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Operation Babylift.

From 1968-1975 “Operation Babylift” took place in Vietnam. Thousands of orphans were evacuated to safety and homes in the U.S. and other countries. The last babylift took place twenty-five years ago in the waning days of the war. A discussion about the effort with: Sister Mary Nelle Gage who took part in the airlifts from 1973 to February 1975. Now she organizes gatherings of those adoptees in the U.S. We also hear from two former orphans: Zachery Hill who is now 26. He was adopted by a family in Atlanta, and Fredo Sieck who is also 26. He is one of few survivors from one of the planes that crashed in 1975. He was adopted by an American family and grew up in Indianapolis.

22:06

Other segments from the episode on April 27, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 27, 2000: Interview with Mary Nelle Gage, Zachery Hill, and Fredo Sieck; Interview with Sofia Coppola; Review of the album "The Voice of the Poet."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Remembering Operation Babylift
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, GUEST HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, this is FRESH AIR.

I'm Renee Montagne, filling in for Terry Gross.

Hundreds of orphans were airlifted out of Saigon in the waning days of the Vietnam War. On today's FRESH AIR, we remember the effort, known as Operation Babylift, with Sister Mary Nelle Gage, who helped organize it. Now she arranges trips back to Vietnam for former orphans. And we'll meet two of those children who were adopted in the U.S.

Also, Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, is following in the footsteps of her famous father. She's directed the new film "The Virgin Suicides."

And classical music critic and poet Lloyd Schwartz reviews "The Voice of the Poet," a collection of poets reading their work.

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First, the news.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Renee Montagne.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon to communist forces and the end of the Vietnam War. In those final chaotic days, the U.S. mounted Operation Babylift to bring out orphans. Many were the offspring of American or South Vietnamese soldiers. Others were abandoned because they were born sick or disabled.

In a few minutes, we'll meet two of those babies, now grown up. My first guest is Sister Mary Nelle Gage. She just returned from a trip back to Vietnam with a group of the orphans from Operation Babylift. Sister Mary Nelle first went to Vietnam in 1973. Two years later, she returned to the U.S. to raise funds for the orphans. And in April of 1975, while she was still in the States, the Vietcong unexpectedly swept south toward Saigon.

Vietnamese who had worked with the Americans were desperate to get out. Sister Mary Nelle says the nurses and caretakers who cared for the babies were in a panic.

SISTER MARY NELLE GAGE, OPERATION BABYLIFT: Coupled with the idea that there simply were not the number of commercial aircraft coming in and going out with seats, nor did we have escorts by the old rules, five children per escort for Air France and three children per escort for Pan Am. And there just wasn't any way that we were going to be able to get, you know, 400 children out like that.

And so then what do you do? And you certainly can't go off and leave them.

MONTAGNE: I can understand the panic of the people that worked with you in the orphanages, because in a sense they had collaborated, if you wanted to look at it like that, with the enemy. And so as the North Vietnamese came down, they would be very vulnerable.

But what -- these little babies, wouldn't they have been embraced by the larger Vietnamese society, or the government? I mean, they -- wouldn't they have been viewed as innocent?

GAGE: Probably full Vietnamese would. But in view of the rumors that were rampant about persons, as you say, collaborating, then anyone who was mixed race would surely be a target. At least that was the thinking at that time.

But really, more than that, you cannot walk away and leave a 4-month-old child in a crib uncared for. I mean, that's just marking the child for death. And there simply weren't enough people who were saying, Oh, you know, I want to take this child or these children or all the 33 children in this room home with me. They were panicked for their own situation. What's going to happen? How will I survive? Much less about trying to take care of an armload or a roomload of babies.

MONTAGNE: There you were, the normal rules didn't apply. You couldn't have just put these babies on Pan American Airline flights out, and you were -- everyone was taken by surprise by the situation. What then did happen?

GAGE: Then one of our staff members began negotiating with Ed Daley (ph), the president of World Airways at that time, about chartering aircraft in order to move children en masse. And at the same time, working with the government of South Vietnam to obtain a laisser passer, so that those children who did not yet have a Vietnamese passport and exit visa could depart legally.

So, you know, those two things were happening simultaneously. And also then, on the West Coast, one of the women who had volunteered with us for years to receive children as they arrived on the West Coast was negotiating to try to find a situation in which the children then could come before they would be moved to adoptive parents.

MONTAGNE: Did the panic increase? I mean, that you wouldn't have known that Saigon was going to fall on the 29th, but did you know?

