One from the Heart (Zoetrope, 1982) Is a Better Movie Than You Think; A Stellar Soundtrack Composed By Tom Waits and Sung By Waits and Crystal Gayle Is a Big Reason Why


Images courtesy of Zoetrope Studio

Gem from the Record Room and from the Movie Shelf: Francis Ford Coppola wanted One from the Heart to be a simple romantic comedy, ostensibly the antidote for his then latest film Apocalypse Now; antidote in the sense that it was intended to be everything that Apocalypse Now was not.

No one would ever accuse Coppola of not thinking big, so perhaps it was impossible for him to make a small picture. For starters, he tried to make One from the Heart at the same time he transformed the then vacant Hollywood General Studios, that he had just bought, into the Hollywood home of Zoetrope.

Even though the story of One from the Heart all takes place in one night in Las Vegas, every scene required the construction of a set there on the lot. As if that weren't enough, Coppola conceived a new kind of electronic filmmaking in which storyboards for each scene were recorded on videotape. The video could be reviewed and revised in real time. These dreams of Coppola's conspired to make a "small movie" into a major production. 

The highly stylized movie that resulted was more visual and more musical than the average love story. And although this is a musical, the characters don't break into song as they do in a traditional musical. There are numerous ways in which one could interpret the music; I prefer to subscribe to the theory that the songs are inspired by the thoughts of the two main characters.

I don't need to detail the many business difficulties that Coppola encountered during the making of the movie, but it's safe to think that the negative advance publicity played a part in the lackluster reviews that met the initial release. The first week's box office was low, according to the Making of- documentary; Coppola reportedly pulled the film from theaters effectively cancelling its run. 

One from the Heart has a simple story. Taking place on Independence Day, Frannie (Teri Garr) and Hank (Frederic Forrest) complete their fifth anniversary dinner by breaking up. The movie follows each of them as they look for love in their home town of Las Vegas. 

One can say that over the course of the night, the city where nothing is exactly as it seems, provides the perfect setting for Frannie and Hank to each live out their dreams, at least for a little while. It's no spoiler to report that these two find their way back to each other before the night is out. 

The dialogue between Frannie and Hank sounds either ultra realistic or partly improvised, or maybe both. What makes this movie really work is the music. When you hear the voice of composer Tom Waits, you are somehow in connection with the mind of the Hank character. Similarly, when you hear the voice of Crystal Gayle, you know that it's inspired somehow by the Frannie character. 

Reviewers watching the movie cold at preview screenings can be forgiven for not getting it. The 2003 revival release on DVD brought a pristine transfer of the film, plus a second disc full of bonus material that included several behind-the-scenes documentaries, as well as previously unreleased demos and alternate takes from the soundtrack and much, much more. Viewers at home have the advantage of repeat viewing and can now more fully appreciate the beauty of One from the Heart. 

When it comes to the soundtrack album, I don't think I could love it more. Although I feel that way about far too much music to ever narrow it down, One from the Heart by Tom Waits with Crystal Gayle solidly falls in my all time top ten albums list. It shares the list with albums by The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Bruce Springsteen, just to name a few.

Why exactly is that? Well, every album has a number of essential variables that must come together to create greatness. There is the songwriting, the vocals, the instrumental performances, the arrangements, and the production. For my money, the most important ingredient is the songwriting; if all the other elements were at the top of their game, but the songwriting was subpar, you would definitely not have a great album. But, if the songwriting excels and any of the other variables is questionable, you could still have a great album. 

With all of the music beautifully written by Waits, One from the Heart, in my opinion, goes way over the top in every one of those categories I specified above. Longtime Waits fans probably know that his writing can far exceed the gruff exterior he offers on most of his work. But, for these he goes way beyond any other record he's ever made in terms of the smoothness of his voice and the way he carries a melody. There are songs that sound like he is almost crooning; I think he's expressing his inner Louis Armstrong. 

I'm hearing almost the same effect coming from (then country star) Crystal Gayle. I recently took a close listen to her signature hit song, "Don't It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue," which also crossed over to the pop chart (the Billboard Hot 100) where it peaked at #2 for three weeks in 1977. That vocal was superb of course, but Gayle's vocals in One from the Heart are filled with nuance and emotion and they transcend her country career in ways that the earlier hits only hinted at. 

