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
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.
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.