To enjoy Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart (1982) is to embrace it despite itself. It has the form, style and often the content of a romantic fantasy, but the central love story is between two characters who don't seem to like each other very much. It is a candy with a sour centre.
Coppola belatedly recognized that the tale, which he has described as a "fable about love" and a "musical fairy tale," was too much of a downer. After the movie flopped and bankrupted his Zoetrope Studios, he nursed his wounds for a couple of decades. Then, in 2003, with money from his successful California winery, he re-edited the film, cut it to 100 minutes from 107 and eliminated two of the three sullen arguments between Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr) that open the movie.
It helps, but Forrest's Hank is still too unsympathetic a schmo to support the romantic expectations placed on his shoulders. He and girlfriend Frannie bicker and explode. She walks out into the neon wonders of a Las Vegas built from scratch on the Zoetrope property. Eventually she takes up with Ray, a waiter-singer (Raul Julia), and he takes up with Leila, a circus performer (Nastassja Kinski). But he spends most of the movie moping, and the ending - which I had thought was a fantasy until Coppola told me that, no, Frannie somehow got the plane to return to the gate - requires a suspension of disbelief that would tax a crane.
Despite that, the movie has such a sense of giddiness, and so evident a love of the artificial delights of a Hollywood confection, that it keeps slipping past the defences. Frannie and Ray dance a tango, which spills out into a dance sequence on the Las Vegas strip choreographed by Kenny Ortega (later of Dirty Dancing and the High School Musical films), which gives way to a brief tropical fantasy. Leila walks a tightrope - no wires, no safety net for Kinski - in the neon junkyard where Hank works.
A scene between Hank and best friend Moe (Harry Dean Stanton) dissolves without camera tricks, through the use of a theatrical scrim and an adjoining set, into a scene between Frannie and best friend Maggie (Lainie Kazan, a college friend of Coppola's). The camera has a marvellous fluidity; operators included Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown. A mixing board of the sort used for stage productions enabled lights to dim and brighten at will in shades that reflect the characters' moods.
While not really a musical, One from the Heart moves to the rhythm of gruff, plaintive songs written for the film by Tom Waits and sung on the soundtrack by Waits and Crystal Gayle (Bette Midler was asked, but said no). Their duets, Waits said at the time, were intended to sound as if Zeus and Hera were "peeking down through the clouds and commenting on the action in Vegas."
Much about the film was experimental. Coppola pioneered an electronic editing system so he could sit in a van and edit scenes as they were shot. At the 1979 Academy Awards ceremony, he had predicted the digital age of cinema in a speech so impassioned that Tom Ohanian, a student watching the broadcast, stopped training for dentistry and co-invented the Avid Film Composer, a computer-based editing system. "The legacy of One from the Heart," he said a few years ago, "is that it moved ahead the technology and it also enabled more people to become filmmakers."
Coppola's restoration was released on a two-disc DVD in 2004 and was reissued this week by Maple Pictures. It is not yet on Blu-ray. One more technological challenge for Coppola to address.
ALSO NEW THIS WEEK
Trigger (2010) Bruce McDonald's 78-minute film has many characters, but at heart it's a two-hander between Vic (Tracy Wright) and Kat (Molly Parker), who were once members of the punkish power-pop group Trigger. Ten years later, they meet uneasily for a benefit concert and after-party, sizing each other up and pushing each other's buttons. Wright made the film knowing she had the cancer that would kill her in June of 2010, but there is no trace of it in her performance, which, like Parker's, is beautifully judged. A two-minute extra on this week's DVD offers clips of Wright's and Parker's filmed table read of Daniel MacIvor's screenplay on Jan. 16, 2010.
Source Code (2011) Inception isn't the only film spending time in people's heads. In this well-crafted thriller, soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself in the body of Sean, a passenger on a train that will explode in eight minutes, after which Stevens will keep being put back into Sean's body to relive those eight minutes until he figures out who planted the bomb. I'll say no more. Among the passengers is Max, played by comedian Russell Peters. "What are you, a comedian?" Stevens/Sean snaps at Max. Lucky guess.
American Grindhouse (2010) The title suggests the down-and-dirty exploitation films of the 1970s and 80s that inspired filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and such films as Grindhouse, Machete and Hobo with a Shotgun. In fact, there is little from that era here. Elijah Drenner's doc is more of a linear, wide-ranging chronicle of exploitation movies from the silent days of Thomas Edison on, juxtaposing filmed interviews and R-rated clips. It's a history lesson of particular value to newcomers to the genre.