One From the Heart Review

Anthony Nield takes a look back Buena Vista’s Region 2 handling of One From the Heart. Francis Ford Coppola’s fascinating little folly from 1982, the film arrives here in slightly altered 2003 form and oddly lacking a sizeable number of its promised extras…

Following the excesses and unpredictability of Apocalypse Now’s extended production period it’s hardly surprising that Francis Ford Coppola would head to the safer environs of the studio for his next picture. Yet One From the Heart has since become infamous as the film which broke Zoetrope and indeed it’s as much a folly as the Vietnam movie. Giant sound stages are transformed into an even more artificial recreation of Las Vegas, Coppola clearly revelling in the fakery of his production and in doing so generating comparisons with the decade’s other examples of excessive, self-conscious design: Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Querelle; anything by Jean-Jacques Beineix. Some, of course, were more successful/startling than others, though none quite matches Coppola in his grandiosity.

For such a big movie, One From the Heart is actually quite small. It centres on the white trash couple of Frederic Forrest (mechanic) and Teri Garr (ex-waitress) as their relationship begins to reveal its cracks. Soon enough she’s ditched him and they’re both embarking on parallel affairs with exotic partners: Garr with singing waiter Raul Julia, Forrest with circus performer Nasstasja Kinski. This being a simple love story their dalliances only make them realise just how much they feel for each other and so the rocky, but inevitable getting-back-together process begins.

It’s the kind of fable-like setup which could form the basis for any romantic comedy, though Coppola isn’t quite so mainstream in his aims. Rather his focus is more a theatrical one, even if he’s not entirely sure as to how to execute it. The central casting, for example, is decidedly low-key, the kind of thing you’d expect from one of Robert Altman’s stage transpositions made during the same period. Garr plays up her “ordinary” persona as evinced in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Mr. Mom and, most pertinently, Mom and Dad Save the World. Whilst Forrest reminds of the grounding effect he had in the likes of The Missouri Breaks when working alongside the more flamboyant talents of Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Indeed, it’s these associations which do most of the work as Coppola seemingly hasn’t really given his characters due attention beyond the casting stage. He’s more concerned with the logistics of mounting such a project, the more exotic qualities if you will – which perhaps explains why Julia and Kinski make the greatest impression even as they remain ciphers.

The emotional angle is instead supplied by Tom Waits’ collection of duets with Crystal Gayle, each serving as a kind of Greek chorus. Yet given his distinctive personality and approach to music, it’s debatable as to how well the singer fits in. Consider his idiosyncratic concert film Big Time, for example, and you’ll realise just how much of a one-off he is; his compositions exist in a very specific world, one which is rarely glimpsed on-screen. Jim Jarmusch was successful with Down by Law – which co-starred Waits and adopted his ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’ as its unofficial theme tune – but then Jarmusch is similarly singular in his outlook. In all honesty, the pieces created for One From the Heart aren’t quite so unique as those found on Waits’ best known works, Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, yet still they don’t quite mix. What we have on the soundtrack is wonderfully evocative (talk of “old bicycles in the rain” and the like) and often persuasive in its emotional content; what we have onscreen is lightweight be comparison. Indeed, when Waits’ contribution dries up for the mid-section along with it goes the sense of drama. And if, like me, you’re coming to One From the Heart following a lengthy acquaintance with the soundtrack album then it’s all the more likely that it will ring just that little bit more hollow.

Of course, the film’s epic proportions only serve to pronounce this echo. Coppola intends to dazzle and perhaps even stun us – an aim which he undoubtedly achieves. Colours wash over the characters courtesy of Vittorio Storaro, walls fade and disappear, and Kinski climbs an electrical pylon to perform a tightrope walk. On a technical level One From the Heart remains an often remarkable achievement and certainly it’s endlessly fascinating on this level. Yet the heart which its title so proudly proclaims is strangely missing – the film provides much to chew over and dwell on except, unfortunately, a centre. Ultimately it’s an academic experience, not an emotional one.

