Monday, April 18, 2011

One from the Heart

In the 1970s, there was no director that had garnered much acclaim or accolades better than Francis Ford Coppola. While he had released four films in the 1970s with The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. He was also among the era of the New Hollywood movement of such auteur-driven directors like Peter Bogdanovich and Martin Scorsese. While Coppola was also a screenwriter and producer who also helped the careers of George Lucas and Carroll Ballard. Though the 1970s was a triumph for Coppola, he was about to enter a decade in which he faced failure, money woes, and other personal troubles.

For years, Coppola hoped to go independent and form his own studio where he can be the head and release his own films. While Zoetrope Studios started out as an independent studio that would allow first-time filmmakers a chance to create their own films. It was also a place where Coppola would be allowed to help develop projects for friends and himself. It would also be a place where he would create the kind of films he made without the interference of a major studio. For his next project, Coppola decided to make a film that would be an experiment of sorts as he tried out creating a film with new electronic cinema gadgets at the time in the early 80s. While it was supposed to be a small, romantic-musical set in Las Vegas. The film that would be called One from the Heart would become the film that would hurt Francis Ford Coppola’s career for several years.

Originally a $2 million budget, the film was to be shot inside a soundstage at the Zoetrope Studios to create an artificial version of Las Vegas. With help from cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Dean Tavoularis, the re-creation of Las Vegas along with other sets proved to be daunting. Even as Coppola wanted to experiment with new cameras as if he‘s watching the film via video feed and could have it edited around the same time like with TV. The production ballooned into a $26 million production towards its early 1982 release. When news broke about its budget and the production, it was clear that Coppola was about to enter into deep trouble.

Two years earlier, Michael Cimino released Heaven’s Gate which was a revisionist historical western set in the Johnson County Wars of the late 1800s. The film was Cimino’s follow-up to his 1978 Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter as expectations ran high. Instead, the $40 million-budgeted film became a huge disaster that would help bankrupt United Artists as well as bring an end to era of New Hollywood and its auteur-driven directors. For Coppola, the production and release of One from the Heart made him nervous as he released it through a small, limited release in early 1982. The film was a massive flop as it would only pull more than $600,000 box office gross in less than a week. After that, Coppola decided to pull the film from theaters as he would spend the rest of the 1980s and part of the 1990s to make films to pay off his debts.

Though Coppola would eventually recover from the money he lost in making One from the Heart as well as reviving Zoetrope into American Zoetrope. Many people hadn’t seen One from the Heart but over the years, it was being praised by a small group of people that had seen it with interest raised over the film. In 2001, Coppola released an extended version of Apocalypse Now entitled Apocalypse Now Redux to great acclaim as he decided to revisit the film that gave him a lot of trouble. With help from Storaro and American Zoetrope executive Kim Aubry, Coppola decided it was time to revisit his great failure as he made a few changes in the editing as he gives his great 1982 failure a chance to be seen.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and screenplay by Coppola and Armyan Bernstein that is based on Bernstein’s story. One from the Heart is the story of a couple whose five-year relationship is starting to crumble. Living on the edge of Las Vegas on the 4th of July, the two would explore different worlds as the woman falls for a suave waiter while the man is amazed by a German circus performer. A throwback to the musicals and romantic films of the 1940s and 1950s with lavish production, it’s a film where Coppola blends that style of lavish production in tune with the colorful world of the 1980s. Starring Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassja Kinski, Lainie Kazan, and Harry Dean Stanton. One from the Heart is a dazzling, entertaining romantic-musical from Francis Ford Coppola.

It’s the 4th of July weekend approaching in Las Vegas as Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr) are to celebrate their five-year anniversary as a couple. Hank is a mechanic who works with his friend Moe (Harry Dean Stanton) while Frannie is a window dresser who works at a travel agency with her friend Maggie (Lainie Kazan). Yet, Hank and Frannie are having troubles due to Hank’s inability to do anything new while Frannie wants to be more adventurous. An argument leads to Frannie walking out as she leaves Hank to live with Maggie. Hank turns to Moe about the break-up with Frannie turning to Maggie. Both friends suggest that it’s time to move on and do something new.

