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review added: 1/29/04



One from the Heart
1982 (2004) - Zoetrope Studios (Zoetrope DVD/Fantoma)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

One from the Heart Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/A

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
100 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), Amaray double disc keepcase packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 60:32, in chapter 13), audio commentary with director Francis Coppola, isolated music-only track (DD 5.1), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (for the hearing impaired)

Disc Two - Supplemental Material
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), 4 documentaries (The Dream Studio, Tom Waits and the Music of One from the Heart, The Electronic Cinema and The Making of One from the Heart), 10 deleted and alternate scenes (2 with audio commentary by Coppola), 6 alternate music takes, video of Zoetrope Studios press conference, video of Francis Coppola speaking to exhibitors, This One's from the Heart music video, "stop motion" demo, videotaped rehearsals, 2 theatrical trailers (for the 1982 release and 2003 re-release), magazine articles from Recording Engineer/Producer and American Cinematographer, photo gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0 Surround)


When one thinks of experimental film, the first things that generally spring to mind are plotless, no-budget shorts from the likes of Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, and Richard Kern. If you think features, you tend to conjure up images from John Cassavetes or the iconoclastic Dogme 95 banner. You don't usually think of lavish, $26 million musical fantasies directed by a multiple Academy Award-winner. But above all else, Francis Coppola's ambitious One from the Heart is every inch an experimental film. It was a test of new technologies. It was a gamble on a new kind of Hollywood studio. And it was a risk on a different kind of movie musical. At the time, it appeared that every one of these experiments had failed. Coppola withdrew One from the Heart from theatres a mere two weeks after its premiere and soon thereafter, lost his idyllic Zoetrope Studios. Twenty years later, One from the Heart is available again in a spectacular two-disc set that inaugurates the American Zoetrope DVD label distributed by Fantoma. And while its failings can't be denied, Coppola's labor of love today looks like an ahead-of-its-time minor classic, far more interesting than many so-called successful pictures.

As Coppola explains in the disc's supplements, One from the Heart was intended to tell a simple story in an elaborate, theatrical way, utilizing techniques from live theatre, television, and cinema. Indeed, one of the most common criticisms lobbed against the film is that the picture's undeniable style can't hide its almost complete lack of substance. While it is true that the story is simplicity itself, I don't believe it's completely vacuous. Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest star as Frannie and Hank, an unmarried couple whose anniversary celebration is marred by an acrimonious breakup. Over the long 4th of July weekend, the couple go their separate ways, commiserating with their friends Moe and Maggie (Harry Dean Stanton and Lainie Kazan) and chasing romantic dreams with a pair of fantasy figures. Frannie with a Latin lover piano player (the late Raul Julia), while Hank meets a beautiful circus performer named Leila (Nastassia Kinski). All of this is played out against a gloriously artificial Las Vegas backdrop (even more artificial than the real thing, if you can believe it) designed by Dean Tavoularis and constructed on the sets of Zoetrope Studios.

Honestly, there isn't much to the screenplay for One from the Heart. The dialogue goes from being honest and natural to almost poetic to eye-rollingly artificial, often within the same scene. If this was all there was to One from the Heart, I would totally agree that it's a plotless, meandering movie with no real point. But there's more to it than just lines of dialogue and the events you see transpiring on screen. The picture's style isn't just slathered on top like three inches of frosting on an underdone cake. Everything in the film, lighting, cinematography, set and costume design, music and sound design, works harmoniously to create a fantastic, dreamlike atmosphere. It's this mood that the movie's about as much as it's story. In many ways, One from the Heart is the romantic, candy-colored flipside to David Lynch's Eraserhead. Hardly anyone complains that Eraserhead really isn't about much of anything other than creating a nightmarish feeling of indefinable anxiety in the audience. By that token, I don't see how you can criticize One from the Heart for not being about anything other than creating a feeling of romantic fantasy.

