While the world prepares itself for the mercurial director’s rather daunting-sounding audio-visual experiment Twixt (a “non-linear film-making experience that incorporates live performances and both 2D and 3D sequences”, apparently), StudioCanal UK have recently released a raft of films from Francis Ford Coppola’s studio Zoetrope on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Guardian’s John Patterson recently wrote a wonderful piece examining Coppola’s Zoetrope studios with its “excess, hubris, majestic ideals and brilliant innovation, all mired in recurrent financial chaos … overseen by a magical, mercurial, charismatic figure seemingly straight out of the real Renaissance (and Italian to boot).” Within this context, let’s take a brief look at the new releases one-by-one:
In between the first two Godfather films (1972 and 1974), Coppola found time to construct another stone-cold masterpiece; The Conversation, a character study-cum-thriller in which a never-better Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, an intensely private, lonely surveillance expert who finds himself way over his head in a case he is investigating. As well as Hackman’s brilliant central performance and the austere, unsettling mood, the film is further distinguished by editor Walter Murch’s spellbinding (and fundamental to the story) sound design. In mainstream cinema, perhaps only Arthur Penn’s underrated Night Moves (Also starring Hackman) can match The Conversation for communicating the era’s Watergate-inspired paranoia, disappointment and grey-hued disaffection.
1982 saw the release of German director Wim Wenders’ shambolic yet compelling Hammett (Shammett, perhaps?), an unorthodox private eye movie starring Frederic Forrest in the lead role, and described by Cinemart’s Martyn Conterio as “very peculiar and incredibly disjointed”. The film’s messiness comes as no surprise when one learns that Wenders, struggling to adapt to the Zoetrope system, had to deal with countless re-shoots, script changes and a cutting process administered by three editors, in three rooms, on three machines. Nevertheless, Hammett is haunting and worthwhile, for some strong performances and a disconcertingly dreamlike atmosphere which, argues Conterio, may have been intentional or just a happy by-product of its troubled genesis.
One From The Heart is an elliptical, affair-strewn love story boasting a budget that skyrocketed, scarcely believably, from $2m to $25m during its production. Despite its extravagant visual sheen and LA feel, the film was shot almost entirely on sound stages, and features a near-Brechtian sense of artificiality. As with much of Coppola’s output, it’s inconsistent, maddening stuff, but an absolute feast for the eyes; dazzling in its neon-slicked widescreen grandeur. The soundtrack, by the unlikely pairing of grizzled troubadour Tom Waits and country chanteuse Crystal Gayle, is bloody lovely, too.
The least well known of these releases is The Escape Artist, again from 1982 (a bumper year in Zoetrope land), a sweet, eager-to-please drama directed by Caleb Deschanel (yes, father of Zooey). It tells the twisting tale of cocky yet personable Danny Masters (Griffin O’Neal, yes, son of Ryan), the teenage son of the late Harry Masters, aka the “greatest escape artist… except for Houdini”. It’s a hidden gem that’s well worth a watch, and, to mine a hoary cliche, fun for all the family.
One of Coppola’s most well-received pictures was 1983’s The Outsiders (one of two S.E. Hinton adaptations Coppola directed in quick succession, the other being the more consciously arty, black-and-white Rumble Fish), a tender coming-of-age story featuring a cast packed to the gills with more teen heartthrobs than you could, should you wish to try, shake a stick at (Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze to name but a few). Sure, it’s a bit melodramatic, but it hits home, and is eminently watchable from beginning to end.
The Conversation and The Outsiders (Special Edition) are out now on DVD and Blu-ray, and are packed with extras; One From the Heart, The Escape Artist and Hammett are also out now on DVD, all via StudioCanal UK
Keep your eyes peeled for a Francis Ford Coppola DVD competition coming soon on Permanent Plastic Helmet!