After the dragged-out location chaos of Apocalypse Now, writer/director and ambitious entrepreneur Francis Ford Coppola retreated to the controlled safety of the studio set with a vengeance. Everything about his next movie would be in the mode of heightened artifice, a direct contrast to the hyperrealism of Apocalypse. Coppola, having spent a decade as the new American wunderkind of serious cinema (The Godfather I & II, The Conversation, as well as the somewhat mangled Apocalypse), also wanted to try his hand at something lighter, a romantic comedy in a classic mode, one that would replace the psychedelic bleakness of his war epic with a bright and bouncy color palette.
The film was One From The Heart (1982), and for all of Coppola’s effort to create a piece of avant-garde gaiety it was generally considered, during its initial run, to be a pretty tedious affair. The basic rap against the film was that it was a case of overwhelming style and meager substance, a folly whose self-indulgence was signified by the elaborate studio re-imagining of Las Vegas, drenched in romantic colors and inhabited by seemingly sentient neon signs. By reissuing the film, Coppola is asking us to consider the possibility that it may have been ahead of its time, that in this era of CGI and post-Baz Lurhmann excess we can now drink in its comparatively modest baroqueness more easily. Well, having first seen the film about 20 years ago (on cable) my response now is that it isn’t as bad as I remembered, but it still isn’t very good.
The story, such as it is, concerns a couple wavering between a more serious commitment and a rebellion against the comfort-level they’ve reached with each other. All that is needed is one last sexual indiscretion by each to break or cement the bond. The couple is American/bland (Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr) while their respective lovers are foreign/exotic (Nastassia Kinski and Raul Julia), which fits the old-time Hollywood template, though the always-seedy Harry Dean Stanton is seriously miscast as the roguish best friend.
The relentless cleverness of the film’s style, along with a lot of bad dialogue, keeps the audience at such an emotional remove that one suspects the film’s title is ironic. As a purely visual experience — and the DFT is presenting the movie in the old-fashioned, pre-’Scope 1-to-1.33 screen ratio that Coppola always wanted it to be shown in — the film is intermittently cool and occasionally beautiful. But as a love story it’s consistently blah. Maybe after another 22 years, when we’re even more desensitized by visual spectacle, the whole thing will start to seem as good as Coppola apparently thinks it is.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday, Jan. 16-19. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].