GAGE: No way, absolutely, because I remember talking to our Sister Susan Carol (ph), who was still there, and asking -- families had called asking about their particular children. And I was asking about those children. And some of them were in hospitals there in Saigon. And Susan saying -- and I -- still I have chills all over my body when she said, "If we have time to stop and get them, we will."

And so it -- you know, it's like that became very real to me, that if they can depart and if they have an opportunity to stop at the hospital and pick up the child, the child will come. But it was totally an unknown throughout the month of April, really.

MONTAGNE: Right. Did children get left behind?

GAGE: No. Not from -- the -- all of the children under our care departed who were adoptable. And there were some children whose welfare we entrusted to some Vietnamese sisters. Only a very few, but those who would be staying, and children who would not have been able to be adoptable stayed. But those were very few.

MONTAGNE: There was a terrible moment right in the middle of all of this when a plane filled with babies crashed.

GAGE: It's the C-5A.

MONTAGNE: I'll let you just tell us that if you wouldn't mind.

GAGE: Well, the aircraft had come in carrying military equipment for the South Vietnamese military, and then had also brought, my understanding is, that had brought some volunteer dependents from Clark in the Philippines to Saigon to serve as escorts for the large number of orphans who would be leaving Vietnam.

And we had just a matter of a few hours' notice when USAID called and informed our director that the C-5 would be arriving, and that it was authorized for 300 children, and the buses would be coming at X time to pick up the children. And so, you know, quick organization was required in order to get the children and the formula and the clothes and so on together. Plus, we were using that opportunity to send one of our chief staff members with documents for a large number of children in the facilities out.

And so Margaret left with folders of papers, and children were transported out to Tan Son Hut (ph), and loaded onto the aircraft. Older children in the cargo bay area, particularly because there -- you know, there was no support for babies who could not sit up alone, and the babies up in the area behind the cockpit that had a number of seats with seat belts.

MONTAGNE: But that plane crashed, and about 100 children were killed.

GAGE: Seventy-six of our children died, and six of our staff. We had lost staff who were our friends, who were our loved ones, who were so terribly capable. We lost these babies whom -- for whom we had had great hope and great love. And then, of course, from a very practical standpoint, the documents for children who survived as well as those children who were killed were also destroyed.

So from that standpoint, a very tremendous setback. In fact, you know, I suppose people from the outside who were looking at us, you know, really like walking zombies. We really could not absorb the shock and the horror and the sadness.

MONTAGNE: My guest is Sister Mary Nelle Gage. We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: My guest is Sister Mary Nelle Gage. Twenty-five years ago, she worked on Operation Babylift to get Vietnamese babies out of then-Saigon. Earlier this month, she took a group of those kids back for a visit.

Why, Sister Mary Nelle Gage, did you all decide to begin taking these young people back now in this last couple of years?

GAGE: Within the last about 10 years, many of the young people have begun asking questions about their background. What happened to me? Where was I? What was it like? Who cared for me? And so we can do that in a setting here, in terms of describing to them about what the time was like and their orphanages and their nurseries and the street scenes and so on.

But then when it becomes possible for them to actually stand there on the steps of their nursery or walk through the rooms of their orphanage or go to the hospital and actually go into the delivery room where they were born, it's an opportunity for them to come as close to their birth as possible, and to smell the smells and feel the air and see the people where they were.

I think that that's very important in their coming to terms with who they are and the experience out of which they were born.

MONTAGNE: Two of those children who were taken out of Vietnam and adopted here in America through Operation Babylift are with us. Zachery Hill is in Atlanta. Fredo Sieck is in Boston. Hello.

ZACHERY HILL: Hello.

FREDO SIECK: Hello, how are you doing?

MONTAGNE: Hi. You both have just returned from -- now, was it your first trip, both of you, your first trips to Vietnam?

HILL: Yes.

SIECK: Yes, it was.

MONTAGNE: Yes, OK. Now, I'm just going to -- just to avoid confusion here, I'm going to start with Zachery Hill. As I understand it, you knew a fair amount about at least your history, in the sense that your parents had been telling you about the fact that you were brought out of Vietnam for a very long time.

HILL: That's right. Basically, my mom and dad -- my adopted parents -- had always told me that I was adopted, and they were never hesitant about ask -- answering questions that I may have had about maybe why I looked different and why I might be a little bit different than most of the other kids that I grew up with.

MONTAGNE: What have you been able to piece together about your story? How much did your adopted parents know when they got you, and then what did you find out later?

