The Greek behind Coppola’s “The Godfather”
What do Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Michelangelo Antonioni, Arthur Penn and Wim Wenders have in common? They have all collaborated with Dean Tavoularis, a production designer of Greek descent, who was responsible for the art direction of some of their most important films. Architect and artist Dean Tavoularis won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for Coppola’s “The Godfather II” and has been nominated four more times for William Friedkin’s “The Brink’s Job”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Tucker” and “The Godfather III”. “Tucker: The Man and his Dream” also earned him a BAFTA for Best Production.
Dean Tavoularis was born in May 1932 in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Greek immigrant parents and spent his childhood and teenage years in the shade of the Hollywood studios. His father used to run a cafeteria and regularly provided for Fox Studios. During his summer holidays, young Tavoularis would help his father deliver coffees to the studios, and this is how he first become familiar with the film world. He later confessed that the first time he entered the studio, he walked around with his eyes wide open, feeling that he had discovered a magical heaven on earth.
Thus begins the story of a man, who stood behind the biggest names in directing and acting, but also added his own important chapter in the history of the 7th art. Having completed his studies in Architecture and Painting, he took his first art director job in 1967, at Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde”. Four years later, he collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola to create a film, which would send his career into overdrive and earn him a golden statuette- “The Godfather”. Coppola has said that even when he disagreed with Tavoularis, he always trusted his instinct and artistic vision.
“Any form of spectacle is for him a visual feast, a challenge, and a source of inspiration. In his art, he doesn’t dwell on magic, visual deception, optical illusion, or unreality… His penetrating eyes allow him to watch and feel things deeply, which leads him to capture what others are not privy to see: the gimmicks, the artifices, the tricks, the element of life upon which the veil of illusion is cast. In his mind there is a clear parallel between painting and cinema, in that he considers one and the other as different yet compatible means to create an illusory world which only exists in a dimension of its own», notes writer Jean-Paul Scarpitta, and we can only agree.