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The Odd Coppola

Roman has given music videos like ”Peaches” their punch

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Roman Coppola’s debut in show business was, well, not exactly peachy. Back in 1974, the then-eight-year-old son of director Francis Ford Coppola appeared in his father’s The Godfather, Part 2 as the young Sonny Corleone. ”We had to curl his hair every morning,” remembers the elder Coppola, ”which he hated.”

Now 30, Roman, like Sonny, has gone into the family business — as a rising music-video director with a twisted sensibility. The straight-haired scion’s latest masterpiece: the Presidents of the United States’ ”Peaches” video, a whimsical clip that starts as a lip-synching sleeper only to do a bizarre 180 when black-clad ninjas materialize and begin to kickbox with the band. ”The idea just popped into my head,” says Coppola, a fan of kung fu movies. ”There’s a recipe a lot of videos fall into, and it’s pretty tired. I wanted to tear away from that.”

Unlike younger sister Sofia, whose acting bid (in The Godfather 3) was bludgeoned by the critics, Roman knew early on he belonged behind the camera. At 17, he worked sound on The Black Stallion Returns; since then he has produced low-budget films (including 1991’s kitschy The Spirit of 76) and was second unit director on his father’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But so far, it’s the music videos that have turned heads. Ninjas aside, Coppola directed the Presidents’ surreal breakthrough video, ”Lump”; the Rentals’ ”I’m Waiting”; and upcoming clips for SoHo glam-rockers Nancy Boy and Japanese hipsters Cibo Matto. Coppola also made a frothy, never-aired reel for the Sheryl Crow hit ”All I Wanna Do,” in which she zooms around L.A. in a bumper car. ”I heard [Crow’s label] thought she looked too cute,” he says. ”I was surprised.”

But nobody is surprised by the young director’s career choice. ”As I think some philosopher said, the son is the arrow and the father is the bow,” muses the senior Coppola, who admits to exercising restraint in imparting paternal wisdom. ”He’s been in it long enough to give me advice,” he says. For his part, Roman wouldn’t mind a resume like his dad’s. ”He’s done a musical, a horror movie, a gangster movie, a war movie. That kind of diversity appeals to me.”

Though the Coppola legacy looms large, it doesn’t hang too heavily over Roman’s video sets. ”I think it came up one time,” remembers Presidents lead man Chris Ballew. ”Someone said, ‘I love the smell of peaches in the morning’ — or something like that.”