October 05, 2013

Live-Tweeting TWIXT Leaves Me Hopeful For Coppola's Future

"What's your position on Daylight Savings time?"
Hollywood is a fickle beast.

There are a handful of legendary filmmakers, guys like John Carpenter, William Friedkin, Paul Schrader and yes, even Francis Ford Coppola who are simply unable to make studio pictures anymore.  As the old saying goes, "You're only as good as your last picture," and sadly most of these guys have been on the downslope for a while now, at least in terms of profitability.  (I will defend Friedkin's Killer Joe all the live long day.)  On the one hand it makes a certain kind of sense, but on the other it feels like a treacherous Catch-22, the kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves talented filmmakers languishing in obscurity.  That's not to say these guys should be given some kind of lifetime immunity or that there's simply no chance their skills could have diminished over the years, but that doesn't make it any less painful to know that the guy who wrote Taxi Driver is now stuck making shit like The Canyons, starring Lindsay Lohan and a porn star.

Coppola in particular is an interesting example.  The guy has a filmography that reads like a must-watch list for any film lover.  Godfather I & II, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Outsiders and oh yeah, the Disneyland 3D short Captain Eo starring Michael Jackson.  Sure his work from the 90's isn't exactly stellar; aside from Andy Garcia, Godfather III is an absolute pile of trash and the less said about Jack the better.   But then a remarkable thing happened.  Right at the turn of the millennium, Coppola took about a decade off from directing and busied himself as a producer.  He helped usher in ten years worth of provocative films, each one as varied and peculiar as the next.  Stuff like Kinsey, The Virgin Suicides, No Such Thing, Jeepers Creepers, CQ, Assasination Tango, Lost In Translation and The Good Shepherd all have Coppola's fingerprints on them in some way.  (Granted a number of those movies involve his various progeny, but they're all still solid films.)  And then, in 2007 Coppola suddenly returned to directing with three films in four years: Youth Without Youth, Tetro and Twixt.  Without warning, the man seemed to have regained the excitement of a film student, desperate to try weird new styles and techniques in order to prove his filmmaking chops.

Sadly Twixt often feels like a student film, with a narrative that's constantly running in circles and effects work that looks tragically cheap.  Coppola is shooting digital here and it's obvious that he struggles with the aesthetic. The lighting and the depth of field often feel off-kilter, like everyone's standing in front of green screens or possibly not even physically in the same room as each other.  (To be clear, there's definitely some heavy green screening here, but even the stuff that's on real sets somehow looks fake.)  Still, it's certainly never boring and you have to admire Coppola for being willing to dangle from the ledge of creativity and make some truly bizarre choices.  For example, when Twixt was first released he planned to take the show on a 30 city tour where his composer would score the film live while he actually tweaked the edit on the fly, riffing off audience reactions and creating a completely unique viewing experience every time.  Some scenes were meant to be shown in 3D as well, and Coppola is a guy who I really want to see utilizing a tool that can potentially be a game changer. (PrometheusHugo and Gravity all prove that 3D works best in the hands of master directors.)  He managed to pull off his live-edit concept in front of a half empty Hall H at Comic Con in 2011, but general audience reaction to the film was so negative that the road show plan simply evaporated.  That's a damn shame, as it sounds like a completely fascinating way to not only watch a movie, but to directly interact with the filmmaker's vision.  And with an innovator like Coppola at the wheel, that's an experience I would have paid virtually any price for, even with a film as underwhelming as Twixt.

Anyway, while Twixt is hardly a success, at least it's an interesting failure.  If nothing else, it's worth watching if only for the scene where Val Kilmer improvs opening lines for the novel he's writing.  At one point he even slips into his Brando impression.  It's pretty great.

Live-tweet ramblings below...

In a weird way, Twixt actually leaves me hopeful for future Coppola films. You'll never be able to convince me that we don't still need guys like him pushing the envelope of their own film vocabulary and trying new things in order to grow along with the medium. 

Rock on, Francis.  Rock on.

Title: Twixt
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern, Ben Chaplin, Joanne Whalley, David Paymer, Anthony Fusco, Alden Ehrenreich
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: Redbox DVD

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