Heartburn

Coppola's 'One from the Heart' is no more of a Valentine now than it was in '82

To what could we possibly owe the perverse pleasure of Francis Coppola's One from the Heart redux? I mean, is this not the most unlikely theatrical reissue in the quarter-century since Coppola himself made a road-show attraction of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's seven-hour Götterdämmerung Our Hitler?

Even the Napa visionary's most reluctant admirers would admit that technology, in the form of a Heart transplant to DVD, has finally aided Coppola after failing him miserably back in 1980, when he set out to make an old-fashioned musical using newfangled video equipment. But could it also be that Family--the godfather's other perpetual blessing and curse--has come to his rescue in 2003? At a time when many have attributed his daughter's directorial success to him (and to her husband, of course), might Sofia's own well earned celebrity be responsible for allowing Dad to refurbish his legendarily embarrassing Apocalypse Now follow-up--the cinematic equivalent of the fall of Saigon?

No doubt that description sounds as overblown as Coppola's post-Conversation cinema tends to look--but it isn't. Tired of toiling in the jungle on behalf of his grandiose images, the most fancifully self-mythologizing American director since Cecil B. DeMille began to dream of making a movie entirely indoors--of turning his own film studio into "Las Vegas" with the help of some high-tech toys. Surely you recall what happened when Michael Corleone decided to bring his business to Nevada: It wasn't so good for the family. Just after Crystal Gayle's warbling plea, "Is there any way/Out of this dream?" (Bette
Midler was unavailable, alas), we meet Heart's unlucky couple. There's wafer-thin window dresser Frannie (Teri Garr), and there's her punch-drunk husband Hank (Frederic Forrest), a lovesick sucker who continues to pour what little money the pair has into the aptly named Reality Wrecking junkyard. "Trust me, honey," urges Hank with the faintest smile. "I know best."

And now for something completely different: Raul Julia and Teri Garr in 'One from the Heart'
Zoetrope Studios
And now for something completely different: Raul Julia and Teri Garr in 'One from the Heart'

As did Coppola, who, even without hurricanes and helicopters (or heart attacks), still found a way to make the production unbearable. With more than 200 salaried employees on a 10-acre lot that included 9 soundstages, 34 editing suites, and a gigantic trailer that the mogul dubbed the Silver Fish, Coppola videotaped rehearsals in an effort to cut down on film costs. But he ended up borrowing $27 million anyway, most of it to pay for his ostentatiously tacky sets.

Working on a smaller scale, Garr's character first appears while fastidiously arranging plastic props in a Vegas store window, prompting her eventual Latin lover (Raul Julia) to remark, by way of flirting, "You know, Bora Bora doesn't really look like that." If that reckoning with flimsy artifice didn't do the trick, the tightrope walk of Hank's Fellini-esque acrobat crush (Nastassia Kinski) over the junkyard of dreams--the movie's one indelible image--begs comparison to the director's own precarious position in relation to trash.

Speaking of old goods: Didn't Godard do all of this a lot more compellingly 20 years earlier in A Woman Is a Woman? Couldn't Coppola have gotten An American in Paris out of his system with a three-minute video for Cabaret Voltaire? Doesn't that pricey Vegas set resemble nothing so much as the airbrushed neon on a Nagel print? I've heard people say that One from the Heart was "way ahead of its time," but such praise seems preposterous to me. For one thing, other directors (including Martin Scorsese, with New York, New York) had beaten Coppola to the punch in the Flamboyantly Fake Musical department. For another, it isn't clear that the auteur's "electronic cinema" allowed him to do anything meaningful besides, as legend has it, direct one or two scenes from the hot tub in the trailer.

Ultimately, Coppola's Heart seems such an easy target that shooting at it isn't even good for sport. (In my own modest dream, I'm busy emptying rounds into the barrel called Rumble Fish.) Maybe this gargantuan bomb's only real distinction is having inspired a prepubescent Sofia Coppola to make her own movie in air-conditioning.

 
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