One from the Heart

One from the Heart (1982) movie poster

(1982) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
viewed: 01/05/04 at Castro Theater, SF, CA

The Monday Night Movie Club had been at the Castro for three or four weeks running prior to this film and after seeing the trailer for it, I was really on the fence about seeing it. It seemed like it might be ultra-stylish and cool or stupid and tacky, or both. Ultimately, one of our party tipped the choice, basing the interest in the Tom Waits soundtrack. Mixed-to-bad feelings were had by all of our party regarding this film, though I was definitely of the mixed variety. I had never seen this film before. I think it came out probably only a couple years before I started investigating films a little more seriously and when I was 13 (at the time of this film’s initial release), I was far more interested in seeing the next Star Wars feature than something a little more off-beat. I have decidedly mixed-to-bad feelings about Coppola. Though his early films seem to reek of genius, his mid period and later films reek of something altogether different. If there are any other poor souls out there who saw Jack (1996), which I caught on a weird double feature in a drive-in with Escape From L.A. (1996), they too can attest to the film that I often cite as among my most personally hated.

One from the Heart is often noted as one of the films that cost Coppola his studio and budding empire, so expensive and indulgent and so abysmally unsuccessful on its release that it nearly ruined him. The whole film reeks of hubris and conceit, with its lavish sets and stylized nature, stinking of the 1980’s with neon jutting everywhere. The strange casting at the heart of the film (the otherwise appealing Teri Garr and the underused, but strangely compelling Frederic Forrest) really gives this film its off-beat character. What is it about them? Are they all too naturalistic and believable in this world of pure artifice? Does that contrast matter? But is it what grates at times?

There are some charming scenes and sequences. And some of pure cheesiness. And in some ways they make the whole thing sort of appealing in a misshapen sort of way. It’s hard to be utterly hard-hearted towards it. The lush Vegas of the soundstage, with the pre-digital backdrops, reckon somewhat of the genre of the musical, when artifice and extravagence seem well-married. And this film has a sensibility of a musical with a score that rides in the foreground throughout much of it. The homage is far from accidental.

Who can figure Coppola out? Anyone? This film is a true transition for him, between his era of respectability and his later years of apparent idiocy. And here, in between, is this unique film that is quite engaging and not all at once.

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