As a teenager, I was fond of playing the sublime One from the Heart soundtrack by Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle on my old tape-deck in my first flat; one night, I came home to find the music playing through the walls, and realised that my neighbours had been inspired enough to buy their own copy. It’s melancholy mood music par excellence, and fits nicely with Francis Ford Coppola’s widely neglected, deeply romantic musical.
Frederic Forrest does his Brando thing and Teri Garr plays cute as Hank and Frannie, a frazzled Las Vegas couple who are continually on the edge of splitting up; Waits’ (I’m Sick and Tired of) Pickin’ Up After You catches the downbeat mood. But the 4th of July weekend looms, and the couple go their separate ways with separate partners; Hank welcomes Nastassja Kinski to his mechanic’s graveyard of old cars, while Frannie heads for Bora Bora with dancing smoothie (Raul Julia). The course of love will run true, but who will be rewarded, and who will fall foul of their clandestine affairs? Or are the weekend’s festivities no more than a test of the true nature of Hank and Frannie’s relationship?
One from the Heart’s structure builds to an all-singing, all dancing Vegas street-dance, then dials back to focus on the smaller, more intimate story of a partnership under strain. Coppola created and pretty much bankrupted his own Zoetrope studio to create this delicate valentine to music, love and cinema, and One from the Heart truly is one of a kind. The four central leads all do great work, and there’s a wonderful cameo from Allen Garfield as the owner of a restaurant. But the real star is Coppola, clearly uninterested in replicating the violence of The Godfather or Apocalypse Now, but artfully crafting a lush, studio-set movie for the ages that few cinemagoers turned out for.
One from the Heart is a film-out-of-time, for sure, but it’s a wonderful wallow in fading passion and impending break-ups. Songs like Broken Bicycles have endured, but it’s well worth going back to the source to experience them in context. The metaphors may be obvious, and it’s not hard to see why Frannie’s wanderlust is in conflict with Hank’s practical, downbeat mind, but such simplicity allows space for the poetry to sing. And sing it does; this is a untypical movie musical which has more than a dash of the bitter-sweet formula that hit the sweet-spot with the more crowd-pleasing La La Land.