One from the Heart
Fantoma Films // R // $29.95 // January 27, 2004
Review by DVD Savant | posted January 20, 2004
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Graphical Version

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Revision, Jan. 19: the paragraph about the transfer of this disc has been amended ... I checked the disc out on a third DVD player, and the 'flaw' that I saw the first time through didn't appear. I believe I have an overly sensitive DVD player, or it was simply misreading the disc ... Glenn Erickson

Francis Coppola dropped the 'Ford' after Apocalypse Now but retained his adventurous nature through the massive undertaking of starting a new kind of Hollywood studio from scratch. Concentrating artistic resources at the old General Services lot, he tried to reinvent the filmmaking process from the ground up with new electronic tools and systems. It was a huge undertaking that consumed his 70s profits and most of his personal wealth, and by the time he was ready to make his big personal production One From the Heart, the money was almost all gone.

Fantoma's DVD of One from the Heart comes with a battery of docus new and old about Coppola, Zoetrope and the filming that are far more interesting than the feature itself. The director's romantic musical drama is dazzling to look at and not much more; it's almost as if the effort to assemble the perfect creative studio didn't leave the director enough time or energy to create a worthy film.

Synopsis:

Frannie and Hank (Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest) celebrate their fifth anniversary as a couple on the eve of the Fourth of July, but then argue and split up. Friends Moe and Maggie (Harry Dean Stanton and Lainie Kazan) try to calm them down, but each pursues another romantic partner. She is courted by a waiter-musician named Ray (Raoul Julia), and he finds Leila, a winsome circus performer (Nastassja Kinski). Will Hank and Frannie find their way back to each other?

Coppola wanted One from the Heart to be a complete departure from the heavy vibes of his 70s pictures, a string of successes commercial and critical, and often both. He certainly carried through with his desire to make a film that utilized the creative potential in studio filming largely abandoned with the decline of the old Hollywood, as Heart most resembles a giant MGM musical morphed into a form that presages the MTV music video. With effusive enthusiasm, Coppola described a dreamlike fantasy using color, light, music and emotions to tell a simple love story that would carry our hearts away. As a concept, it sounded a lot like the abstract sequences Gene Kelly (an uncredited contributor to Heart's musical sequences) was famous for twenty years before, and Coppola's sincerity can't be denied.

Unfortunately, One from the Heart is a huge spangled valentine profusely illustrated with a moving camera and overproduced art direction, that just doesn't move audiences. The characters aren't particularly appealing and the effort to imbue them with depth through expressive lighting and superimposed music lacks inspiration. In Kelly's Singin' in the Rain Don Lockwood conjures up a romantic atmosphere with a quick application of a few stage lights and an effects fan, instant artificial magic. But that scene in Singin' was only five minutes long and combined the incredible dancing talent of Kelly with a great song and a heroine we really cared about. Coppola pours on 90 minutes of so-so bluesy Tom Waits music and drowns his actors in so many complicated lighting schemes and special effects, we soon tire of it all. The movie is technically adept but not very magical, in the same way that 1941 is a marvelous epic that forgets to be funny. Coppola's only previous 'light-hearted' movies were the imitative but fun You're a Big Boy Now and the still-born musical Finian's Rainbow, and One from the Heart confirms his bad luck with similar material. An example of a successful stylized film with lots of music backgrounding a simple love story is 1959's Black Orpheus. Even an impoverished musical-revue picture with little or no technical polish, Godspell, has more charm. Frankly, the Coppola film where he finally integrated music into a stylized genre story and came out successful is the underrated The Cotton Club.

The essential in any love story is to make us like the main characters and care what happens to them, and that's what doesn't happen here. Teri Garr's Frannie is attractive but not particularly likeable - the poorly-written domestic squabbles keep us from caring about the lovers, and their dreams are far too shallow to involve us. Hank's junkyard of neon is too obvious to work as a symbol, and the picture constantly squanders its goodwill on wit-challenged fantasy gags, like when Hank suddenly makes a pile of junked cars flash their lights and toot their horns like an orchestra. The glitter and glamour of Las Vegas is a cheap illusion, and we just aren't going to respect people whose dreams are so limited. We don't buy into the 4th of July celebration that becomes an outpouring of communal joy with crowds dancing in the streets. It's just a bad concept given an indifferent script.

Everything else to be admired in the picture is an isolated technique or effect. Vittorio Storaro's weird lighting designs throw abstract colors across the screen for every slight turn of mood, much too fast for us to read as intended. Storaro finally got to use his 'psychological' color theories but the context is all wrong. His ideas about psychological moods being influenced by color can work as a subtle factor, but here everything is hyped beyond anything that's going to get a desired response. Coppola learned a lot from this experiment in theatrical stylization, and used it well in the later Cotton Club, Peggy Sue Got Married and Tucker, a Man and His Dream. One from the Heart sinks under the weight of its technique. It's the movie equivalent of the Faust show-within-a-show in The Band Wagon; we wonder if Coppola could never stand back from it all and say, as did Jack Buchanan, "It's a bit much, isn't it?"


