The Oscar-winning director spoke with Document about the Criterion Collection release of her debut film.
This past week, a small throng of fans quietly queued outside of Bookmarc in New York City’s West Village to come face-to-face with Sofia Coppola, the cinematic master of femininity and all of its intrinsic qualities across the many stages of life. Coppola, herself, was likely the average age of the fans waiting to enter Marc Jacobs’s boutique book shop, when her directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999. At the time, the 28-year-old’s soft-focus rendering of Jeffery Eugenides’s novel was a sleeper hit. Understatement, you could say, has become a steady hallmark of Coppola’s surprise career (with the exception of the cake-flinging Marie Antoinette, of course), which on this blustery Spring day was receiving another critical plaudit in the form of Criterion Collection’s rerelease of The Virgin Suicides, nearly 20 years after its initial release. Coppola spoke with Document in the corner of the quickly-crowding boutique, as waiters filled glass flutes of champagne and copies of the new Criterion DVD were distributed to guests hunting for Coppola’s autograph. We asked the 46-year-old Coppola to revisit her film, which she herself has called an exploration of “memory and distance,” as well as the efforts behind reissuing the film to a whole new generation of viewers. “I was never planning on a career as a director,” she said. “I just loved the book and wanted to develop a film out of it. When it finally came out at Cannes, I knew it wasn’t a disaster. After that I was hooked. I knew how to make a movie now.”
On putting together the Criterion Collection release and enjoying the film with some distance.
I hadn’t watched it in a long time, since the premiere maybe, until a screening of it two years ago, and I appreciated it. It wasn’t like I was embarrassed. It’s always fun to see Trip Fontaine make his entrance. Little moments like that I can still enjoy, but you see the awkwardness, too. It was nice that I could enjoy it with some distance. I gave Criterion boxes of polaroids from that time, but I couldn’t look at them. I am happy that they get to live on.
Editing the release was sweet because I got to see Kirsten and Josh [Hartnett]. Ed Lachman [the Director of Photography] came by. We got to remember that time together—or they did at least. Kristin mentions my brother [Roman Coppola] in her portion of the making of. And as it turned out, I had completely forgotten that he had worked on the film.
On having her mom, Eleanor Coppola, on the set of her first production, filming a behind the scenes documentary.
I remember times where I was so tired and so upset and annoyed that she was filming me. She’d tell me that these were the “real moment’s that people have to see.” [Laughs] I’m glad that she got all that, even though it was mostly unflattering and usually upsetting. Still, she was the family documentarian, so to speak, having shot the “Apocalypse Now” documentary [Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse]. But there were some moments when I was fed up.
On Virgin Suicides being discovered by a new generation of girls long after its release.
I was really surprised because when it came out it in 1999 it wasn’t widely released in the U.S. It didn’t have much of a life. But then, a few years ago, a friend’s teenage daughter told me how much they loved it. This kept happening, more and more girls kept approaching me about the film. I think in some part this was because Tavi Gevinson wrote about it in Rookie, but it was so surprising because the movie had came out before they were born. I think it’s the aesthetic of the film that speaks to them. I had imagined the film in a palette that was like a memory, a dreamy atmosphere, faded snapshots and photographs. And then, I think the film portrays a certain type of girlhood that is universal.
On the influences that guided the writing and production of the film.
I take a lot of reference from photography for the shots. So mostly photo books and music. I randomly bought the first Air album when I wrote the script [1997’s Premiers Symptômes]. I hadn’t known about them before then, but I listened to the record while I was writing the script. It helped me finish the film, actually. So I thought, “This really fits,” and then I decided to approach them to work on the soundtrack.