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Sofia Coppola, from Archive (MACK, 2023)Courtesy of the artist and MACK

Sofia Coppola: what do we learn from her new book?

Spanning the length of her career so far, Sofia Coppola: Archive offers a rare insight into the filmmaker’s creative practice – here, we share some of the essential takeaways

The name Sofia Coppola has become synonymous with a certain aesthetic: think soft pastels, waifish white blondes in prairie dresses, and Hollywood cool undercut with an unbothered elegance. From her 1999 debut The Virgin Suicides through to the forthcoming Priscilla, she’s arguably one of the few nepo babies that has more than earned their own seat at the table, creating a distinct body of work that reflects our global obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity and power. Considering the visual strength of Coppola’s filmography – and her interest in photography that developed under the guidance of artist Paul Jasmin – it’s about time that she released a book affording fans a glimpse into her gilded world. “I hope you enjoy this scrapbook of my film work and find it helpful to see how these projects come together,” she says in a prologue note. For those of us who grew up reblogging artful photos of Kirsten Dunst, it’s an absolute dream. 

Sofia Coppola: Archive (MACK) is a dense tome, spanning the length of her career so far. The eight chapters are marked by baby pink dividers, delineating each of her feature films. This is the first time that Coppola has provided such an extensive look at her creative process; the result is a beautifully selected arrangement of images that provide an insight into how her films come together, and how her style has developed over the course of almost a quarter-century in filmmaking.

An interview between Coppola and her friend Lynn Hirschberg (veteran journalist and Editor-at-Large for W Magazine) precedes the bulk of the content, which offers some interesting details about her transition from unfocused Fine Art student into the visually-oriented artist beloved today. She reflects on the experience of seeing Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire before she would go on to work with her on The Virgin Suicides, and the fact she has included a Phoenix song (the band fronted by her husband Thomas Mars) in each of her films since Marie Antoinette “for good luck”. It’s a rather general but sweet look at the self-proclaimed shy artist; there’s no self-aggrandising here. Coppola has always seemed happy to let her images do the talking. 

Those familiar with Coppola’s oeuvre will likely recognise some of the images that appear in Archive, but there’s something deeply pleasurable about seeing an artist’s work through their own eyes. In the chapter on The Virgin Suicides, Coppola includes a letter that she received from the book’s author, Jeffrey Eugenides, where he apologises for a previous correspondence, and expresses his surprise at how quickly the project has come together. This stands out from the more familiar (though admittedly still gorgeous) images of the cast on-set – it’s a rare insight into the production process behind Coppola’s debut film, and the push-and-pull that can exist when an author’s work is adapted for the screen (Eugenides has previously reflected on what he would have done differently to Coppola). 

Other tidbits from the opening chapter include a draft copy of the doodled title card that has become iconic, and scanned pages from Coppola’s shooting script, complete with post-its and notes about elm trees for the set. Then there are some excellent on-set photos – a highlight is a lacy pink bra hanging from a crucifix – some of which are accompanied by Coppola’s captions. Referring to a photograph of her behind the camera, wearing a short pink dress and slides, she says: “I was determined to still be feminine while directing. [...] I was trying to rebel against the norm of set fashion.” Considering the cult that has developed around filmmaker style, it’s no surprise that Coppola was ahead of the curve.

“Suburbia always seemed fun and exotic to me,” Coppola says in another caption, this time speaking about a reference image from Bill Owens’ Suburbia photo series. Her fascination with this quintessential American phenomenon is absolutely reflected in the stifling melancholy of The Virgin Suicides, but also in The Bling Ring, where suburbia is a prison for affluent teenagers who would rather be partying like Paris Hilton. This is where the book takes a turn for the garishly millennial, as it captures the spirit of the 2008-09 break-ins – complete with rhinestone clapperboard. It’s interesting to note how closely Coppola’s mood boards and inspiration photos match the finished result; magazine cut-outs of Angelina Jolie and pap shots of Robert Pattinson point to the celeb-obsessed culture that both fascinated and repulsed Coppola, leading her to make her unfairly maligned film about disaffected adolescents who had it all and still wanted more.

The details that Coppola includes beyond photos prove revealing too; in her section about father-daughter caper On the Rocks, she shows a note her own father sent her, along with a cutting of a positive review of the film from the San Francisco Examiner. It’s no secret that the Coppolas are a tight-knit bunch – there are plenty of photos of her parents and brother on set throughout the book – but there’s something particularly sweet about the idea of Sofia Coppola being sent a nice review of her film by her dad. 

Another interesting detail: a list of questions Coppola drafted when working with Priscilla Presley to adapt her memoir, Elvis & Me, into Priscilla. She wonders who Priscilla’s friends were, and if they ever had time alone together during his military posting in Germany. Subsequent pages display dozens of on-set polaroids and interior details from the recreation of Graceland that was created on a Toronto soundstage. 

Each chapter of Archive feels like you’re stepping into a different world. Although the text throughout the book is sparing, Coppola’s inclusion of behind-the-scenes photography mixed with mood boards, reference photos, fabric swatches and shot lists show the attention to detail that goes into creating each of her films. 

It’s this abundance of thought and care that has made Sofia Coppola such an enduring and interesting filmmaker. Good taste alone isn’t enough to make a film; one must also possess the diligence and curiosity to see it through. For lovers of her films, or aspiring artists looking for inspiration when it comes to the curation and collation of references and information, Archive is a peek behind the curtain into the stylish world of Coppola – and the sheer amount of effort it takes to look so perfectly effortless.

Sofia Coppola: Archive is out now on MACK books

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