Continuing the film's tradition of risk-taking, One from the Heart is an ambitious choice for a lavish two-disc special edition. Apart from Coppola's most ardent admirers, many people may be understandably hesitant to pick up a DVD of a film they've never seen and only know by reputation as a spectacular failure. This set should brush aside any hesitation. To begin with, the film looks and sounds absolutely glorious. To answer the most obvious question first, the full frame presentation IS the movie's original aspect ratio. It is NOT supposed to be letterboxed. As Coppola explains in his commentary, he chose to shoot One from the Heart in the classic pre-1950's Academy ratio as an homage to the films he grew up on, from the great Astaire/Rogers musicals to Citizen Kane (which is explicitly referenced in an early shot of the Golden Nugget casino sign). The high-definition transfer explodes with vibrant colors that never threaten to destabilize no matter how much they bloom. Apart from some very, very minor faults with the original source material, there's absolutely nothing to complain about with the image. The sound has been remixed into a new Dolby Digital 5.1 track that washes over you as if you were seeing a live performance, especially during such show-stopping moments as the elaborate mid-film dance sequence.

The lion's share of the supplemental materials are found on the second disc, although there are a couple goodies worth noting on disc one. Coppola's commentary track is informative and entertaining throughout. His fondness for the picture is obvious but he doesn't allow that to keep him from being refreshingly candid about some of the mistakes he made that resulted in the film going over budget. In addition, Tom Waits' score and songs (performed mostly by Waits and Crystal Gayle) are spotlighted on an isolated music track, also in 5.1.

As good as these extras are, they almost pale in comparison to the wealth of stuff on disc two. As someone who has to watch a lot of this type of thing, one of my pet peeves is repetitious supplementary material. No doubt you've encountered this yourself. The director tells a couple of stories in his commentary, then we hear those same stories again in a video interview, then we hear them yet again in a feature-length documentary, and so on and so on. Remarkably, there is very little of that here. Each and every piece of material on these discs stands on its own and is worth looking into.

No less than four documentaries examine the making of the film, its release, and the parallel story of the rise and fall of Zoetrope Studios. For some people, the behind the scenes story will be more interesting than the film itself. The Dream Studio takes a broad look at Coppola's ambitions for Zoetrope, its brief glory days and inevitable collapse when it became clear that its future hinged entirely on the success or failure of One from the Heart. The documentary is only about half an hour long but it is extremely well done, utilizing vintage news reports, press conferences, and behind the scenes footage. The Making of One from the Heart dates from 1982 but is no less interesting, looking specifically at the film and its creation. The Electronic Cinema examines the technical innovations of One from the Heart and Coppola's prophetic visions of an entirely digital cinema.

For Tom Waits fans, this disc is a must-own. A 14-minute documentary, Tom Waits and the Music of One from the Heart, interviews the musician in 1982 and shows him at work with Coppola and Crystal Gayle. Even better are six alternate music takes that give you the opportunity to actually hear Waits working out a song as he goes. I've been a Waits fan for about as long as I've been listening to music, so these rare glimpses into his working process were truly fascinating. Speaking of alternate takes, the second disc includes ten deleted, extended or alternate scenes. For this reissue, Coppola used the opportunity to make some changes (as seems to be the fashion these days). The original scenes from the 1982 theatrical release are found here and in almost every case, it seems that Coppola's changes were for the better. Coppola also provides commentary on two of the scenes here, pointing out a young Sofia Coppola in a scene that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor. There's a whole lot more on this second disc, including rehearsal footage, magazine articles, and a photo gallery, leaving almost no uncovered ground. The only thing I might have liked to see was more contemporary interviews. Apart from Coppola, it would have been nice to see and hear some reflections from Garr, Forrest, Waits, Tavoularis, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the rest of the team. But because there is so much archival footage, these interviews really would have been more of a luxury than a necessity.

Over the past few years, the Fantoma team has developed an impressive catalogue. They seem to be real movie archeologists, uncovering forgotten but interesting gems like Jodorowsky's Fando & Lis, Sam Fuller's Street of No Return, and the Educational Archives series. One from the Heart is an auspicious beginning to their new collaboration with American Zoetrope DVD. In a lot of ways, Francis Coppola's little big movie is just as much of a risk today as it was in 1982. You may not respond to its combination of simple pleasures and grandiose flights of fancy. But its influence is still being felt today, from direct links like Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (to which One from the Heart is an obvious forebear) to ongoing technical innovations such as George Lucas' all-digital Star Wars sequels. One from the Heart wasn't exactly the dawn of a new age in cinema that Francis Coppola envisioned it to be. But it's a fascinating, unique attempt at pushing the medium in a new direction.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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