Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One from the Heart

One from the Heart famously bankrupted Francis Ford Coppola and Zoetrope Studios after its budget shot through the clouds and its box office take sunk to the bottom of the ocean. It cost over 25 million (roughly 119 million adjusted for inflation) and took in only a little over 600,000 (roughly 3 million today). One need not have certification as an accountant to see those numbers don't come out the right way and Coppola said most everything he made for the next ten years was about paying back the debts he incurred during production. Watching it 27 years later, removed from the controversy that surrounded it at the time of its release, one sees a movie so simple and basic it's hard to believe it came from the man who made The Godfather movies, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now and even harder to believe it caused any sort of a stir at all. Aside from the controversy it received mainly negative reviews upon its release, negative reviews that now seem short-sighted and clueless.  Let me explain.

The production design by Dean Touvalaris is, quite simply, extraordinary. It doesn't recreate the Las Vegas strip as has always been said, it interprets it, reinvents it and comes up with something completely different and wholly original. It's not Vegas, it's a small intimate town, a village that just happens to have a lot of neon lights.

Then there's the great music by Tom Waits. An Oscar nominated song score sung by Waits and Crystal Gayle that brings every scene to life and propels the story.

There's the cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and Ronald Garcia. It captures the set and all of Coppola's visual tricks and theatricalities, like using scrims to mount split-screen scenes in-camera, perfectly and beautifully. The whole film has a gaudily beautiful look of arch falseness about it, one that no one has quite achieved before or since.

But there's something else I wish they'd done, and it's not a criticism really, just a simple wish. With the great actors involved in this movie, and the lyrical quality of it, I wish Coppola had made it into a musical, or at least, let the Tom Waits songs carry the movie and make the dialogue incidental on a level of Jacques Tati. From first frame to last, with the beauty and artificiality of the set design and simple story of two lovers, a man and a woman, falling out of and back in love, this film would have worked even better as pseudo-silent film, carried only by the visuals and music. In many ways this film took its cue from the silent masterpiece Sunrise, with its multiple visual overlays and vibrant city atmosphere providing a backdrop for two people rediscovering their love for each other. But it should have taken one more cue and favored the silent mode of storytelling over the spoken one.  Still, the picture works extremely well and 27 years later it seems Coppola made something much better than people at the time realized, something truly from the heart.


Here is One from the Heart told in pictures. The opening credits are presented here in a video clip and then stills from the rest of this extraordinary looking film. Enjoy.