HILL: Basically, what they knew about me was, I was dropped off at the hospital by an elderly woman, and that's about it.

MONTAGNE: At the hospital in Saigon.

HILL: Yes, ma'am.

MONTAGNE: And so they didn't know when you were born, exactly.

HILL: Right.

MONTAGNE: What did they decide? You must have looked like you were, what, 6 months old or something?

HILL: Well, the nuns basically tried to make the best estimate that they could about all the children that they did not know the actual birth date. So that's about how it worked.

MONTAGNE: Yes. And Fredo Sieck in Boston, how much did you know about yourself, as it were, how much did your adopted parents -- what were they given when they got you?

SIECK: They weren't given a whole lot as well. They basically didn't have a whole lot of information about my past and how I became an orphan and this and that.

MONTAGNE: Did they talk to you much when you were a small child about Vietnam?

SIECK: They did. It's kind of funny. My parents, it wasn't a secret that I was adopted. My parents always tried to give me a lot of information about my heritage, but I kind of turned away from it. I was pretty much content on who I was as a Vietnamese American, being brought up within an American family, that I wasn't really too interested in knowing about my heritage.

MONTAGNE: So when you went back on this return with Sister Mary Nelle Gage, what were your expectations? I mean, how excited were you? How much did you think you might find someone who knew you? Fredo?

SIECK: My expectations when I was going back -- I was very excited. I wasn't expecting to find a lost family member, but my expectations of finding out who I was as a person and my heritage were very high.

MONTAGNE: And Zachery Hill?

HILL: I really didn't get started getting excited until about the day I left, because it really never hit me about the significance of the trip and what I might be experiencing. As far as meeting maybe family that comes out of the woods and say, Oh, hey, here I am, I never really had that expectation either. I just basically wanted to see where I came from and what it would be like if I were still there. And I did get that opportunity, and I'm very fortunate that I had that to do.

MONTAGNE: Well, I know some children in this return were able to -- some young people were able to meet maybe their caretaker, someone who had -- not necessarily family, but someone who had taken care of them, and could say, Oh, I remember you as a baby. Did that happen to either of you?

HILL: This is Zach. Yes, it did. We were standing outside of the hotel the first or second night we were in -- we had arrived, and Mary Nelle comes running outside, she goes, "Zach, Zach, Zach, come in. The caretakers who actually took care of you are in the lobby." So that to me was the closest thing to family that I could find. And they looked at me, and instantly, they would recognize you, because we had our baby pictures out, and they would recognize us and talk to us and tell us a little bit about what we were like as babies.

MONTAGNE: And what were you like? (laughs)

HILL: They -- obnoxious, like now.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: But -- no, but they said that I was the sick one, that I was the one whose chances may have been very iffy, very ill.

MONTAGNE: And what was the look on the face of these -- well, this -- what would have been, a woman caretaker, or, you know, did -- when she realized you had survived and thrived?

HILL: It was basically a look of inspiration, look of awe, because they were -- it wasn't just one, there were three of them that were there. So it was like they had accomplished something, they had helped me and several other children to -- they basically gave us another second chance in life, and it's a very gratifying look that they gave me.

MONTAGNE: Fredo Sieck, you almost didn't make it either, and you were in that plane crash.

SIECK: Right.

MONTAGNE: Did you know that?

SIECK: My parents had told me that, yes. And they -- my parents kept a scrapbook of the crash. Like I said, they tried to let me in on as much heritage as they know about me. But it just seemed that I wasn't interested until I was able to go on this trip, until it actually hit me.

MONTAGNE: And when did it hit you?

SIECK: Probably at the crash site, at the actual crash site that we went to for the memorial. That's when it became pretty much real that I was a lucky one, very fortunate one.

MONTAGNE: You know, sometimes -- you know, you -- it's kind of easy to say, Oh, did it change you? But did it?

SIECK: I think it did. I think it did. It's helped me become more aware of who I am as a person. And just the actual -- the whole site itself, just being there, actually realizing that I could have been one of the unfortunate ones, and, you know -- it was very touching for me. It was very moving.

MONTAGNE: I'm going to just turn to you, Sister Mary Nelle Gage. I just want to finish by asking you briefly, this is the 25th anniversary, obviously, of the end of the war. This is your third trip back. But what to you sticks out? I mean, in the end, about this trip with these kids or young people?

