Less necessary but perhaps worth a look is Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001), a longer, rejiggered version also available for streaming. Intended as a definitive, post-facto statement by Coppola and editor Walter Murch, it reorders the film's chronology while restoring previously cut scenes that spend far too much time answering questions most of us never had. As a companion piece to the original, this overstuffed special edition may satisfy the curious (especially if, like me, you spent decades hoping to see the French Plantation sequence or more Playboy bunnies), but it also dilutes the original's strangeness and mystery. I'll never quite forgive Coppola for showing us a laughing, pranksterish Willard stealing Col. Kilgore's surfboard. Some things--including an iconic character's grim, humorless visage--should remain sacred.
After four years living in the literal and metaphorical jungles of Apocalypse Now (which was as famous for its production history as its artistic merit), Coppola decided to make something frothy and light and entirely within the confines of a studio. One From the Heart (1982) was going to be everything Apocalypse Now wasn't: a simple love story with a small cast, a few musical numbers, and a soupçon of fantasy, all staged entirely on an artificially constructed Las Vegas. But Coppola's brain was clearly suffering from residual jungle rot, as his "little movie" ballooned into a $26 million flop that managed to transform impressive sets, gorgeous cinematography, a game cast, original Tom Waits songs, and gratuitous Teri Garr nudity into a nearly Heaven's Gate-level disaster that barely squeaked into theaters.
Still...there remains something compelling about this wide-eyed attempt at an old-style musical. Is the script as shallow as the toddlers' end of a swimming pool? By all means. Does the direction of the actors seem secondary to Coppola's elaborate camera moves and Vittorio Storaro's complex, theatrical lighting? Certainly. Are the dance sequences almost entirely bereft of inspiration? Pretty much. And yet the film has earned a kind of cult status beyond its Tom Waits-Crystal Gayle soundtrack (which provides a doleful running commentary on the film's events). I've always maintained that the failure of a great artist is almost always more interesting than the success of an average one, and One From the Heart is no exception: its transparent artificiality and outsized ambition combine with an off-kilter whimsy that can leave you befuddled, but not unpleasantly.
After all, when a movie's male leads are Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton, and Raul Julia--and of the two female leads, Nastassja Kinski isn't the one getting the most naked--you know only the loose screw of genius can be behind it. One From the Heart may be as wispy as Teri Garr's costumes, but as a beautiful, colorful yin to Apocalypse Now's yang, it's intriguing nonetheless. (And Garr is gorgeous in what was her most significant leading role.)
Unfortunately, Heart's commercial failure forced Coppola to sell off his studio, declare personal bankruptcy, and spend most of the 1980s and '90s paying off massive debt. Working primarily as a director for hire, he piloted a number of undistinguished studio ships that were mostly poor shadows of his '70s greatness (with occasional idiosyncratic exceptions such as Rumble Fish, Tucker, and Bram Stoker's Dracula). The last such venture before spending a decade to tend to his wine business was the unlikely The Rainmaker (1997), an expertly directed John Grisham legal drama with a script by Coppola himself. Starring Matt Damon and a diverse ensemble of character actors who were clearly eager to please the veteran director, the movie is a perfect example of old-fashioned Hollywood craftsmanship.
|Coppola directs Matt Damon and Claire Danes|
|Tim Roth in Youth Without Youth|
|Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich|
The film's title character is played by the unlikely Vincent Gallo, an enfant terrible known not only for directing and starring in his own off-Hollywood films (Brown Bunny, Buffalo 66) but for his reputation as "difficult" (industry code for "pain in the ass"). He acquits himself well here, deferring to the older auteur's sure hand and committing fully to the prickly, secretive and damaged Tetro. The other actors are equally good, including Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mamá También), a welcome Klaus Maria Brandauer (Out of Africa), and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, who plays Tetro's worshipful younger brother while evoking a young Leonardo DiCaprio (maybe a bit too much).
I have yet to see Twixt--Coppola's most recent act of cinematic rebellion (a 3D horror fantasy starring Val Kilmer, of all people)--but I remain grateful that the man continues to make movies and that he's found a way to make them exactly how he wants. Unlike longtime pal George Lucas, who's been threatening to direct "small, experimental films" for decades, Coppola actually puts his money (literally) where his mouth is. What more can one ask of an artist working in such a commercially driven medium, especially an artist in his seventies with the vision and drive of a 30-year-old? No matter how you cut it, that takes a lot of grapes. May his harvests be forever healthy and his wine barrels always full.