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.

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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.



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33 comments:

Roderick Heath said...

Sigh.

Marilyn said...

Those screencaps are stunning - but silent would have spelled bomb, too. Audiences were simply not into silent back then. I think the zeitgeist was wrong, too, for a simple break up/make up film. But thanks for sharing those images. I must see this.

Ryan Kelly said...

I've never seen this but I've always wanted to. I love indulgences like this and, even if it's not a great movie, it strikes me as being well worth a look. All the images I've seen from it, including those you posted here, are simply arresting.

Maxim de Winter said...

Nice post on a greatly undervalued film, but I have to disagree - for me the heart of the film, and its story of an ordinary schlub in love with an everyday girl, told in terms of high-flown romance usually reserved for movie gods and goddesses, is in the final moments when Frederic Forrest finally finds the courage to sing, badly, in his ordinary-guy voice, You Are My Sunshine. It always leaves me in a puddle on the floor, and has to be one of the most moving scenes, for me, in modern American cinema. Much as I love silent movies, you can't do that without people talking.

Greg said...

Rod... alas.

Greg said...

Marilyn, I know what you mean about silent spelling doom but it wouldn't be silent in the strict sense. It would be a sound film with music and effects, just no talking. I kept thinking watching it that the whole story was clear to me without any dialogue. The joy Teri Garr finds briefly with Raul Julia is perfectly expressed through their dance numbers but keeps getting interrupted with a bunch of needless chatter.

Greg said...

Ryan, it is quite compelling visually. If you look at the junkyard set you can literally and plainly see the shadow of the fan dancer billboard on the backdrop (the screengrab just below Teri Garr and Raul Julia dancing in front of the ship backdrop). No attempt is made at realism which I found to be an amazing and risky choice by Coppola coming off the heels of his seventies work. Even if you don't like it much, it's something to see.

Greg said...

Maxim, I'd still keep all the singing, including Kinski's number. Like I said to Marilyn, it wouldn't be a strict silent movie but a sound production without dialogue. Still, I must agree with you on both that moment's effectiveness and the undervaluing of the film. I think more and more about movies that take real risks getting lambasted on minor points while everything they did right not counting for anything. I mean, this wasn't even nominated for Cinematography or Art Direction for 1982, both awards won inexplicably by Gandhi. It's insane. Just because it got panned why should its other achievements be ignored?

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm so glad I got to see this one time on one of the biggest movie screens in Denver. I've always liked this film, and was sorry that it was not a popular success.

Greg said...

Peter, after watching it all I could think was how amazing it must have looked to people who saw it on the big screen. I wonder, given the power of its imagery, why it didn't make a bigger splash. It's a very strange, non-commercial movie and I think deep down most critics don't want something too different.

Pax Romano said...

For all of it's faults, I love this movie. It's a total technicolor dream. The soundtrack is a must have (Tom Waits and Crystal Gale, who'd have thunk it?).

I went to a theater in Boulder Colorado many years ago, and they ran this on a double bill with New York New York - it was genius!

Kevin J. Olson said...

Damn, this looks interesting. I have Youth Without Youth on the Tivo, another Coppola that I've heard is best viewed with the sound off. I'll have to seek this out.

Greg said...

Pax, I loved(!) the soundtrack. I think I'll get it from i-tunes. I'm really glad I watched it again after so many years and find so many people like it even if others don't have a problem with the dialogue like I do. It was so visually mesmerizing I just didn't care.

Greg said...

Kevin, I've still got to see that new Coppola flick too. Larry Aydlette and Brian Doan were very positive about it when it first came out so you never know.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Beautiful. BTW, Waits and Gayle are magic, but I still wonder what it would have been like if Bette Midler had been available, as Waits originally wanted.

Greg said...

I didn't know Midler was the original choice. Interesting. I think I like the idea of Crystal Gayle better, thinking Midler might have added too much drama to the vocals, if that makes any sense.

bill r. said...

It's a very strange, non-commercial movie and I think deep down most critics don't want something too different...

I absolutely agree. I can't use this as evidence, as I haven't seen the film yet, but the early, highly negative buzz on Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? strikes me as highly dubious and not to be trusted. I freely admit that's my own pro-Herzog bias coming through, but I've felt the way you do about most critics for a while, and I suspect the Herzog film is the latest victim.

Anyway, I've never seen One From the Heart, but I've always wanted to, and I think I'll have to check it out soon, based on this post. As Ryan said, even if the film doesn't work, the way Coppola stuck his neck out for this film makes it worth seeing.