Fantoma's 2 Disc DVD Set of One from the Heart carries a ton of behind the scenes content that do a good job of telling this important Hollywood story. Coppola decided to launch his 'creatives in control' Disneyland-like studio just as the industry was using Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate fiasco to chop the legs out from under the cult of the movie director. Mad geniuses like Coppola were now to be watched and limited, not set loose to run amuck with corporate funds. The docus here use BTS footage, interviews, contemporary newscasts and trade paper headlines to chart the short, Camelot-like life of the Zoetrope lot, where every technician was encouraged to be creative, local schoolkids were invited to learn, and filmmaker-laureats like Michael Powell and Jean-Luc Godard were brought in for inspirational window dressing. We see everything from Coppola's revolutionary 'electronic filmmaking' process to the miniatures used to create the film's intense visuals. At one point we see the man who co-invented the Avid Nonlinear editing system, and he tells us that he was directly inspired by Coppola's call at the 1979 Academy Awards for a technical revolution in film.

Coppola's offers a welcome commentary; he's a great talker and his enthusiasm hasn't diminished. The energy he shows in the old clips is inspiring, as he tries to make a movie while dodging daily financial disaster. The camaraderie and loyalty of his Zoetrope personnel was real; you could feel it on the lot.1

Coppola's concept of creative freedom and the hoped-for elasticity of his electronic studio idea may have been the dulling factor that hurt One from the Heart. With everyone waxing enthusiastic over all the fancy new toys and Coppola able to communicate to his technicians at all times, perhaps the system had some advantages ... being able to spread out the burden on the director a bit more fairly. But I can't help but think that by showing his actors every bit of the process happening around them, he was giving them a burden too. It's the opposite of the old directing process where the actors were kept relatively in the dark, to better concentrate on the specifics of their own function. How does one mold a performance, when the actors are running back into the trailer to see their last takes, perhaps already cut together? How does one keep things spontaneous when a scene goes through 50 permutations from rehearsals to temp versions to performances that can be repeated to fix the tiniest variation from the director's 'vision?'

The rest of the extensive extras are listed below. A lot of them were taken directly from the Zoetrope archives and I recognize some from the film's effects editor Kathryn Campbell, now a noted New York television editor. True Coppolaphiles can feast on a wealth of deleted scenes and rehearsal footage. At the time, I followed the Zoetrope story in the trades, but this DVD offers an opportunity to get a handle on the whole episode. As a visionary, Coppola did much more for the film industry than previous geniuses like Orson Welles.

The 5.1 soundtrack here is remarkably clear and rich, and the brighly colored image will test the range of your monitoring equipment. The reds are particularly touchy, but a proper adjustment of one's set should give a proper image, without blooming in the red areas of the frame. The transfer doesn't challenge the theater experience - what could? - but it is accurate. Note: Savant originally panned the transfer, as red areas on my projection television bloomed and tiled, as if the disc were improperly encoded. I've since checked the disc on another set, through another player, and the red was more stable and the image held together. I'm altering this review fairly early to halt my mistake, and will do so on my main page as well. After seeing it on a second television, I don't think the disc is at fault.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, One from the Heart rates:
Movie: Good -
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: commentary by director Coppola, music-only track in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround; Docus: The Dream Studio, The Electronic Cinema, Tom Waits and the Music of One From The Heart (all 2003), The Making of One From The Heart (1982). Demo recordings and alternate takes of Tom Waits' music, Deleted and alternate scenes, Videotaped rehearsals, Photo Gallery, Rare footage from the Zoetrope vaults.
Packaging: Double Keep case
Reviewed: January 18, 2004


Footnote:

1. Savant edited his second low-budget feature in a rental room on the Zoetrope lot in 1980 and witnessed the exciting creative atmosphere at the studio, with Coppola rushing about surrounded by a mob of assistants. I watched Gene Kelly play-dancing while waiting outside a stage, and saw the grand sets crammed into General Service's very small stages. The miniature effects personnel were all people I knew from Close Encounters and 1941; effects supervisor Robert Swarthe engaged effects pals Rocco Gioffre and Hoyt Yeatman, giving their new Dreamquest company an early boost. The motion control and minature background work in the picture is phenomenal. At Dreamquest, Hoyt once showed me the (now primitive) computers they used to matte in the fireworks above Vegas in shots where the camera moved, applying motion control technology to moving shots, after they were filmed.
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