It was a half empty Hall H who saw Francis Ford Coppola present an exciting, fun and forward-thinking vision of what cinema can be. The legendary genius, inspired by fast moving technology, wants to remove cinema from the constraints of commodity and bring in elements of live theater. Working with Dan Deacon, a musician renowkned for his highly interactive live shows, Coppola with do a 30 city tour with his new vampire horror movie Twixt; Deacon will score live and the director will actually remix and re-edit the movie according to how the audience reacts.
It’s a magnificently simple idea, one that is both forward-thinking and incredibly old fashioned. Deacon talked about how music was profoundly impacted by the ability to record, saying that Stravinsky started writing symphonies that would fit on a record. It was the start of music morphing from live experience to a canned experience. Film has always been pretty much linear, with the experience being essentially the same from night to night, audience to audience. But not with the road show of Twixt.
Coppola showed off the technology, which wasn’t without bugs. But once he got it going it made perfect sense. First we watched a teaser clip reel - a very long one, in fact - and then he began playing it again… but with differences. The audience had reacted well to a scene of Val Kilmer, playing a third rate horror writer, in front of the keyboard trying to start his next novel, and on the second playthrough we saw more choices that Kilmer made, more jokes, more moments, basically riffing. Another scene, where Kilmer meets a ghostly Elle Fanning, was also very extended, allowing different contexts and understandings of what was going on.
This is very exciting stuff. Twixt‘s final form won’t be morphing every night, just on the tour, but imagine the film release as the album and the tour as the concerts. Coppola is hoping to bring the energy and unpredictability - the aliveness - of live performance to the canned medium of film. And Coppola’s not afraid to go big and weird and silly - during the remix/live score portion of the footage presentation he delivered a narration that Tom Waits gave in the ‘regular’ footage, and then sang over the end, essentially rapping ‘Nosferatu, Nosferatu.’ It was so weird and so great. It was electric.
And what about the movie itself? Hard to say - the film is shot on digital and looks it. It’s always a bummer to see great visual stylists hit digital and just not know how to light it, and so everything looks quite flat and cheap. What’s intriguing is the tone - it’s one part mindfuck, one part Roger Corman schlock. Val Kilmer is a horror writer who comes to a small town and discovers a strange series of serial killings, all involving wooden stakes in the heart. He meets the ephemeral Elle Fanning, chats with Edgar Allan Poe in his dreams and meets a group of goth motorcycle kids who party on the river. There are parts that are black and white, with strategic splashes of color (think Rumble Fish), and some of it looks fairly lovely and strange, although cheapness haunts the edge of every frame.
There’s a lot that’s tongue in cheek in what we saw, but a lot that seems quite serious, especially about artistic intent and creativity. Kilmer’s writing is forced to write junk for money, something I think Coppola feels quite deeply. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out.
Also interesting: there are 3D segments to the film, but the whole film is not 3D. Coppola said that he gets tired of wearing the glasses, and he took them off for much of Avatar, only wearing them when image separation on screen indicates real serious 3D is happening. In Twixt he signals to the audience that it’s 3D time with a very William Castle-esque image of 3D glasses coming up to the camera. It reminded me of that 1961 classic The Mask, with its intonations to ‘Put the mask on now!’ when 3D was happening. The 3D glasses handed out in Hall H, by the way, were creepy Edgar Allen Poe masks with the lenses in his eyes.
But however the movie is, the tour could be the most important cinematic event of the rest of the year. I don’t know what the ticket price will be, but it will be worth it. It’s experimental, it’s weird, it might be a total failure, but this tour is a great artist taking chances and attempting to do something more than create gimmicks. It’s interactivity in a way that allows the audience to have their say but that keeps control in the artist’s hands. It isn’t Choose Your Own Adventure, it’s cheering on the band to play the hits.