GAGE: You know, as I listen to Zach and Fredo, I'm just so moved by the fact that that trip is so meaningful to them, and that their experiences are so deep. And some of the memories that I have of the trip that they recall also, it just really sends chills up and down my spine.

But I pass out an evaluation on the airplane coming back. And one of the young men wrote -- the question is, What was most significant from this trip for you? And he wrote, "A chance to be with my brothers and sisters." And when he was talking about that with me on the airplane ride back, it's brothers and sisters from both continents. It's those people with whom he shared bottles and diapers and beds, and those people with whom he shares a native country.

And I thought, Wow, this is so important.

MONTAGNE: Sister Mary Nelle Gage, is there anything you want to say to either Zachery Hill or Fredo Sieck?

GAGE: You know, when Zach was talking, I was hoping that he was going to recall, when he came to us, our nursery was full, and we kept about 15 or so babies in a hospital called Clinique St. Paul. And we took him there this trip. You know, Zach is an oculist, and that hospital is now a seeing -- it's a hospital for eye problems. And he was so struck by, My gosh, this is where -- now I've come full circle. And that was meaningful to me that day.

MONTAGNE: Zach, could you hear that?

HILL: Yes, I did.

MONTAGNE: And?

HILL: And, well, it was, it was very neat. Because at first when I walked into this hospital, I didn't know that it was an eye surgery clinic. And I'm an optician now here in Atlanta, and, yes, it kind of made the whole world seem a little bit smaller. (laughs)

MONTAGNE: Yes, like fate or something.

HILL: Uh-huh.

GAGE: Right.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you all very much for joining us today.

HILL: Thank you.

SIECK: Thank you for having us.

GAGE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: I've been talking with Sister Mary Nelle Gage, Fredo Sieck, and Zachery Hill. This is the 25th anniversary of Operation Babylift, taking babies out of Vietnam at the end of the war.

I'm Renee Montagne. This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Renee Montagne, Philadelphia
Guest: Mary Nelle Gage, Zachery Hill, Fredo Sieck
High: From 1968-1975 "Operation Babylift" took place in Vietnam. Thousands of orphans were evacuated to safety and homes in the U.S. and other countries. The last babylift took place 25 years ago in the waning days of the war.
Spec: Children; Families; Vietnam; War

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Remembering Operation Babylift

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042702NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Sofia Coppola Discusses `The Virgin Suicides'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Renee Montagne here with you today while Terry Gross is away.

My guest today is Sofia Coppola, who's directed her first feature film, "The Virgin Suicides," which she adapted from a novel of the same name. Sofia Coppola is the daughter of Francis Ford. She spent half of her childhood on location, starting with the legendarily long film shoot in the Philippines of "Apocalypse Now."

Her father also pressed young Sofia into service to play on screen the child of Mafioso in "The Godfather" movies. Her mother, Eleanor (ph), makes documentary films. When Sofia Coppola decided to make her own movie, she turned to a quite different landscape, filled with five golden girls gliding through the suburbs of Detroit in the 1970s, and the boys who were obsessed with them.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE VIRGIN SUICIDES")

ACTOR: Everyone dates the demise of our neighborhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls. People saw their clairvoyance in the wiped-old elms, the harsh sunlight, and the continuing decline of our auto industry. Even then, as teenagers, we tried to put the pieces together. We still can't.

Now, whenever we run into each other at business lunches or cocktail parties, we find ourselves in the corner going over the evidence one more time, all to understand those five girls. For after all these years, we can't get out of our minds.

Cecilia, the youngest, was 13. And Lutz (ph) was 14. Bonnie was 15, Mary was 16, and Terese was 17. No one could understand how Mrs. Lisbon and Mr. Lisbon, our math teacher, had produced such beautiful creatures.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MONTAGNE: That's the opening of "The Virgin Suicides." Director Sofia Coppola says the entire film is based on the boys gazing at the girls.

SOFIA COPPOLA, "THE VIRGIN SUICIDES": Yes, the book that I base it on, by Jeffrey Eugenides, is written from the boys' point of view. And the narrator in the film is Giovanni Ribisi, who's the adult version of the boys looking back on this time. And you know, a lot about memory, about those kind of long summer days when you're young, and about this, yes, first kind of love obsession.

MONTAGNE: And...

COPPOLA: A lot of lamenting.

MONTAGNE: Lamenting what was lost, time gone by?

COPPOLA: Time gone by, and these girls were always just out of their reach. And I think the story has very tragic moments, but it also has a lot of humor that really struck me from the book that is pretty funny, just the confusion between the boys and the girls and awkwardness and that.

