My Comic-Con coverage came to a close this morning with Francis Ford Coppola’s first appearance here in 19 years, and a glimpse of his latest film, “Twixt.” There’s still the “Cowboys & Aliens” screening tonight, but reviews will be embargoed, so my big send-off is the master himself. And what a send-off it was.
“Twixt” is film chock-full of genre trappings starring Val Kilmer as Hall Baltimore, a genre writer working on a new premise based on a grisly discovery in a seedy town, where he’s holed up for a book signing. Edgar Allan Poe shows up. In a dream. Like Virgil to Baltimore’s Dante. (And based on an actual dream Coppola had.)
There are vampires. A seven-sided clock tower tells seven different times. 3D is employed here and there, but not for the whole film. (We wore Edgar Allan Poe masks outfitted with 3D lenses.) Elle Fanning is a pasty living-dead pixie. Bruce Dern is creepy. But let’s get into why this is the best Comic-Con panel I’ve ever seen.
Coppola spoke passionately about the gall of considering filmmaking a stagnated art form. “Cinema is so young,” he said. “How dare anyone think it doesn’t have anything else up its sleeve but 3D and higher ticket prices. CInema’s a baby. So of course we’re going to see innovations.”
“Twixt,” you see, aims to bring the live elements of entertainment back to the cinema and expand upon them. We were shown 10 minutes of footage, cut together like an extended trailer. But then Coppola really dug in.
“All we have that’s vaguely alive are the concerts you go to or theater or sports,” he said. “Because cinema is now electronic, is digital, it means the director could essentially change the experience to suit the audience. I feel like making a film is asking a question, and when you get to the end you have an answer.”
What he’s doing with “Twixt” is this: live creation of the film during a multi-stop tour of the production. Each incarnation will be re-edited by Coppola, on the fly, real time, like some kind of movie DJ, with musical accompaniment by composer Dan Deacon.
Coppola had an iPad set-up on hand to give us a taste with the footage he brought. He would pick and choose shots at random. He even hit a “shuffle” button to generate a random assemblage (and the crazy thing is it actually worked, however abstract).
The demonstration was not without technical difficulties, but the giddiness and the experimentation evident was enough to keep a big smile on everyone’s face throughout.
“We all become sort of facile at selling things and talking about our ideas,” said Kilmer, who was also on hand. “But you see him today the way he is, trying to capture something that’s genuine and exciting about entertainment. So every single day was a thrill, really.”
My colleague Russ Fischer noted during the demonstration, “The fact that the ideas Coppola is talking about seem so radical is indicative of how jacketed our ideas of ‘cinema’ really are.” And there’s no better way to put it. This might work, it might not, but to see a filmmaker like Coppola still pushing (really pushing, as in could-fall-on-your-face pushing) is exciting, inspirational and, above all, entertaining.
It was a massive hit with the meager crowd that turned up. (Hall H was barely half full for this guy, which is a sad and revealing state of affairs here.) Everyone was willing to go with it. Everyone got a kick out of a goth-rock repetition — “Nos-fera-TU. Nos-fera-TU.” — that he and Kilmer threw into the mix. It was just…fun.
And in some ways, Coppola is going back to his roots with this material, roots he already re-investigated with 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (the last film he brought to Comic-Con). And indeed, what he learned along the way and on that film, too, informed his approach on “Twixt.”
“I’ve always loved the Gothic romance story,” he said. “I began my apprenticeship with Roger Corman. And I used to be a camp counselor and I would read to them. I confess I read the entire Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ to those 9-year-old boys. There’s no question that imagery helped me when it came to making ‘Twixt.'”
His opinions on the state of cinema affairs were also a big hit. He’s down on 3D conversion:
“I feel the same way about it as I do about colorization. Some movies were beautifully conceived one way and to conceive them another way is a pity. It’s just done for commercial reasons.”
He’s down on remakes:
“I think when they remake films it’s a pity, because that money could go into investing in new ideas.”
He wants to break out of the indie circuit again and try his hand at another large scale work:
“What I’d like to do is work with a bigger budget but with the same economies and the same stringent control. I am writing a new script right now as we speak that is bigger. I don’t know how I can finance this one but I am writing it. I’m getting old and I want to express some things on a slightly larger canvas.”
But mainly, he wants to change the way we think of movies. He’s after a true game changer, if you will, because the aim of all of this is to blow back against the commoditization of art in some way.
Deacon mentioned that Stravinsky would make music just long enough so that it would fit on phonograph records, and noted that the big shift in interacting with art came when suddenly you didn’t have to be there with the creator anymore. Coppola offered that he felt a bit of yearning for a little of the “live” to be put back into things, and come hell or high water, he’ll try to knock down walls and see what he can do to change the status quo.
This is what a movie panel at Comic-Con should be about. Not lazy PR that we all follow (and report) like zombies.
So in closing, from the Con, I have to blow a big kiss and send a giant “thank you” to Coppola for this treat. It gives you a little hope.
[Photos: Kristopher Tapley]