One day at work, a waiter/pianist named Ray (Raul Julia) sees Frannie decorating as they talk for a while which would lead to a date later in the evening. Hank and Moe walk around the city where Hank comes across an exotic circus performer named Leila (Nastassja Kinski). With Hank and Frannie both going on different dates around the city of Las Vegas, lots of fun ensue for the both of them. With Frannie dancing with Ray in clubs and in the city, Hank takes Leila to his junkyard as both couples enjoy themselves. Hank however, realizes his love for Frannie as he decides to win her back.

The film’s plot and story is a simple one. A guy and gal approach their five-year anniversary, split up and meet their ideal partners until the guy realizes he is still in love with his gal. That’s pretty much what the film is about yet, it’s partially told through the film’s music. Coppola and co-screenwriter Armyan Bernstein do create a simple structure to the story as where the first act is about the split, the second act is Hank and Frannie meeting their ideal partners, and the third act is Hank wanting to get Frannie back. Again, that is the story in a nutshell as it’s one that is predictable and does stray into what is expected in a love story. The problem is that it’s kind of weak since both Hank and Frannie aren’t really that interesting. Then again, maybe that is intentional as when they each meet their new partners. There’s something different about them as they meet these exotic individuals who will fulfill their desire until Hank realizes what he wants.

The screenplay really is just a backdrop for what Coppola really wants is to create a film that is more about the visuals than the story. Since the story is a bit lackluster with its lack of tension and surprises. It allows Coppola to create scenes where it’s just about the moment and the visuals. Coppola’s direction is definitely marvelous to watch for not just re-creating Las Vegas but also having the place be a fantasy of sorts for the characters to be surrounded by.

While Coppola’s idea to recreate Las Vegas in a soundstage might seem like a crazy idea because of its costs. Still, even the idea of shooting the film on location in Las Vegas would’ve been just as troubling. Still, despite the issues he might’ve had with the money he spent, Coppola was able to create something that isn’t meant to be real but rather an artificial world that the characters live in. Notably scenes where Hank and Moe are having a conversation while in the next set, Frannie and Maggie are talking through dissolves or silhouette sets.

In some ways, even with the film’s full-frame aspect ratio of 1:37:1. Coppola is trying to recreate the old Hollywood musical as there’s some lavish dance numbers choreographed by Kenny Ortega that really stands out. One is this gorgeous dance between Frannie and Ray at a bar that later becomes this exotic, island set of sorts. The other is a bigger dance number with lots of extras and dancers on the street of Vegas. If it was shot on location in Vegas, it would’ve been impossible to create.

Coppola also has his camera go out there with long sequences whether its tracking shots or long shots to create a feeling of the location and where the characters are. Including scenes where both Frannie and Hank are in different directions as they’re near each other unaware of their presence. The camera is always moving to create a feeling about what is going on with the characters and such. Despite the film’s shortcomings with its story and its style-over-substance mentality, Coppola does create what is certainly a spectacular film that is very engaging and entertaining.

Cinematographers Vittorio Storaro and Ronald Victor Garcia do an amazing job with the film’s stylized yet colorful cinematography. Featuring many of the colorful palettes of blue and sepia-yellow that is a trademark of Storaro’s work. The cinematography has a dream-like look where many of the scenes shot on the streets of Las Vegas is filled with dazzling lights as it plays to the world that is Las Vegas. Even as the camera is always going somewhere while scenes such as Frannie and Ray’s dance along with Leila’s circus act in the junkyard are filled with lush colors from Storaro’s photography. The overall cinematography is definitely among one of the film’s technical highlights.

Editors Anne Goursaud, Rudi Fehr, and Randy Roberts do an excellent job with the editing as it plays up to the rhythm of the music. Particularly with some of the dance sequences in the film as it’s also very stylized including the fantasy scenes as they use wipes and jump-cuts to play up the sensation of what the characters are imagining. For the dramatic moments of the film, the editing is leisured with its pace as it plays to what the characters are doing including Hank’s eventual uncertainty.

