One from the Heart (1982)
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
If any film from the 1980s needs to be re-examined, it's Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart.
To put things in perspective, One from the Heart came after Coppola's huge ordeal filming Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. The way the media saw it, Coppola returned half-mad from that experience, locked himself away in a trailer packed with new-fangled video equipment, and made a highly stylized, but very impersonal, musical without ever speaking to the actors in person.
So, not surprisingly, the film was already dead in the water when it opened. Critics turned up their noses and audiences stayed away in droves.
And yet, One from the Heart turns out to be a hugely personal film, a technological wonder years ahead of its time. It deserves to rank alongside The Conversation as one of Coppola's major achievements.
Shot entirely on a studio set, the film takes place in a quasi-glamorous Las Vegas where pudgy, uncouth Hank (Frederic Forrest) and awkward, dreamy Frannie (Teri Garr) celebrate their fifth anniversary as boyfriend and girlfriend.
Unfortunately, they fight and each heads out into the night, each accidentally meeting new and enticing lovers: a singer, Ray (Raul Julia) for Frannie and a circus girl, Leila (Nastassja Kinski) for Hank.
Admittedly, it's not much of a plot, and the exciting climax -- in which Hank races to the airport to stop Frannie from flying off with Ray -- has certainly been done to death by now (see Love Actually).
In addition, Harry Dean Stanton and Lainie Kazan play the goofy "best friend" characters that are now standard issue in romantic films.
But, Coppola is more interested in the emotional content and how it ties in with the astonishing visuals. Even the actors serve a certain visual ideal.
Neither Hank nor Frannie will ever win a beauty contest. Their relationship evokes the popular 1955 film Marty, in which two less-than-attractive people find love. Las Vegas provides a perfect foil for them, glitzy, alluring, based on greed and vice, but not without its beauties and sad realities. Meanwhile, the exotic new lovers are part of a fantasy world.
For the film's centerpiece, Coppola stages a huge dance number in the middle of the Vegas strip. All four lovers cross paths at one point. Each character takes stock of the situation, casting glances at the other three, sizing up the situation. In the midst of this singing and dancing, everyone decides on glamour rather than reality.
Though the film is steeped entirely in artifice, Coppola makes sure that Hank and Frannie's home is the most realistic set in the film. It's just a bit run down but very homey. When they're together in the house, everything's fine. It's when they go out into the night, onto the strip, that trouble starts.
Likewise, Frannie clutches onto Ray far longer than Hank does with Leila. Leila is presented as a magical force who can simply disappear, while Coppola slyly reveals that Ray doesn't exactly sing and play piano for a living; he's also a waiter. This dose of reality makes him more appealing to Frannie. It's like having a bit of Hank attached to her fantasy object.
The great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro -- who mostly worked with Bernardo Bertolucci -- provided the film's bold, saturated color pattern, and Dean Tavoularis built the amazing sets, including a kind of junkyard that Hank frequents "just to think." The filmmakers also play an amusing game with scrims, revealing one character thinking about another with the flick of a light.
Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle provide the finishing touches, warbling and wailing brokenhearted tunes from above and giving the film a more timeless, more universal appeal.
MTV launched its first videos that same year, and it wouldn't be until 20 years later that Moulin Rouge and Chicago attracted audiences with the same kind of fa�ade filmmaking. Even if One from the Heart had come out years later, it still would have failed because its grown-up story doesn't really appeal to teens.
Nevertheless, it's clear now how deeply felt this story is, like the saddest of sad songs, the aching pang of loneliness. Coppola sent it to us in 1982 from his heart and we scorned it. Now, two decades later, perhaps he can finally mend.
DVD Details: For this cut, Coppola has slightly re-edited the film and returned it to its original beautiful color scheme. This extraordinary two-disc set from Fantoma Films boasts a beautiful, restored transfer of the film remastered in 5.1 Dolby and presented in Coppola's preferred 1-to-1.33 format. Coppola provides an entertaining and insightful commentary track. The second disc contains a treasure trove of found gems: the original and the new re-release trailer, a featurette on Tom Waits and the film's music, alternate versions of said music, rehearsal footage, deleted scenes, a featurette on the "new" electronic cinema, and an all-new "making of" documentary.