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One From the Heart: Reprise (A Movie Review)


Starring Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassja Kinski, Lainie Kazan, Harry Dean Stanton, Allen Garfield, Jeff Hamlin, Italia Coppola, Carmine Coppola, Luana Anders, Judith Burnett, Ty Crowley, Michael David Eilert, Miranda Garrison, Ken Grant, Sandra Gray, Doctor Hayes, Michelle Johnston, Douglas Brian Martin, Rebecca De Mornay and Tom Waits.

Screenplay by Armyan Bernstein & Francis Ford Coppola.

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Distributed by Lionsgate. Reprise cut: 93 minutes (Original cut: 102 minutes). Rated R.

It makes a certain amount of sense that now, as legendary director Francis Ford Coppola is out there hitting the bricks to find a distributor to release his self-financed opus Megalopolis, that he would revisit One From the Heart. After all, 42 years ago, this film was the last time that he put all of his chips on the table, metaphorically, for a labor of love.

At the time, Coppola was flying high. His four previous films (The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now) were acknowledged to be classics. In the same timeframe, he made a small fortune by producing his friend George Lucas’ breakout film American Graffiti, another acclaimed, beloved and popular film.

After the fairly serious subjects he had taken on in his recent films – and particularly after the legendarily difficult shoot for Apocalypse Now – Coppola was looking to do something a little lighter. Specifically, he wanted to do an old-fashioned musical, a romantic tale full of song and dance and stunning visuals. In the original 1982 trailer for the film, it was called “a new kind of old-fashioned romance.”

In fact, Coppola was so sold on the script, which he wrote together with Armyan Bernstein from an original story idea by Bernstein, that he made it the first (and it turns out last) film to be self-financed by his new independent studio, Zoetrope Pictures. (Most of the money, if not all, was actually Coppola’s or gotten through personal loans.)

The story was about a working-class couple (Teri Garr from Tootsie and Frederic Forrest from The Rose) in Las Vegas who had been together for a few years and hit the point where they were nearly constantly fighting. Both of them get a chance for a wild, romantic adventure when they meet a pair of younger, sexy, mysterious strangers. These strangers were a Latin piano bar singer (played by a young, then-mostly unknown Raul Julia, who had made a name on stage but had done little film work at the time) and a German circus acrobat (played by Nastassja Kinski, who was extremely hot at the time after her hit films Tess and Cat People.)

One decision that Coppola made up front was that he wanted to recreate the glitter and bustle of the Vegas strip on soundstages. An argument could be made about whether it would have just been easier and less expensive to have filmed it on location in Las Vegas rather than create the extremely elaborate sets on soundstages. In fact, that argument was made at the time, by many people. However, looking at the finished product you have to admit that Coppola’s fever dream of the Vegas strip is spectacularly evocative, a wonderland of neon and blinking lights, kitschy sights and constant motion. It still looks amazingly fresh all these years later.

Coppola ended up losing his shirt on his One From the Heart gamble. More to the point, he ended up losing his dream independent studio, Zoetrope Pictures, which was bankrupted by the losses from the film. One From the Heart became a legendary flop, cited in the company of films like Heaven’s Gate, Caligula and Ishtar. In fact, at the time, Coppola insisted he’d be a fool to put his own money behind a movie again, a rule he had followed until Megalopolis.

Coppola has long insisted – mostly with cause – that One From the Heart got a bum rap when it was released. It has been given rerelease periodically over the years – in 2003 and again earlier this year in a nine-minute tighter director’s cut, which Is now coming out on video after a short theatrical run. (The video release contains both the new director’s cut as well as the original 1982 version.)

Watching it again with over 40 years of hindsight, it is certainly a flawed film, however it is also rather spectacular visually and aurally and not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. It has life and energy and a truly wonderful (and mostly forgotten) musical soundtrack by Tom Waits. (Waits also has a brief cameo as a street musician playing the trumpet on the strip.)

The songs in One From the Heart – as performed by Waits with some surprisingly bluesy turns by country singer Crystal Gayle – work as something of a Greek chorus, commenting on and leading forward the action onscreen. The soundtrack was made at a crossroads time for the singer, as he was moving from his early jazz-soaked balladry of his earliest albums to the more experimental impulses that he would soon debut with his next album Swordfishtrombones. In fact, Waits met his future wife and musical collaborator Kathleen Brennan on the set of the film.

While the One From the Heart soundtrack is one of the few pieces of Waits’ discography that has often been out of print and given little attention, there is some truly stunning music here. This includes the gorgeous jazz lament “This One’s From the Heart,” the mournfully bitter argument song “Picking Up After You,” and the sweetly nostalgic “Broken Bicycles” and “Old Boyfriends.” There are also some hints towards Waits' later musical directions, like the sinister atonality of “You Can’t Unring a Bell” and the instrumental “Used Carlotta,” which relied on such found sounds as car doors slamming and engines revving to accentuate the tune.

One From the Heart is worth watching for the music alone.

Luckily, there are more reasons to watch. As stated before, the visual style of the movie is just stunning. The acting was pretty spot on, too. Beyond the four terrific leads mentioned above, Lainie Kazan and Harry Dean Stanton (with one of the worst perms ever) always brighten up their scenes when they appear as the couple’s best friends.

One problem with One From the Heart is the dialogue, which is often kind of clunky and overwrought. The other major issue an audience is likely to have is that the couple at the heart of the story is just not all that easy to root for. Although Forrest and particularly Garr do all they can to make the characters relatable, we never really see what they see in each other. They spend so much time fighting that when they eventually have to decide between staying together or whether they should go off with their new fantasy lovers, the audience can’t help but wonder why they’d even want to continue their relationship. Wouldn’t they be better off taking a chance on the shiny new love, even when those lovers turned out to not be exactly as perfect as they originally seemed?

Of course, not exactly what it originally seemed can also describe the film itself. Despite its dicey reputation, there is a lot to love in One From the Heart. It’s not a classic, but it is a lot better than history has suggested.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2024 All rights reserved. Posted: May 15, 2024.

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