The Disc

Released by Buena Vista onto the Region 2 market earlier this year, One From the Heart arrives in its 2003 restoration form. Thus we find the film with a new 5.1 soundtrack as opposed to the original mono, a sparkling print and having undergone some moderate additions (which I can’t discuss at length having never seen the original cut, though the ones mentioned by Coppola in his commentary suggest that there hasn’t been a major re-jig). Indeed, on the whole it’s a worthy enough effort. The soundtrack really can’t be faulted – unless it’s by purists who want the original (though it is worth stating that Coppola himself overlooked the remix) – whilst the picture quality only suffers from some minor flaws: the occasional bout of grain, an intermittent loss of clarity. Certainly, there’s nothing more nor anything overtly distracting resulting in a presentation that most should find pleasing.

As for extras the main feature disc Coppola provides a chatty feature-length commentary in which he discusses everything from his influences (Welles and Hitchcock, of course, but also Noel Coward and O. Henry) and utilising the Academy ratio (1.37:1) to his initial decision to shoot the film in a televisual multi-camera style. Admittedly, there are some lengthy pauses at times, but then surely Coppola earns these given the wealth of information he provides elsewhere. Elsewhere the disc also provides an isolated soundtrack option allowing us to enjoy Waits’ compositions in full, expansive DD5.1 glory.

The second disc, however, would appear to be the crowning glory. Sadly, Buena Vista were unable to supply us with a check disc, though Noel Megahey has been kind enough to put together the following words on its extras. (And as such the following paragraphs have also been formatted in the style Noel normally uses for his reviews…)

The Documentaries section on Disc 2 includes both new and archive features, all making extensive use of behind the scenes interviews, discussions, news items and documents from the time. The Dream Studio is a half hour documentary covering the troubled production and financing of One From The Heart, leading to the ultimate bankruptcy of Coppola’s Zoetrope Studio “dream factory”. This relates Coppola’s aim of setting up an old-style studio lot with a repertory company of actors, where he could experiment with finding an easier, more controlled way of making films. In Tom Waits and the Music of One From The Heart Waits explains the unconventional conceptualisation of the songs as a vital element of the development of the film. These songs can be heard from their earliest incarnations through to the orchestra recording sessions. The Making of One From The Heart dates from 1982 and shows in detail the conception of the characters and the sets and the insane methods and technological experiments by which they were brought to the screen. The Electronic Cinema looks in more detail at Coppola’s bold and innovative experiments with digital technology, but being way ahead of its time they proved to be too expensive, eventually bankrupting the Zoetrope studio.

In the From The Vault section, 10 Deleted Scenes are included, one with optional director’s commentary. The original nine-minute opening sequence of the theatrical release is included here as well as a four and a half minute early rough-cut with mandatory commentary. Most of the other outtakes, alternative takes and extended sequences however are unsurprisingly rather uninteresting, since all they show are more details of the banal lives of the characters. The Tom Waits Score: Alternate Tracks presents audio recordings of six songs by Tom Waits with full band in alternate, work-in-progress and early versions, complete with in between studio chatter – warm and sultry, the sound quality on these tracks is fantastic. Various other miscellaneous bits and pieces are gathered under the Found Objects section, which includes; Press Conference at the Studio where Coppola introduces what basically amounts to little more than a prototype or demo of the film, irascibly answers questions and introduces the cast; Francis Coppola Speaks to the Exhibitors is the filmed intro Coppola made before the first screening of the film at Radio City Music Hall; This One’s From The Heart Music Video is little more than an extended trailer for the film; a Stop Motion Demo shows how computerised camera motion passes were used to build up elaborate sequences in the film. Finally Videotaped Rehearsals shows a few samples of the actor workshops and filming tests that were all part of Coppola’s new way of making films.

The Galleries section contains the utterly seductive Trailers for the 1982 and 2003 releases of the film. In The Trades contains extensive text essays (illustrated with still photographs) on the films ‘Sound Recording and Post Production’ with an update on the work that went into the 2003 re-master of the film, and a 1982 article on ‘Making Film with Video’ for American Cinematographer. A Photo Gallery contains 22 stills, all captioned.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Dec 26, 2005


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