Much has been written about this film soundtrack. I especially loved the writing on Edward Allan Faine's blog/podcast
"Tom got a huge assist from two unlikely sources—film director Francis Ford Coppola and the serendipitous, genre-busting addition of country singer Crystal Gayle, who, with her pure country voice, limned Waits melodies better than he could himself and, in duets with Tom, wedded that tear in her throat with the gravel in his."

When I watch the movie now, I notice a slight difference between the music in the movie as compared to the music on the soundtrack album. The songs are the same, but in the movie it might be that the music was recorded in a separate session for the filming. It's almost like hearing a live performance. 
Some casual viewers /listeners might not even notice, but I found this small thing exciting. 

Yes, I am trying to entice you watch or listen. This is how the film opens.


1. Opening Montage: Tom's Piano Intro/ Once Upon A Town/ The Wages Of Love (instrumental)
2. Is There Anyway Out Of This Dream? 
3. Picking Up After You 
4. Old Boyfriends 
5. Broken Bicycles 
6. I Beg Your Pardon 
7. Little Boy Blue 
8. Instrumental Montage: The Tango/ Circus Girl 
9. You Can't Unring A Bell 
10. This One's From The Heart 
11. Take Me Home 
12. Presents (instrumental).

All songs written by Tom Waits. 
Bones Howe: engineer, re-mixing, production and sound. 
Geoff Howe: engineer. Tim Boyle: second engineer. 
Dave Demore: second engineer. 
Bob Winder: second engineer. 
David Alexander: front cover photography. 
Tom Waits: vocals, piano, orchestra arranger ("Circus Girl").  
Crystal Gayle: vocals.  
Bob Alcivar: piano ("Once Upon A Town", "Is There Any Way Out Of This Dream?"), orchestra arranger and conductor ("Once Upon A Town", "The Wages Of Love", "I Beg Your Pardon", "Circus Girl", "This One's from The Heart", "Presents").  
Greg Cohen: bass ("Once Upon A Town", "The Wages Of Love", "Is There Any Way Out Of This Dream?", "Picking Up After You", "Old Boyfriends", "Broken Bicycles", "I Beg Your Pardon", "Little Boy Blue", "The Tango", "Circus Girl", "You Can't Unring A Bell", "This One's from The Heart", "Presents"). 
Teddy Edwards: tenor sax ("The Wages Of Love", "Is There Any Way Out Of This Dream?", "I Beg Your Pardon", "Circus Girl", "This One's From The Heart"). 
Pete Jolly: piano ( "The Wages Of Love", "Picking Up After You", "Broken Bicycles", "I Beg Your Pardon", This One's From The Heart"), accordion ("Circus Girl"), celeste ( "Presents"). - Dennis Budimir: guitar ( "The Wages Of Love", Old Boyfriends"). 
Shelly Manne: drums ("The Wages Of Love", "Is There Any Way Out Of This Dream?", "Old Boyfriends"). 
Jack Sheldon: trumpet ("Picking Up After You", "I Beg Your Pardon", "The Tango", "Circus Girl", "This One's From The Heart"). 
Gayle Levant: harp ("I Beg Your Pardon", "This One's From The Heart", "Presents"). 
Emil Richards: vibes ("I Beg Your Pardon"). 
Ronnie Barron: organ ("Little Boy Blue"). 
John Thomassie: percussion ("Little Boy Blue"). 
Gene Cipriano: tenor sax ("The Tango"). 
Larry Bunker: drums ("The Tango"). 
Chuck Findley: trumpet ("Circus Girl"). 
Dick Hyde: trombone ("Circus Girl"). 
Don Waldrop: tuba ("Circus Girl"). 
Lonny Morgan: woodwinds ("Circus Girl"). 
John Lowe: woodwinds ("Circus Girl"). 
Leslie Thompson: harmonica ("Circus Girl"). 
Victor Feldman: tymps ("You Can't Unring A Bell"). 
Joe Porcaro: Glockenspiel ("Presents").


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