One From The Heart (1982)

A super-stylised neo-musical directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Frederic Forrest, and with a score by Tom Waits. Okay, I admit, I was sold long before I saw it. This film feels like a broadcast from the nexus of some alternate reality, where Coppola ran his very own studio, when Raul Julia was a lithe, sexy, magnetic actor, when Nastassja Kinski was Hollywood’s most perversely elfin siren, and Forrest could cut it as romantic lead.

But Francis Ford Coppola’s gradual fall from grace can be traced from this film. Fall? It’s true that Coppola started to be more interested in staging fancy pictures than he did in sustaining dramatic elements in his films around this time, to the point where works like Rumblefish, Peggy Sue Got Married and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are more like conceptual coffee table books rather than actual movies. And one could accuse One From The Heart as a symptom of this development – it’s a virtually plotless yarn about two lovers (Frederick Forrest and Teri Garr), celebrating their fifth “un-marriage” anniversary of being a couple, break up for two days and pursue brief affairs with strangers before reuniting.

But One From The Heart is a gorgeous exercise, a dreamy escapade for Coppola. Like Hammett, Coppola's troubled collaboration with Wim Wenders and Forrest, it's a triumphant attempt to explore the curiously intense moods that could be wrung out of the fakery of Old Hollywood stylisation, married to modern, de-romanticised material. It’s short and vivacious enough to sustain its pursuit of mood and texture, and anticipates his daughter Sofia’s similar experimentation with the promotion of mise-en-scene, and mutual orchestration of sound and image, over narrative. Many of the movie brats were deeply intrigued by the aesthetics of the Punk/New Wave era, and a pop-art influenced clash between realism and self-conscious artifice in the cinema. Scorsese meditated on this point with New York, New York (with which One From The Heart could be said to belong with in the brief, highly unpopular genre of the New Wave Anti-Musical, along with the likes of All That Jazz, Absolute Beginners, and Pennies From Heaven). One From The Heart tackles the problem more with a perspective of refined sentiment.

The lovers, Hank and Frannie, are not young romantics but aging dreamers who dreams and youth are both fading, their relationship has settled into routine, and they are both beset by ensuing anxiety. They bust up in a moment of searing mutual indictment, revealing knowledge of affairs and accusations of no longer caring about themselves or each-other. Frannie moves in with her friend and co-worker in the travel agency she works in (Lainie Kazan), whilst Hank berates his amigo (Harry Dean Stanton), with whom he runs a wrecking yard outside town, for kissing Frannie at New Year’s, but ends up crying on his shoulder. Both vengefully hit the town, Frannie falling into the arms of smooth latin singing waiter Ray (Julia), and Hank hits on waifish, radiantly oddball German circus performer Leila (Kinski), getting a date with her after mumbling and fumbling his way through an act of gallantry. “That’s the most improbable thing I’ve ever seen!” Stanton murmurs amazedly. .

In the course of their night out, the film, already stylised with its studio-era style sets and obvious backdrops, slips into a fantasia, as the characters project the glitziest possible glaze onto the often sordid surrounds and situations – Frannie and Ray dance their way down the strip, and Hank and Leila make out after she tightropes walks across the Vegas skyline, and he conducts an orchestra of cars. The next morning Hank realises his mistake and determinedly hunts down Frannie, dragging her out of Ray's bed and wheeling her away. But Frannie is set on leaving town with Ray, leaving on a plane for LA despite Hank despairingly singing a terrible rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” to her in the terminal. Hank returns home to weep, but Frannie walks back in, having caught the first plane back.

The film is infused by Coppola’s extraordinary visual compositions and montages, and driven by a brilliant soundtrack provided by Waits (often duetting with Crystal Gayle), truly a soul-mate for this kind of enterprise, dealing as Waits’ oeuvre does with similar contrasts. Forrest, one of the finest actors alive, gained some leading parts from Coppola after his eye-catching supporting role in Apocalypse Now, and he’s wonderful as Hank, particularly in his more physical moments, like when he climbs onto the roof of Ray and Frannie’s hotel room with a foot on a maid’s platter, and then carries a nearly naked Garr out on his back. Garr herself, with her kissable lips and expressive eyes, is wonderful in swapping Frannie’s dowdy weekday glasses for racy red dress and venturesome sass. Despite the technical showiness and lightness of plot, One From The Heart has an imperatively personal feel, as if the film was both a calming-down from, and yet also an exorcism of, the emotional disaster area that was Coppola’s life before and during the Apocalypse Now shoot. The title is honest - the film is from the heart, and serious in a rich but unobvious fashion – the finale of the film is joyous precisely because it looks into the depths most musicals never dared glance at.

It’s intriguing to note the presence of Kinski and Stanton, who would enact a vastly different variation on the same tale in Wenders’ and Shepherd’s Paris, Texas (1984).

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