MONTAGNE: Yes, you know, of course, I mean, the title tells the story in one sense, "The Virgin Suicides." There's a great line at the very beginning of the book, and the very beginning of your film, which you lifted directly from the book as dialogue. It's the youngest girl, Cecilia, who's 13, who's just attempted unsuccessfully to kill herself. And you say -- you know the line I'm talking about.

COPPOLA: Yes, the -- she -- they -- she ends up in the hospital after attempting suicide, and the doctor says to her, you know, "What are you doing here, honey? You're too young to know how hard life is," or, you know, "You don't know how hard it is." And she looks at him and says, "Obviously, doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl." Which, when I read that line in the book, you know, I knew I was going to like this book.

And it just starts it of (inaudible) just -- it's really in the kids' world. And I remember that feeling of being that age and having, you know, the school principal or, you know, whoever, talking down to you, and you knew that you knew more than they did. And just that kind of frustration of being stuck and, you know, you can't make decisions for yourself, but you, you know, you feel more aware than any of them.

MONTAGNE: When you took the book and -- by then it was -- it's being called a -- a sort of a cult favorite. Is it? I mean, was it something that was passed around?

COPPOLA: Yes, I think it -- no, I think it had a cult following, where it wasn't so known in, you know, mainstream culture, but there are people that have read it and, you know, have reread and reread it and feel really kind of protective of it. You know how you have something that you feel strongly that somebody, you know, sees the world in a way that you do.

And people were talking about it, and, you know, friends. I remember kind of in New York, where the writer was based, and so friends told me about it, and then I was in the bookstore, and I saw the cover, it's just a closeup of blonde hair and the title, "Virgin Suicides." And I was intrigued. And I'd heard it was a good book.

And then I just loved reading it, because it was very funny and sad and sweet and all the things that I like. And also, it was intriguing because this title, you know what's going to happen, but still, it's like this mystery that you're trying to piece together, all the evidence to understand what's happened.

MONTAGNE: Right, that's what the boys seem to have made a lifelong work out of, which is piecing together -- not so much what happened by why.

COPPOLA: Yes, I think there's those -- you know, I don't know, for me, I think everyone has moments in life that you don't understand, and you try to go over and over to try to find some understanding of it. And I liked that he talked about that there aren't good reasons for some things that happened, and at a certain point you just look at the parts that have made an impression on you.

MONTAGNE: For you, it's quite well known that your brother died when he was young and you were very young. He was 22 and you were 14?

COPPOLA: I was 15.

MONTAGNE: Sort of in the middle of the age of these girls, he -- now, your brother didn't commit suicide, he was killed.

COPPOLA: No.

MONTAGNE: But it was sudden, unexpected.

COPPOLA: Yes, it was -- it definitely made a huge impression on me, and I'm sure there's part of that, you know, reflected in this film, because, you know, the story is about -- you know, an element of it is about loss and about surviving a tragedy. So it's definitely something that I've experienced personally, and I, you know, could relate on that level.

But in the story, it's -- I think the idea of suicide is just so inexplicable, you know, that just -- it's just so hard -- I haven't experienced that personally, but I, you know, I can imagine how, you know, how shocking that must be, and that there really is no good reason for something like that.

MONTAGNE: Although suicide is very seductive, it sort of works that way in the book, actually. (laughs) There's something so pure about -- especially at that age and at that level of beauty, you know, of disappearing like that. I mean, what struck me about the movie and what I sense about the book is that they died, and it was awful, but there was some other layer there.

COPPOLA: Yes, to me it was always a very -- I mean, the story is really about -- from the boys' point of view, and the girls are really symbols. Their death is the end of the boys' childhood and innocence. And to me, they're not so much real girls, but they, you know, kind of bookend that end of that part of their life that's gone forever, that, you know, sunny adolescence. And then they go into the adult world.

So it's a, you know, it's a passage of that time. And so it was important for me to make sure the girls weren't -- you know, that their symbols are not real girls, you don't get to know them for a while, you're always watching them from a distance. And I think it would have just been a whole different story if you really got to know them. And then you'd have to really start to go more into the psychology of suicide, which is something I didn't want to explore in this.

MONTAGNE: Sofia Coppola is my guest. Her new film is "The Virgin Suicides." We'll talk more after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne, back with Sofia Coppola, who's directed the new movie "The Virgin Suicides." She says her earliest memories are from when her father, director Francis Ford Coppola, was making "Apocalypse Now."

