The Movie Waffler Re-Release Review - ONE FROM THE HEART | The Movie Waffler

Re-Release Review - ONE FROM THE HEART

One from the Heart review
Two bickering lovers seek pleasures elsewhere in Las Vegas on the 4th of July.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassja Kinski, Harry Dean Stanton, Lainie Kazan

One from the Heart poster

After the gruelling jungle shoot of Apocalypse Now, it's no wonder Francis Ford Coppola decided he wanted to work indoors for his next production. Pumping the millions he had made from his highly successful run of films in the 1970s into his Zoetrope studios, Coppola's plan was to establish Zoetrope as an alternative to the major Hollywood studios, a place where artists with uncommercial visions could bring their projects to fruition free from the restrictive conditions of the mainstream market. The dream was deflated by the disastrous box office performance of his 1982 film, One from the Heart, which made less than a million dollars from a $26 million budget.

That may seem like an excessive sum for what on paper is a rather intimate romantic drama set in a handful of locations, but Coppola wasn't simply making his next film, he was reinventing the wheel. For better or worse, several of the working methods Hollywood routinely employs today were pioneered by Coppola on this production. "Pre-vis," the concept of working out scenes prior to shooting with simple video enactments, was a major part of the process, allowing Coppola to have a rough cut of his movie before a single frame of film was shot. Coppola heavily employed the use of computers in the film's editing, facilitating the elaborate transitions and onscreen effects that give the movie its distinctive flavour.

One from the Heart review

The result is a film that still captivates with its visual audacity. For the few cinemagoers who saw One from the Heart on its 1982 release it must have been akin to seeing a new film from Griffith, Murnau or Potemkin in the 1920s. Ironically for a movie that incorporates music and lyrics so heavily into its narrative, One from the Heart has more in common with a product of the silent era than with its '80s contemporaries. Like many great silent movies it's a simple tale of love, lust and infidelity brought to life by its dazzling images.

Taking place over the 4th of July in Las Vegas, the film is centred on Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr), a couple who met five years prior on America's national holiday. To celebrate the anniversary they exchange gifts. Frannie, who works in a travel agents, surprises Hank with a pair of tickets to Bora Bora. Hank gifts Frannie the deed to their currently rented home. Both gifts are rejected. Hank doesn't want to travel, as he'd rather spend the money on their home, which he hopes to fill with children some day. Frannie isn't interested in settling down, at least not until she's explored the world.

The ensuing bickering leads Hank and Frannie to separate and head downtown into the brightly lit Vegas night. Frannie is seduced by Ray (Raul Julia), a Pepe Le Pew-like lothario who works as a waiter but claims to be a singer waiting for that big break. Hank sweeps circus performer Leila (Nastassja Kinski) off her feet.

The trouble with One from the Heart is that we don't care whether Hank and Frannie get back together after their respective nights of infidelity. Nothing about their thinly sketched relationship suggests they belong together. Rather they seem to make each other miserable. That they so willingly jump in the sack with the first people that make googly eyes at them suggests this is not a romance for the ages. If we give up on Hank and Frannie we might root for their temporary flings to become something more, but they're clearly established on superficial grounds. Frannie would probably have fun with Ray for a week or two, but he'd likely get bored with her soon after. Leila is such an adorable manic pixie dream girl that we don't want her to settle for the unlikeable Hank.

One from the Heart review

In the original 1982 cut we learn that Hank has spent not only his own money but also Frannie's in purchasing the deed to their house without consulting his partner. Coppola's new cut, which is 12 minutes shorter, excises this detail, presumably in the hope it will make us a little more sympathetic towards Hank. It doesn't. This is largely down to the miscasting of Forrest, who lacks the vulnerability the role requires. As played by Forrest, Hank seems like a man who might have been attractive in the past but whose current embittered state makes him decidedly unappealing, so it's far too great a leap for us to believe he could ensnare Leila, who as embodied by Kinski is one of the most beautiful women to appear on screen in any era. We can sympathise with Frannie because Garr plays the part with a vulnerable charm that suggests she just needs some time away from Hank, which is understandable as he's such a boor. Forrest however plays Hank's unlikely seduction of Leila as an act of revenge, and he carries the threat of misogynistic violence on his taut shoulders.

All that criticism might make One from the Heart seem like a dud, and the critics and audiences of 1982 certainly thought so. But they couldn't see the forest for the Vegas neon. It's remarkable to look back at those reviews and see how thoroughly unimpressed critics were by the film's visuals, which are arguably even more eye-popping today in our era of muddy images and flat digital cinematography. Coppola's decision to relocate the story from screenwriter Armyan Bernstein's original Chicago setting to Vegas is an inspired move. If you've ever been to Vegas you'll have experienced that odd feeling that you're always indoors, as though the city itself is housed in a sound stage. We only see a few square metres of the famous strip, but Coppola and his ingenious crew bring it to life in magical fashion. The unreality of the backdrop makes the poorly defined human characters seem more alive in contrast.

The score, which incorporates songs by Tom Waits performed by the songwriter and Crystal Gayle, breaks that unwritten rule that says non-diegetic songs should refrain from commenting on what's happening onscreen. We're so wrapped up in the visuals however that we don't pay attention to the lyrics, so the effect is similar to how Alan Rudolph employed the songs of Alberta Hunter, Teddy Pendergrass and Marianne Faithfull in Remember My Name, Choose Me and Trouble in Mind, adding thematic texture and emotion to the film rather than direct commentary.

One from the Heart review

One from the Heart only features one real musical number - in which Ray sweeps Frannie off her feet with a tango that begins in an abandoned piano bar and makes its way out onto a teeming strip - but it's a banger. Choreographed by Gene Kelly and Kenny Ortega, the sequence sees Julia move with Astaire-like grace while Garr's chorus girl legs work overtime. It's one of the standout musical numbers of the post classic Hollywood era.

It's difficult to see the average 2024 viewer being any more receptive of One from the Heart than their 1982 counterparts, and Forrest's Hank will likely prove even more unappealing today despite the efforts of Coppola's cutting blade. But anyone with an appreciation for groundbreaking filmmaking will find value in this glimpse of an exciting future for American cinema that sadly never quite came to pass. The film's influence can be seen in many of today's auteurs, from the dollhouse aesthetic of Wes Anderson to Denis Villeneuve, who referenced a memorable shot here in Blade Runner 2049. One from the Heart may have failed to endure, but it continues to inspire.

One from the Heart
 is on 4K UHD, bluray and VOD from March 4th.

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