Francis Coppola chose to follow his monumental “Apocalypse Now” with a simple love story set in a neon-drenched, fantastical version of Las Vegas. What followed was a tale of bravado and turmoil that rivals even the well-known travails of his Vietnam epic.
Released in 1982, this sentimental mess of a picture became the stuff of legend. Coppola shot vast Sin City panoramas on a soundstage, building a state-of-the-art studio and simultaneously running it into the ground, all while trying to invent a new kind of digital cinema. An homage to the lavish music-rich Hollywood productions of yore, the achingly beautiful but flawed “One From the Heart” is a movie in love with moviemaking.
As evidenced in American Zoetrope’s DVD release, Coppola was never content to do even a small film in a small way. He conceived a work of “live cinema” where multiple cameras would capture the uninterrupted performances of actors while being edited electronically in real time. The idea was to combine traditional studio moviemaking, live television and theatrical performance.
To achieve this goal, Coppola bought his own Hollywood back lot and soundstages and filled his payroll with technical departments and contract players. He moved his film workshop from San Francisco into his new “dream studio,” where he famously proceeded to direct the film, via closed-circuit TV and loudspeaker, from the confines of his Airstream trailer edit suite, the Silverfish.
The second disc in this package brings to life the visionary qualities and chaos of the production. Behind-the-scenes docs include a moving testimonial from the inventor of the Avid system who cites the film as his main inspiration; footage of the children Coppola invited to the studio to learn filmmaking from the inside — one precocious lad is even permitted to give notes to Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr; and hilarious scenes of serving hot soup to the public at the film’s Radio City premiere.
We see Coppola at his reckless best, inspiring his cast and crew with artistry and new technology, and manipulating the press like a seasoned politician.
Like Scorsese’s golden age musical “New York, New York,” Coppola’s film never coalesced. It was a flop with the critics and the general public Coppola’s “electronic cinema” is a far cry from his former protege George Lucas’ accomplishments at ILM and the early Pixar. But Coppola’s inspired, idiosyncratic efforts to embrace digital filmmaking make “One From the Heart” an important historical artifact.