How old were you when your father took you to -- with your mother and your two brothers to the Philippines when he was filming "Apocalypse Now"? Which obviously is his most famous movie in one sense, and that's that it took two years to film.

COPPOLA: Yes, I was 4 and 5 during that. And, you know, I remember being there, and, you know, he'd take me in the helicopters and to the jungles. And I had a great time. Everyone else was probably having a hard time, but I had fun. But I definitely had a lot of different, you know, experiences, because we would always go on location with my dad.

So, you know, we lived there, and I went to junior high in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then New York, and...

MONTAGNE: Tulsa, Oklahoma, because...

COPPOLA: He was shooting "The Outsiders" and "Rumblefish." That's one of my favorite movies, "Rumblefish."

MONTAGNE: Did that make you -- now, see, you could have been, then, the object of desire. In other words, you could have been on either side of this story. You could have been the girl out of reach, her world too glamorous, you know, or you could have had your -- was it, was it both ways for you, or did that ever -- do you ever feel like that?

COPPOLA: I wasn't the object of desire. I was pretty awkward. I definitely wasn't anything like the Lisbon girls. But, I mean, I think I could -- you know, there was that thing of being the new kid sometimes, so that you're, you know, a little bit of an outsider. And so, I mean, I can relate to that a little bit.

But I think -- and I really liked the story in that it's in suburbia, because it was sort of so normal, the idea of, you know, living next door to someone that you knew all your life, because we moved a lot. So that, to me, was appealing.

MONTAGNE: So the suburbia that's shown here, to you, it's the other.

COPPOLA: Yes, yes, because it's not that familiar to me. I mean, I did live a lot in St. Helena, up in the Napa Valley, where -- it was our home base. So, I mean, I know what it's like to live in a small community where you know people all your life.

MONTAGNE: Yes, although I'm from northern California, and St. Helena's not -- it's beautiful, and it's lush, and it's not a suburbia in that classic '70s sense.

COPPOLA: No, so that, I think, it was, you know, appealing to me to shape the story in suburbia. Because, you know, you look at it differently if you haven't grown up in it.

MONTAGNE: What, what, what movies did you, when you were that age, what movies affected you?

COPPOLA: When I was a teenager? I think "Purple Rain" made a big impression on me. (laughs) And "Sixteen Candles," John Hughes. But then, I mean, we were exposed to a lot of other kinds of film, just from my dad and, you know, old Frank Capra movies. And one of my -- my favorite movies are, I don't remember when seeing them, but "Darling" by John Schlesinger and "Lolita," Stanley Kubrick's great classic. And that, to me, you know, "Lolita" definitely made an impression on me on how, I think, the character of Lutz that Kirsten Dunst plays is in the vein of that character. And...

MONTAGNE: And you -- (inaudible) -- discuss that just a little. I mean, we (inaudible) the movie, but what? Because in a way Lolita was a virgin, but she was also a fallen angel type?

COPPOLA: I just -- in the book, you know, she's described as this honey-hued, you know, object of desire, and she's toying with him. So, I mean, that story is about obsession, and also it's -- you know, this tragic story, but it's really funny, the book and the movie. So I always like that combination.

MONTAGNE: What directors -- your father, obviously, is one of the most famous directors in America. What -- when you were growing up and you're not that old now, you must have been put in contact with a number of some really great directors. Or am I wrong?

COPPOLA: No, it's true, because, you know, there was a real community of those directors, and my dad has friends that are other directors, and I remember Kurosawa coming to our house when I was little. But I was a little kid, so I wasn't -- I can't say I learned anything from that. But I think just being, you know, in that atmosphere was very, you know, stimulating. We visited other people's film sets, and -- but, I mean, my dad was my biggest impression in wanting to become a filmmaker, just because, you know, he was the person I learned the most from.

MONTAGNE: But, you know, what do you think you got most from your father? And also, what didn't you get? I mean, what do you discover you're not at all like him?

COPPOLA: It's hard to say how I'm, you know, how I'm different. I think my movie's definitely, you know, point of view and style. But, I mean, he -- you know, that's my impression of filmmakers growing up around his set, so I definitely -- you know, I wasn't paying attention consciously the whole time, but just being around that, when I went on my own set, I, you know, there were -- it was familiar to me, and I approached things in the way I had -- you know, I had seen him work.

And I guess mostly he always emphasized the story and the acting, so, you know, the priority on the set for me was the acting, even though I'm, you know, really interested in the visuals and the photography and that, and working with the, you know, art department and all these other elements.

