Declaring independence

Coming to terms with an inner music

Published: Apr 07 2022, 01:01:am

Wednesday, November 17, 1982

ONE FROM THE HEART. Co-produced and co-written by Armyan Bernstein. Music by Tom Waits. Co-written and directed by Francis Coppola. Running time: 157 minutes. Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: occasional nudity, suggestive scenes and coarse language.
THEY'RE MISTAKEN ABOUT ONE from the Heart. Think about it for a moment, and you realize that they've been making a lot of mistakes lately.
    They made a mistake when they let the bankers, agents, accountants and bottom-line crawlers take over the movie business. They made another mistake when they started passing off financial reporting as film criticism.
    A bunch of pocket-calculator jockeys have made upside-downside analysis the central issue in cinema today. Along the way, they've managed to generate incredible cynicism, which, as we all know, is the ability to know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
    During the making of One from the Heart, we received almost daily bulletins detailing director Francis Coppola's bookkeeping problems. By the time the picture was ready for release, everybody knew that it had cost $27 million and, faster than you could say “let's go to the movies,” the LEDs were glowing with tales of recoupment difficulties.
    There's a problem here. The intense press interest in Coppola-the-businessman has overshadowed any discussion of Coppola-the-film-artist.
    Fortunately, there's no problem with the picture. One from the Heart, his ninth feature film, is good. A carefully considered, brilliantly realized meditation on isolation and aspiration, it borders on being great.  
    Technically, the film is a departure for Coppola, a director whose previous pictures have all been location projects. Heart, by contrast, was shot entirely within the four walls of a Zoetrope Studios sound stage.  
    Thematically, it is part of the director's total body of work, a film with an overall vision consistent with such previous Coppola creations as 1969’s The Rain People, the two Godfather features (1972 and 1974), The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979).
    Linking them all is Coppola's concern for aloneness. A visceral, visual director, he is preoccupied with emotionally isolated characters caught up in desperate, often dreamlike circumstances.
    One from the Heart is the story of Franny (Teri Garr) and Hank (Frederic Forrest), two ordinary people who are living together. On the fifth anniversary of their first meeting, they have an argument.
    In coming to know one another, they've come to realize that neither one is quite what the other really wanted. Although both are dreamers, they fail to share a common dream and, frustrated by the whole situation, Franny walks out.
    The next day, U.S. Independence Day, Franny meets Ray (Raul Julia), and makes a date. Hank meets Leila (Nastassja Kinski), and has similar good luck.
    Coppola sets out to tell a working-class love story. His characters — Hank is a junkman; Franny works in a small travel bureau — their situation and their non-communicative dialogue are all deliberately banal.  
    The emphasis on the glamourlessness continues through to his choice of actors. Forrest, last seen opposite Bette Midler in The Rose, looks completely natural in a work shirt. Garr, with a succession of doubting wife roles to her credit, is more put-upon than come-hither.
    Regardless of who or what we are, though, each one or us plays the starring role in our own life. Inside of Franny and Hank are the stars of an all-American musical romance, and it is this illusion that underscores their reality.
    Music, then, is a vital, vibrant part of One from the Heart. A moody, jazz-oriented score (composed by the raspy-voiced Tom Waits, and performed by Waits and Crystal Gayle) not only complements the action but acts as an expression of the isolated lovers' inner thoughts and feelings.
    Last Christmas [1981], an eccentric failure of a film called Pennies from Heaven showed us characters who hid from the reality of hard times in pop music fantasies. An essentially sour view of the human condition, its dreamers eventually came to a bad end.
    By contrast, Coppola shows us characters coming to terms with their own inner music. A more hopeful view of “real people,'' it is also better handled dramatically.
     Franny and Hank reside in a sound-stage Las Vegas, an artificial environment that contains all of the glamor that they lack. Coppola shows us not a city but a state of mind. It’s the lovers’ creation, and an overwhelmingly physical extension of their illusions.
    What he is saying is that people —all people — have the problem of seeing things not as they are, but as they would have them. In working out their differences, Franny and Hank must also work out a compromise with reality.
    Like Federico Fellini, Coppola manages to realize his visions on a grand scale. Like Fellini, he makes dense, complex pictures that are rich with ideas and emotional resonance.
    To take just one example: he wants his picture to have a dreamlike flow, an effect he achieves through the use of long takes. A less capable director would have just set his camera down and let it run.
    Coppola's approach is to choreograph the movements of his plot, camera and players so that the result on screen is a movie in continuous, fluid motion. Indeed, it is possible to get caught up in the director's Welles-like delight in technique, and forget that all of the trickery is here in service to an idea. It's possible to just luxuriate in Coppola's dazzlingly sensuous physical mastery of his medium.
    A true craftsman, Coppola used a combination of modern computer and video technology to produce a strikingly beautiful film. The print on view here — the 70mm, stereophonic sound version — was hand-delivered to Granville Street’s Vogue Theatre by a Zoetrope Studios technician, who then proceeded to help with the adjustment of the cinema’s equipment.  
    Adjustments were necessary because, in what may have been his bravest decision, Coppola insists that his picture be shown in the traditional Academy frame, the nearly square-screen dimensions that were the industry standard before the introduction of wide screens in the 1950s.
    The comments of the hand-calculator crowd notwithstanding, One from the Heart is definitely one to see. After all, Francis Coppola is not just a filmmaker, he is a maker of film history.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1982. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: About that memorandum mentioned in the introduction to this posting. Written by Coppola, it was distributed within the Zoetrope community on April 30, 1977. Principal photography on Apocalypse Now ended two weeks later, with two more years of post-production still ahead. And, of course the memo was leaked, becoming the subject of  a November 1977 Esquire Magazine article. According to authors Michael Goodwin and Naomi Wise in their 1989 biography On the Edge: The Life and Times of Francis Coppola: “The memo reveals, in chilling detail, Coppola’s tormented and disintegrating mental condition, his feelings of Isolation, paranoia, even worthlessness.” They also noted that it “ended with Coppola’s playful rewrite of Euripides: “Whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes successful in show business,” a line echoed in the title of Jon Lewis's 1995 book Whom God Wishes to Destroy . . . Francis Coppola and the New Hollywood.
    Just as the new generation of filmmakers made us see movies differently, a new generation of journalists changed the focus of film coverage. Coppola, previously lauded for his story-telling achievements, became the story when his most ambitious project ran into trouble. In that story, he was portrayed as an unhinged nutbar. The final product, the feature I saw in 1979, suggests that the contemporary reporting had problems of its own. Then came One from the Heart, the subject of the above review. At that time, I was really steamed about “financial reporting (passing) as film criticism,” because I believed it was getting in the way of a good movie getting a fair break. I probably should have known better, given the fact that the same year I took on the movie beat at The Province (1972), a musical number in director Bob Fosse’s Cabaret had said flat out that “money makes the world go around.” Live and learn.

Today’s package: The five Francis Coppola features we’re adding to the Reeling Back archive are his 1982 modern musical One from the Heart, his two teen dramas, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish (both 1983), a period musical The Cotton Club (1984) and the drama Gardens of Stone (1987).

See also: Already in the archive are Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974); The Conversation (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and The Godfather: Part III (1990). Finally, there is my 1979 interview with the director.