Friday, May 23, 2008

Eleanor Coppola - Notes on a Life


Date: May 19, 2008

Author: Eleanor Coppola

Book: Notes on a Life

Host: Bobbi Emel

One would surmise that the matriarch of the film-making Coppola family might be flamboyant, commanding, larger-than-life. However, an occurrence after the event more accurately describes Eleanor Coppola: I offered her a gift book from Kepler's to thank her for coming to our store. "Oh," she said, genuinely pleased and surprised, "how nice!" She then went over to the bargain table, picked up a $12.99 book on photographer Ruth Berhard, and asked tentatively, "Is this too much?"

Mrs. Coppola arrived 20 minutes early to the event and, after looking around the store and commenting, "I've often heard of Kepler's! This is my first time here and I love it - it has a good feel to it," we went into the staff room to chat. She is a very quiet, reserved woman, with the centered energy of one who is an observer of life. Not a passive observer, but one with a keen eye for the art and passion of life. We talked about losing loved ones to death - she, her son in 1986, and I, my partner in 2004 - and what a profound experience it is. Now 72 years old, she told me, "The most important things in life are being grateful and forgiving everyone. Of course, you have to be older before you understand that."

During the event, she read some selections from her book which, to me, is like a meditation: Mrs. Coppola observes moments in her life, expresses them with beautiful, compelling writing, then lets the moment go. She read pieces about a conceptual art event she and a friend staged at her house in the 70's ("Francis thought I was making fun of his Oscars and our house... he thought conceptual art was too easy,") and a current art installation that is a participatory experience for parents who have lost children to death ("We six collaborators were there waiting for him [Francis] to give his critique. He was silent. I looked over and saw a tear roll down his cheek. He said quietly, 'It works.'")

The small audience was charmed by "the hidden Coppola," as she has been called. They asked questions about her documentaries, her costume designing, and a few about her relationship with Francis (Question: "Did you ever feel the need to compete with Francis?" Answer: "No. We're two very different people, with different artistic styles. Francis is big and operatic and my work is more about my observations.")

She signed books and kindly answered more questions from customers. I think we all felt privileged to meet such a lovely, remarkable woman.

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