But, you know, I rehearsed with the actors in the way that I had, you know, seen him work, and it's hard to say, but I definitely -- I mean, that's -- that was my film school was being around his sets. And he likes to be a teacher and talk about what he's learning about film, because he's still very -- you know, he's really enthusiastic about it.

MONTAGNE: Your husband's Spike Jonze. He was making "Being John Malkovitch" at the same time you were making "Virgin Suicides." It -- was that hard? I mean -- I don't mean hard being separated, I mean, was it hard working towards the movie, being in the movie, and then coming out of the movie, when two people are doing very creative things that are putting them under very much pressure?

COPPOLA: It was a strange situation that we were -- that we were kind of like in the same thing at the same time. We were both trying to get our casts and financing at the same moment, and we were both shooting at the same moment. And then -- but in a way it's- you know, it's comforting to have that in common, you know, what the other person's going through.

And then, you know, it's -- it was exciting to both -- you know, I was there when he was trying to get it made, and then to go off separately and shoot the movies, and then come back and, you know, compare stories. But I think the best thing was just, you know, being able to -- that that person you're with understands what you're going through. And also, you know, if he was, you know, a stockbroker or something and I had to be enthusiastic listening to him talk about his work, it would be, I think, more difficult than something that, you know, I'm really interested in and know about.

MONTAGNE: (inaudible), I know you must have been asked about this just so much, but let me just ask you his -- this is just in case. You know, in a sense, you're making this movie and getting great reviews generally on this movie. It must be a vindication, in a way, in terms of your -- so far your work in Hollywood. I mean, one thing that must keep coming up over and over again is the sort of fiasco or perceived, excuse me, perceived fiasco of your being cast young and inexperienced in "Godfather III" as the Corleone daughter. I mean, you didn't get good reviews for that, and had to face that.

What did you learn from that, I mean, from a kind of a traumatic experience, I imagine, but what did you learn?

COPPOLA: From the experience of being in the film, or from (inaudible) bad reviews?

MONTAGNE: The experience of -- bad re -- being in the film, bad reviews.

COPPOLA: I think it toughens you up, you know. And -- but I don't know,, it's vulnerable putting yourself out there, but it wasn't devastating, because I wasn't studying and planning to be an actress. It was just something I did. But, you know, and there's -- I mean, there was some newsmagazine that said that, Did she ruin her father's movie? And you're 18, and, you know, insecure, it's not the easiest thing. But, you know, I just went back to art school, which is what I was pursuing in the first place, and for me, it was a long time ago. So I'm not going to say it was, like, the easiest thing, but I don't -- you know, it's -- I don't take it personally. That's, you know, their job is to write things that are controversial, so...

MONTAGNE: So the movie's out. And your parents, both of them, are filmmakers. What did they -- what was their reaction? Proud, I'm guessing, but...

COPPOLA: Yes, they're the proud parents. I think, you know, parents always like it when you go into the family business, you know, the pass something on, it's exciting. And our whole family's in the film business, so, you know, it's exciting to be a part of that.

MONTAGNE: Sofia Coppola, thank you for joining us.

COPPOLA: Oh, thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Sofia Coppola's new movie is "The Virgin Suicides."

Coming up, "The Voice of the Poet."

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Renee Montagne, Philadelphia
Guest: Sofia Coppola
High: Director Sofia Coppola is the daughter of film director Francis Ford Coppola. She has directed the new film "The Virgin Suicides," based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, about five teenage sisters and the domino effect after the youngest kills herself.
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Women; Suicide; Families

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Sofia Coppola Discusses `The Virgin Suicides'

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 27, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 042703NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Lloyd Schwartz Reviews `The Voice of the Poet'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:56

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST: As National Poetry Month winds down, we've asked Lloyd Schwartz, our classical music critic, who's also a poet, to review a new series of audiotapes of poets reading their own work.

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, POETRY CRITIC: "Read me," I remember begging my mother before I could even form a proper sentence. I still love being read to, even the same thing over and over. I think I'm less interested in hearing new poems than in trying to find my way further into work I'm already familiar with.

What I want from a reading is some help, being met at least halfway. I want emotion, but intimacy, not melodrama. That's what bothers me about poetry slams, where over-the-top performances become more important than the words.

I want to hear all the words, and I want a natural reader, not a mannered one. I'd rather hear meaning and syntax than line breaks. It drives me crazy -- when poets read -- only one -- line at -- a time -- or without inflection.

