Francis Ford Coppola’s Hollywood back-lot dream (worlds away from, but a worthy contrast to David Lynch’s Hollywood on-location nightmare, Mulholland Drive), is a pastiche of styles, pastels and fluorescents that wears its 1950s musical-love story homage on its sleeve (it’s shot 1:37 and every driving scene is rear projected).
A film where the supporting cast – Raul Julia as Ray and Natassja Kinski as Leila – arguably became larger stars than the leads – Terri Garr as Franny and Frederic Forrest as Hang – the film is purportedly the straw that broke Coppola’s financial camel’s back (does that even make sense?) and led him into a series of mid-80s director-for-hire jobs to make back the money he lost. If that’s true, at least it gave us Rumble Fish.
One of the best parts of One From The Heart is Tom Waits’ dreamy, breathy, rumbly score. It’s pretty pervasive, often comments directly on the action, and really fits into the downtrodden, lounge feel of the flick.
While Coppola’s film is very much a straight-forward romance in the ilk of the great cinematic loves (think Rick and Ilsa), it’s also a film that’s quite conscious of its heritage. While not quite breaking the fourth wall, Coppola makes little attempt to hide the fact that this is very much a constructed set. From the glowing neon everywhere, to the spontaneous light changes, the fantastical set changes, and the paper-mache city of Las Vegas, it’s an ambitious film, but one that wants very much to be a Hollywood film love story, and not just a love story filmed in Hollywood.
Coppola gets this idea across in ways big and small. Hank drives after Franny and crashes into a wall. The wall makes a dent because…it’s a wooden set, and not a stone structure:
In trying to spy on Franny, Hank climbs atop a motel:
The sound that accompanies his climb is a “boing” straight out of a Looney Tunes.
Franny returns to a forlorn Hank. The lights in their house start down:
And then, motivated by her mere presence (their true love), the lights magically come up. One half expects Marilyn Monroe to walk down a white staircase studded in diamonds:
And then of course there’s the ending. As Franny and Hank gaze out into their beautiful neighborhood, the camera cranes away:
Night magically turns to day. In its full wide-shot, the blue sky in the background is more visible as painted backdrop.
And a curtain drops, announcing:
This is partially Coppola bragging (look what I did). But it’s also very much his final little “hint.” None of this was real. Here’s what you can do with a little love and a giant back parking lot (and a lot of cash), if you really love the cinema.
Random shot to look at:
Hank comes home without Franny, bummed out. Coppola starts in a wide shot, framing Hank within the kitchen doorframe:
The camera dollies right:
And finds the empty dining room:
As the camera settles, Hank enters:
So what’s worth looking at here? Well, Coppola intentionally avoids a very basic idea of filmmaking – motivated camera movement, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before. The camera moves because something makes it move. Here it would be incredibly easy to motivate the camera. Just have Hank start walking towards the dining room and therefore motivate the camera to dolly to the right with him.
But the camera begins before Hank moves. It’s such a deliberate decision, this unmotivated move.
Why? For one, I think that Coppola wants to stress the emptiness of the dining room before Hank gets there. Franny isn’t there, and this wide empty room begins, before Hank walks in, as looking all the more empty. Secondly, while this unmotivated camera movement isn’t exactly akin to that in the Casablancas of the world, it is similar to that of the spontaneous, free moving musicals, where movement is frequently created for a visual sense and a mood, rather than for direct narrative reasons. Lastly, the separate movements give Hank even less agency. He’s close to his lowest-low of the entire film. He’s lost control (of Franny, of his life, and even, of the camera).