charlotte are outside the hotel together. These shots have a more varied colour palette and signal a change in mood within the characters as they start to help each other and impact positively upon one another’s lives. This contrasts greatly with the scenes from within the hotel room, where there is static shots and monotone colour showing the characters internal feelings of imprisonment and being stuck in their lives.
A key theme in the virgin suicides is adolescence and idealism. Again, Coppolla utilises lighting to portray the girl’s youthful optimism. When we first meet the five sisters it’s through sun-soaked lenses, with sunshine reflecting onto the camera. The girls, all with beach blonde hair, look the epitome of youth supported with a comic style face of their names on screen. The summer time in which the scene is set, has connotations with vitality and youthfulness. There is a abrupt scene change to a darkened scene of one of the sisters after a suicide attempt. The scene cut evokes shock within the reader and within the reader and heightens the gravity of what has happened. The darkness of the shot with her in the bath, in stark contrast with the warmth and brightness of the prior scenes, set an ominous mood and conveys the vulnerability of the girl. The camera angle is Birdseye which has the effect of making the bathtub appear like a coffin foreshadowing future events and emphasises her powerless in the face of her dire situation.
Additionally, Coppola uses music, or lack of, throughout the film to dictate and reflect the characters mood. The significance of silence can be seen in moments where the characters reflect and enjoy each other’s presence. Ceremoniously, in the final scene of lost in translation, Bob and charlotte’s final exchange is silent, giving the audience time to reflect on the journey the characters have been on throughout their relationship and perhaps on how far they have come since the beginning scenes. Words are no longer required to convey what they have both mutually gained from their friendship, as despite the magnitude of people surrounding them, the shot focuses intently on their embrace. This is also seen in the virgin suicides, as previously mentioned, throughout the beginning scenes with sun accompanied by music ‘virgin suicides by air’. The music abruptly stops reflecting the mood in the scene, with echoing silence as the audience witness one of the sisters floating in the bathtub, having attempted suicide. The use of music may lead the audience to question why a young middle-class girl of her stature may try to take her own life, foreshadowing the plot of the movie.
Sophia clearly has a focus on women in a situation. Charlotte going through loneliness, the sisters going through love. Both movies start with the perfect imagine of femininity in the virgin suicide we see lux with her beach blonde hair and red lips and in lost in translation we are shown charlotte behind in lingerie however these original images soon breakdown as the movies progress. A reason for this could be because she is a pioneer film maker therefore received a lot of prejudice in the industry therefore focuses on women. She was also a child actor in god father 3 in which she was critically bashed therefore decided to make a coming of age movie. Also as her dad is successful there is less pressure on her movies succeeding therefore decides to take a stand and speak out for women. Lonliness could be attributed to her dad always away making movies. Belinda smaill said the movies ‘are extensions of themselves’ supporting this idea.
The last recurring thing in her authorial signature is the movies names. Both lost in translation and virgin suicides have ulterior meanings. Lost in translation could mean literally they are lost in translation due to the language barrier of being in japan however it takes on a deeper meaning when we watch the movie. We can see both Bob and Charlotte struggle to communicate with others regardless of language this is perpetuated as they often communicate through notes even though they can both speak English. In virgin suicide the virgin is meant to signify youth not virginity. This is evident how even though lux partook in sexual activity she was still deemed to have die with her innocence.
Coppolas features of authorship are by herself and critics. In Spring 2013 profile of her in the DGA Quarterly she stated, “I don’t make the kind of movies that lend themselves to wide releases.” This is evident in her unique authorship. Belinda Smaill in her article feminist media studies(2013) p.150 said Coppola centres on the ”look of the film rather than the story and David Roony in his article in variety (2008) said lost in translation’s ”very much a mood piece”. I believe this is the fundamentals of her authorship. Visually stunning movies with character.
To conclude I believe Sophias authorship is constructered by numerous tools such as wide shots, flared lens. To create visually stunning emotional movies about topics Belinda is clearly passionate about and in her profile in DGA Quarterly ”don’t lend themselves to wide release”.