One from the Heart
If Apocalypse Now was Francis Coppola's breakdown, One from the Heart was his rehab a soundstage-bound scaling back in response to the Philippines-marooned mayhem (so unnervingly documented in George Hickenlooper's Hearts of Darkness) that nearly ended his career. But for all of the scarring that Apocalypse inflicted on Coppola's psyche, he hadn't been sufficiently humbled for his tyrannical tendencies (after all, the picture was a critical and box-office success); ergo, rather than reflect on the personal defects that might've been in large part responsible for such a brutal shoot, he rather hubristically landed on the notion that it was the lack of control that nearly ran that film aground. In other words, get Coppola in a position where he can play God, and all would go swimmingly. His dominion would be a huge chunk of then-dormant Los Angeles studio real estate which he would rechristen Zoetrope Studios. Nostalgic for the old studio system in which on- and off-screen talent was nurtured in-house, Coppola's aspirations went beyond a one-film respite from the rigors of Apocalypse Now; with Zoetrope, he would create an artist's utopia, replete with an apprentice program wherein teenagers would be able to rub shoulders with and learn from such master craftsman as Michael Powell and Gene Kelly. But the crown jewel of the operation was to be the development of the "Electronic Cinema," which would allow directors, calling the shots from a high-tech Airstream trailer called "The Silverfish," to essentially edit a film as they shot. Such forward-looking notions not only attracted top-flight talent, it also instilled in its employees a cheerful sense of pride as they pushed the medium's envelope alongside one of the industry's few bona fide geniuses. All that remained was to get the studio up-and-running with its first string of hits, which, as envisioned by Coppola, would be churned out at a rate of one per month. That "string" would begin and end with One from the Heart (1982), a murkily-conceived, (sort-of) musical romance depicting the tumultuous break-up and make-up between Vegas mechanic Hank (Frederic Forrest) and his travel agent girlfriend Frannie (Teri Garr). Initially intended to be shot in the style of vintage television theater an odd idea, that, considering the appeal of those productions came from their being performed live Coppola was immediately forced into a compromise by technical limitations (a reel of film only runs for ten minutes), though he was still able to implement his cherished marriage of old-school stagecraft with state-of-the-art Hollywood wizardry. Beautifully shot by Vittorio Storaro, and enhanced by a tactile, lived-in production design from Dean Tavoularis, the film is a lush, artifice-embracing, eye-popping homage to the soundstage musicals of the '30s and '40s, with sets bleeding into one another through the ingenious use of scrims, and lighting being controlled in-shot by the cinematographer through a light board. As for the story, the plot-spurring rift occurs as Hank and Frannie celebrate their five-year anniversary on (what else?) Independence Day. Hank presents Frannie with the deed to their house, while she gives him a pair of tickets to Bora Bora. Both gifts are selfishly representative of the giver's wishes, leading both to realize how much they've grown apart and, as this discovery gives way to outright squabbling, how tired they are of each other. Clinching their split is the revelation that they've both engaged in minor infidelities, the last straw that propels them into the artificially lit Las Vegas night, where they both hook up with dream paramours who provide them a break in routine. But while Hank's batteries are effectively recharged by his dalliance with impossibly beautiful showgirl Leila (Nastassja Kinski), Frannie falls in deeper with the worldy, ultra-suave Ray (Raul Julia), who offers to take her to Bora Bora.
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There is less going on in One from the Heart than in even the most facile Busby Berkley extravaganza, but Armyan Bernstein's gossamer narrative is suffused with a boozy, worn-down soul by the music of Tom Waits. Sung for the most part as a Greek chorus by the songwriter and Crystal Gayle, these songs are heart-meltingly romantic, and they more than make up for the main characters' blatant boringness. Hank and Frannie are the people in the margins the passionate-but-inarticulate couple quarreling in public over matters of extreme insignificance. Though undeniably human, they'd hardly be the stuff of a glitzy movie musical without the assistance of tramp troubadour Waits, who ennobles Hank's lunk-headed jealousy with songs like "The Wages of Love" and "You Can't Unring a Bell." No one gets misguided romanticism like Waits, and his sumptuously arranged score goes a long way toward smoothing over the film's many rough edges. But there's something oddly right about the film's damaged state; in many ways, its lack of polish makes it more endearing. Sometimes, it's the compromised visions that prove more lovable than the masterpieces. In fact, even the film's most hobbling deficiency, the miscasting of Frederic Forrest, winds up working in its favor his bewildered stumbling through the musical numbers just makes Hank that much more likable. When Hank's life is literally lit up by Frannie's return at the end of the film, it's the best kind of movie magic. But it's also the last time a Coppola film would be so transporting. As deeply felt as any picture in his career, the public's rejection of this gift (perhaps as self serving as those given by Hank and Frannie at the beginning of the film) destroyed the director's studio dream. Thus, the film's happy ending takes on an added poignancy when one realizes that, in its moment of reunion, Coppola's muse never came home. Apocalypse Now might've killed his nerve, but this one broke his heart.
Fantoma presents One from the Heart in its original Academy Scope with a full-frame transfer (1.33:1) that does justice to Storaro's exquisite cinematography. Meanwhile, the excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio allows Waits ever-wounded warbling to soar. The extras on this fantastic two-disc set are as fascinating as the film itself, starting with a nice feature-length commentary from Coppola, on which he candidly acknowledges his many missteps while fondly recalling the heady, if all too brief, days of Zoetrope Studios. He also discusses the changes he's made to the film for this release, including a re-sequencing of the central dance number between Julia and Garr that follows the original suggestion of Gene Kelly. As usual, Coppola is more hopeful than regretful, noting that, while they couldn't film it all in one take back in 1982, they could certainly pull it off now with the advent of digital filmmaking. The second disc comprises several entertaining documentaries "The Dream Studio" (28 min.), "Tom Waits and the Music of One from the Heart" (14 min.), "The Making of One from the Heart" (24 min.), and "The Electronic Cinema" (9 min.) all which offer an intriguing peek into the Zoetrope folly while praising Coppola's prescience. Also on board are a batch of deleted scenes (some with optional commentary), alternate recordings of Waits' songs, videotaped rehearsals and press conferences, a music video, a stop-motion demo, a collection of trade paper articles, theatrical trailers, and a photo gallery. Dual-DVD keep case.