Production designer Dean Tavoularis, along with set decorators Gary Fettis and Leslie McCarthy-Frankenheimer and art director Angelo P. Graham, does a phenomenal job with the set design and the re-creation of Las Vegas. Tavoularis and his team definitely create what is essentially an artificial world to Las Vegas along with the small suburb and house that Hank and Frannie lives. Even the airport for the film’s penultimate sequence is definitely out of this world. Despite the excessive tone of the art direction, it is definitely some fantastic work by Dean Tavoularis and company that also includes his brother Alex and two future renowned art directors in Dennis Gassner and James J. Murakami.

Costume designer Ruth Morley does a wonderful job with the costume design from the tuxedo that Ray wears to the lively red dress that Frannie wears on her date. Even as the character of Leila has clothes that truly plays to her exotic personality. Sound designer Richard Beggs and sound editor Leslie Shatz do a brilliant job with the film’s sound as it captures the lively world of Las Vegas in the dance scenes. Beggs and Shatz also help create an intimacy to the homes of Hank and Frannie’s along with the other places that they go into as the sound work is another of the film’s technical highlights.

The film’s music by Tom Waits is the real highlight of the film as it plays not just to the cool world of Las Vegas but also the longing of romance the characters go into. An entirely jazzy score with bits of dance, Waits has a score that is hypnotic in its arrangements. With songs and lyrics by Waits, the songs play up to the emotional crux of the film as it’s sung by Waits and Crystal Gayle. Gayle’s voice soars through many of the film’s heartbreaking moments as the overall soundtrack is one of the most overlooked soundtracks in the history of film.

The casting by Jennifer Shull is really good with its large array of extras and understudies that includes Rebecca De Mornay as a young woman in a restaurant along with cameo appearances by Tom Waits as a trumpeter, Allen Garfield as a restaurant owner, and Francis Ford Coppola’s parents Carmine and Italia as a couple in an elevator. Harry Dean Stanton and Lainie Kazan are excellent in their small but memorable supporting roles as Moe and Maggie, respectively. Stanton as a guy who tries to make Hank look modern while Kazan as the woman who tries to help Frannie as Stanton and Kazan stand out as they bring humor to the film.

Nastassja Kinski is great as the exotic Leila. A German circus performer who transfixes Hank with her physicality and stylish accent as Kinski really brings a lot of joy to her character with even the little moments in her performance. The late, great Raul Julia is superb as Ray, a suave musician who charms his way into Frannie’s hearts as he gives her hope and dreams about going to Bora Bora as Julia is just marvelous to watch. Teri Garr is very good as Frannie though her character is a bit whiny at times. Even as Garr does manage to show her sensual side while seemingly having a good time with the dance scenes. Frederic Forrest is also good as Hank, a good guy who is sort of lazy but also has his moments. Though his character is kind of pathetic, Forrest does succeed in making him sympathetic as he and Garr do have some chemistry.

While it’s nowhere near the brilliant work that he did in the 1970s or some of his other films in the 1980s and so on. One from the Heart is still a very good and spectacular romantic musical from Francis Ford Coppola. Fans of Coppola’s work will see this as a departure of sorts while they will be amazed by the film’s technical work that includes Dean Tavoularis’ set design and Vittorio Storaro’s photography. Even as Tom Waits’ score and soundtrack brings a lovely yet mesmerizing quality to the film. While it’s a film that has a very bad history, it’s one of those films that deserves another chance to be seen. In the end despite its flaws and a uninspiring script, One from the Heart is still a solid film from Francis Ford Coppola and company.

Francis Ford Coppola Films: Dementia 13 - (You’re a Big Boy Now) - (Finian’s Rainbow) - (The Rain People) - The Godfather - The Conversation - The Godfather Pt. II - Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux - The Outsiders - Rumble Fish - The Cotton Club - (Peggy Sue Got Married) - (Garden of Stone) - (Tucker: The Man & His Dream) - New York Stories - The Godfather Part III - Bram Stoker's Dracula - (Jack) - (The Rainmaker) - (Youth Without Youth) - Tetro - (Twixt)

© thevoid99 2011

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