Bloomsbury Academic, 2023. £117.00
It is an exciting time to be interested in the work of Sofia Coppola. Over the past decade or so, scholarship on her films has turned from a trickle into a flood. There are now five monographs, a critical companion, a collection of interviews, dozens of chapters, and countless articles exploring her career. The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola is a testament to this activity, for over half of its twenty-eight contributors have published on Coppola before. In addition to consolidating what has already been written, though, this volume spotlights some of the topics, approaches, and debates that will be at the forefront of Coppola Studies for years to come.
Leading the field is editor Suzanne Ferriss, the author of The Cinema of Sofia Coppola: Fashion, Culture, Celebrity (2021) and of a BFI Films Classics book on Lost in Translation (2023). Ferriss splits The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola into five sections: The Big Screen, Small(er) Screens and Streaming, ‘Coppolism’ (i.e., Coppola’s signature aesthetic), Interpretations, and Reception. As these subheadings suggest, there are chapters here that look beyond Coppola’s achievements in cinema, whether that be in directing music videos for The White Stripes or in creating commercials for Chanel. However, most readers will come to this collection with her feature films in mind, and it is to these that the majority of contributors turn their attention.
Part One, ‘The Big Screen’, offers seven chapters on each of Coppola’s films to date. Highlights here include Nicole Richter’s account of the changing critical response to Marie Antoinette (2006), as well as Maryn Wilkinson’s piece on The Bling Ring (2013). Wilkinson argues that the glossy visual style of this film – which tells the real-life story of a group of teenagers who burgled the homes of celebrities in the late 2000s – emulates the act of skimming through magazines and social media. In turn, the pun on ‘skimming’ as a form of theft implicates the viewer in the criminal activity they see on screen. The sophistication of Wilkinson’s analysis helps to dispel what Katarzyna Paszkiewicz describes as the ‘“surface over substance” metanarrative’[i] in the reception of Coppola’s films; that is, the persistent complaint that they are sumptuous but shallow. Equally effective in this respect is Cameron Beyl’s chapter on Coppola’s cinematography. Examining Coppola’s collaboration with cinematographers Edward Lachman, Lance Accord, Harris Savides, and Philippe Le Sourd, Beyl unpicks just how thoughtfully composed her work is. In other words, Coppola’s camera is never pretty for pretty’s sake: the exquisite precision of her films always serves a deeper narrative or thematic purpose, hidden just below the surface.
The positive tone of these chapters is indicative of the collection’s broadly celebratory approach. There are some instances of criticism, though, such as Caryn Simonson’s remarks on how Coppola’s fashion campaigns shore up exclusionary ideals of white womanhood. The most sustained critique in this vein is Jamie Ann Rogers’ chapter on race and class in Coppola’s films. Responding to Anna Backman Rogers’ suggestion that Coppola’s oeuvre articulates a radical form of feminism,[ii] she argues that her films in fact ‘minimize the particularity of patriarchy as a race- and class-based system and ultimately produce a white feminist worldview that serves the very system it aims to subvert’.[iii] Ann Rogers does not set out to refute Coppola’s feminist subversions of patriarchal imagery, which she describes as a form of ‘political genius’,[iv] but rather to embed them within intersectional frameworks that the director often struggles to perceive.
If the first wave of Coppola scholarship has been concerned with explicating her genius, then critiques such as Ann Rogers’s help to widen the scope of the field. So, too, do readings that place her creative practice in broader cultural contexts, such as Lawrence Webb’s chapter on Coppola and curatorship. Drawing on David Balzer’s book Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else (2014), Webb argues that Coppola’s ‘films are offered to the viewer as curated texts that can be disassembled into a series of intertextual references, stylistic choices, and commodity objects’.[v] As such, her curatorial aesthetic not only accords with the kind of online personalisation one finds on Facebook or Pinterest, but with a neoliberal emphasis on individual self-fashioning.
Critique and context, then, are arguably the most productive areas for future Coppola scholars to explore. While The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola gestures in these directions, the volume’s main strengths lie in its comprehensive overview of where the field currently stands. Without a doubt, Coppola Studies is now fully in its stride, and with a biopic on Priscilla Presley on the horizon, as well as an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, there is plenty of new material to look forward too. The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola is an indispensable reference point not only for those who are interested in Coppola’s previous achievements, but for anyone who is excited to see what she does next.
[i] Katarzyna Paszkiewicz, ‘Critical Reception: “All That Style Overwhelms the Substance”: The Critical Reception of Sofia Coppola’s Work’, in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola, ed. Suzanne Ferris (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), 385-402, 386.
[ii] Anna Backman Rogers, Sofia Coppola: The Politics of Visual Pleasure (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2019).
[iii] Jamie Ann Rogers, ‘Race and Class: Making Whiteness: The Absent Present of Race and Class in Sofia Coppola’s Feature Films’, in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola, ed. Suzanne Ferris (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), 338-354, 352.
[iv] Ibid., 352.
[v] Lawrence Webb, ‘Curation: Sofia Coppola: The Auteur as Curator’, The Bloomsbury Handbook to Sofia Coppola, ed. Suzanne Ferris (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), 289-303, 289.