Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt,” the third in a series of low-budget “personal” films he’s written, produced, and directed since the turn of the century (after “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro”) has toured the film festival circuit – from Toronto in 2011 to San Francisco in 2012 – and was released in France in April, but a broad release remains elusive. To celebrate its exclusive run at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco, Coppola appeared for Q & As after two screenings on the first day of its engagement, which sold out as soon as they were announced.
Coppola introduced the 4:45pm screening by saying that “Twixt” meant “betwixt dream and reality, success and failure, young and old…”. In his mid-sixties, he continued, he decided it was pointless to make films like those he did when he was young. He decided to make “student films,” with no resources – adventures in countries with great theatrical traditions, like Romania (“Youth Without Youth”) or Argentina (“Tetro”), where dollars were still strong. Both films contained some personal subject matter – explorations of aging in “Youth Without Youth,” and family in “Tetro.”
He was in Istanbul, it seems (“No currency advantage!”) when he was introduced to raki (“It’s like ouzo”) by an attractive young dinner companion. He drank a lot of it, and afterwards had, he said, the most vivid dream he’s ever had in his life, mostly taking place in a forest, with the appearance of Edgar Allen Poe – unfortunately interrupted by the 5am call to prayer. He tried to go back to sleep, in search of an ending, but both remained elusive.
Still, when he returned home, he wrote up the dream, drawing on Poe’s own history of losing his beloved young wife – his fourteen-year-old cousin, Coppola says, but other sources say she was thirteen – who died of consumption, as well as Poe’s obsession with beautiful young women bleeding and in chains, as in “Tomb of Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Returning to his horror-movie roots at the age of twenty, when he made “Dementia 13” for Roger Corman, Coppola said he was now 72 – and that “Twixt” took him to a place he never thought he would go.
He alluded to the fact that “Twixt” features two 3-D sequences – we’ve had 3-D since the Fifties, he said, and I don’t think 3-D is the future. His granddaughter Gia, who wants to become a filmmaker, was on the set with hm, and they had a great time during the filming – in Napa, and other California locations, so he could sleep in his own bed at night. He made “Twixt” to laugh, he says, and they laughed every day. “It defies its genre,” he said, like “Moonrise Kingdom” and also the Coen brothers’ movies. The highest compliment, he says, is to leave a screening and say “Well, I never saw a film like that.”
The movie, indeed an unsettling combination of comedy and horror, in which a tired and alcoholic writer (Val Kilmer) finds inspiration for a new book in exploring current and old murders in a California town with the aid of a sinister but comic sheriff (Bruce Dern), Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), and a ghostly young girl (Elle Fanning), unspools before a respectful and responsive audience. Startlingly, the inspiration for one death – a speedboat accident — seems directly drawn from the accidental death of Coppola’s son Gio at the age of 22, while he was shooting “Gardens of Stone.” Gio’s daughter Gia, the granddaughter who assisted Coppola during “Twixt” – she’s credited in the end titles as “Creative Associate” — was born after he died.
Before taking questions from the audience, Coppola compares himself to Toshiro Mifune in either “Yojimbo” or “Sanjuro,” he’s not sure, in which Mifune shaves his head, gives away his possessions, and goes out with a begging bowl. (“Yojimbo!”, someone helpfully yells out from the audience.) “I wanted to destroy myself and come back,” Coppola says.
His career was so bizarre – “because of ‘The Godfather,’ everything went crazy” – he used it to the maximum, found himself in bankruptcy. He wanted to go back to where he was with “Rain People” – and use cheaper collaborators. Without Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis, Dean Tavoularis, or Milena Canoneros, there are no hotel bills or plane tickets.
About “Youth Without Youth,” “Tetro,” and “Twixt,” he says “I’ve made three films that I like,” and he shrugs when referring to the mixed reactions that “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro” have received: “I’m used to that – “The Conversation” wasn’t a big success, “Rumblefish,” “Apocalypse Now,” “One from the Heart”…”. He still remembers Frank Rich calling “One from the Heart” the biggest disaster in Hollywood history in “The New York Times.” “I felt maligned,” he says, “like Hal Baltimore [Kilmer’s character in “Twixt”].”
He tells the audience he’s currently writing a big film, an epic, one part of which is a heartbreaking love story, that starts in the 20s and continues through the early 60s. When he’s done, he says, he has an imaginary box full of imaginary money that he’ll use to make it.
More tidbits from the Q & A:
Art ahead of its time? After further discussion of “Apocalypse Now” and “One from the Heart” – “I was punished for flying too close to the sun,” Coppola says – someone comments that “maybe you’re ahead of the critics?” Coppola responds that art is ahead of its time, as seen in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” where the now-famous artists of the Belle Epoque are seen as strivers who can’t get hung in the salon shows of their time. The culture is always moving, he says.
Advice to young filmmakers? “Depend on your wits, and as Napoleon said, use the weapons you have.”
Stealing from each other: Asked whether Herzog’s “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” was an influence on “Apocalypse Now,” he says yes, as well as John Milius’ original script and Eugene Jones’ documentary “A Face of War” – “and then Herzog made ‘Fitzacarraldo,’” he said, implying that Herzog in turn was inspired by “Apocalypse.” “They want you to steal from them – it sort of makes you immortal.”
Which artists have had an influence on his work? Elia Kazan, the greatest director of actors; Murnau and Pabst (influenced Hitchcock, who went to UFA in the Twenties); William Wyler and “The Best Years of Our Lives”; King Vidor and Billy Wilder – he mentions “The Apartment.” Film has only been around for a hundred years, he says, and it’s had so many masterpieces. People, it seems, were just waiting to make movies – think of the movies Goethe and Schiller would have made! The future of movies is not 3-D – it lies in the writing – and showing movies live!