Not every poet, of course, is a good reader. The daring imagination that goes into the creation of a great poem doesn't always exhibit itself in public performance. Most of the half-dozen poets in "The Voice of the Poet," the new Random House series of poems on tape, edited by poet and "Yale Review" editor J.D. McClatchey, are exemplary in these respects.

James Merrill and W.H. Auden read with controlled passion. Robert Lowell is the most moving of all, and his tape includes a complete reading of what may be his greatest sequence of poems, "Life Studies."

This is the poem called "For Sale."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE VOICE OF THE POET")

ROBERT LOWELL: For sale. Poor sheepish plaything,
Organized with prodigal animosity,
Lived in just a year.
My father's cottage at Beverly Farms was on the market
The month he died, empty, open, intimate,
Its townhouse furniture had an on tiptoe air
Of waiting for the mover on the heels of the undertaker.

Ready, afraid of living alone to 80,
Mother mooned in the window
As if she had stayed on a train
One stop past her destination.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHWARTZ: One of the most fascinating tapes is the one of Sylvia Plath. These recordings were made on two separate occasions several years apart. First Plath sounds young and a little affected, with a British accent. Her early poems are also a little affected, a little too literary. She sounds like an actress playing the part of a poet.

But in the later session, recorded only four months before her suicide, in the midst of writing some of her most memorable and terrifying poems, her readings are brilliant, hair-raising, ferocious, ironic, bitter, and frighteningly real.

Here's the end of her poem "Daddy."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE VOICE OF THE POET")

SYLVIA PLATH: You stand at the blackboard, Daddy,
In a picture I have of you, the cleft in your chin
Instead of your foot.
But no less a devil for that,
No, not any less the black man who bit
My pretty red heart in two.

I was 10 when they buried you.
At 20, I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Mein Kampf look,
And a love of the rack and the screw
When I said, "I do, I do."

So, Daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephones off at the root,
The voices just can't run through.
If I've killed one man,
I've killed two.

The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years if you want to know.

Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, Daddy, you bastard,
I'm through.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHWARTZ: The tape I treasure most is the one of Elizabeth Bishop, who was not an especially vivid reader, certainly not a very outgoing one. She usually seems to be reading from behind a glass wall, reluctant to let her feelings show. And she knew she was not a good reader. Towards the end of her life, when she was giving more and better readings, she refused to allow herself to be taped. So cheers to J.D. McClatchey for locating tapes of Bishop reading some of her last and greatest poems.

These might not be the most enthralling interpretations, but they are the voice of authenticity. We can hear in these readings the quietness, the understatement, the dry wit, the person in all her poems.

Here's Elizabeth Bishop reading her poem "Filling Station."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE VOICE OF THE POET")

ELIZABETH BISHOP: Filling Station.

All that is dirty, this little filling station,
Oil-soaked, oil-permeated
To a disturbing overall black translucency,
Be careful with that match.

Father wears a dirty, oil-soaked monkey suit
That cuts him under the arms,
And several quick and saucy and greasy sons
Assist him. It's a family filling station.
All quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch behind the pumps,
And on it a set of crushed and grease-impregnated wickerwork.
On the wicker sofa, a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide the only note of color,
A certain color. They lie upon a big dim doily
Draping a taboret, part of the set,
Beside a big, hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant? Why the taboret?
Why, oh, why, the doily?
Embroidered in daisy stitch with marguerites, I think,
And heavy with gray crochet.

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
Or oils it, maybe.
Somebody arranges the rows of cans
So that they softly say,
Esso-so-so-so
To high, strong automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHWARTZ: As poet laureate Robert Pinsky has been saying, perhaps the deepest experience of poetry comes when we take the poems we love into our own bodies, reading them aloud or even in silence to ourselves.

But it's extraordinary to hear the voice the actual poets thought they were hearing in their own heads, especially these poets we no longer have a chance to hear in any other way.

MONTAGNE: Lloyd Schwartz teaches creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He reviewed "The Voice of the Poet" from Random House Audio Publishing.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our engineer is Chris Fraley (ph). Dorothy Ferebee is our administrative assistant. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

I'm Renee Montagne.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Renee Montagne, Philadelphia
Guest: Lloyd Schwartz
High: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz is also a poet. He reviews "The Voice of the Poet," a collection of poets reading their own work on audio tape.
Spec: Entertainment; Art; Recreation

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Lloyd Schwartz Reviews `The Voice of the Poet'
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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