Also, curiously, I had a dream about Coppola last night. This would be a better story if I could remember more about the dream, but it had something to do with me deciding that Coppola was a crazy good filmmaker. I know, what a wild dream, right?

Greg said...

It's strange how little things in a movie that seem kind of off at first later attach themselves to you. In this film, Nastassia Kinski's "Little Boy Blue" number (the screencap where she replaces the giant neon head) seemed not quite right at first and since I've watched it like 10 times. She sings it very flatly which becomes oddly appealing. Anyway, all that to say that I think sometimes you have to give something time and more than one viewing before passing judgment.

Also, I don't want to alter the post now but I wish I had been more clear about the silent thing because I didn't really mean silent, I meant all music and no talking. I should have made that a lot clearer.

And Coppola is crazy good as a visual storyteller but I think his writing is a notch or two below his talents as a director.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Greg:

I was thinking about that yesterday after I left my comment. I realized you didn't mean silent because you were talking about how great the music by Waits is.

No need to alter your post...I understand what you meant by silent in terms of removing the dialogue but keeping the music. You made it pretty clear in your post.

I agree with you too about Coppola's writing ability. But at least he's back on the horse making movies now...instead of just being a winemaker. It's good to have his vision back in cinema.

bill r. said...

I don't know that I agree that Coppola's writing is less than his directing. Sure, sometimes it is, and sometimes the reverse probably holds true. But his screenplay for The Conversation is a masterpiece.

Greg said...

Kevin, Bill - I think Coppola's writing can be good (Bill mentioned The Conversation) but for the most part I think (and I think Kevin agrees) that his directing more often is better. I think his direction, actors, editing, choice of shots, use of sound, etc. make The Conversation a great film much more than any actual dialogue. It's not that he can't construct a good story but that his ear for dialogue isn't very good IMO. Looking at his most praised works you'll often find another writer (like Puzo) sharing screenwriting credit.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Exactly. I have never walked away from a Coppola viewing talking about how great the dialogue was. However, I don't think I've gone away from a Coppola movie talking about how the dialogue was so awful it distracted from the movie, either. I just think he'll always be a visual storyteller...the words are just (for lack of a better term) background noise.

Well...of course there's Jack...so...

bill r. said...

Come on. There's great dialogue in The Conversation. You guys are crazy lunatics.

Greg said...

Yes, it's not God-awful or anything. But here for instance, it was trying to go for a familiar casual cadence and came off as stilted. I suppose you could say it reflected the artificiality of the visuals but I don't think it was meant to quite frankly. I could be wrong but it just seemed choppy and disconnected while the visual story being told was fluid and smooth.

Greg said...

No, it's not bad in The Conversation at all, but I don't think it happens often with Coppola. Directing is his strong point, and writing is second.

Kevin J. Olson said...

There's no denying how good The Conversation is...I just don't view Coppola's films as being all that memorable due to their dialogue. His screenplays aren't too terrible, but they never trump the visuals.

bill r. said...

So the screenplays for The Conversation and The Godfather "aren't too terrible"?

What's going on here??

Greg said...

Aaaargh! A screenplay can be good without having great dialogue. You will read many times about critics or writers or directors getting a hold of a script beforehand and saying, "it read okay but the final movie - Wow!" I remember that specifically with Raging Bull. Who I can't remember, maybe De Palma or Coppola, but the statement was basically when they read it they thought, "seems kind of dull". It was Scorcese's direction and the cinematography and the acting that made it! And I specifically mentioned Puzo in a previous comment to heavily indicate that his involvement is probably responsible for The Godfather's notable screenplay. Geez.

bill r. said...

Aaaargh right back, because how do you know that Puzo is more responsible for The Godfather screenplay? You can't say that, add the word "probably", and expect it to stand as evidence.

Also: geez.

Greg said...

Then I suppose I'm done. I think I've made it pretty damn clear what I mean about a screenplay being average or good while the movie itself can be great thanks to direction. I can't think of a way to make it clearer.

bill r. said...

If you say so.

Glenn said...

Is it crazy that this is my favourite Coppola film? Not his best, but my favourite. I'd rather throw in the DVD of this than anything else he's done. I just dissolve into it.

Greg said...

Oddly enough, it's becoming that way for me too. I find myself entranced by the music and imagery. I still don't know why some critics were so negative towards it. Even if you don't like some aspects (like my dislike of the dialogues scenes) there's still so much amazing beauty and wonderful music to take in.