Monday, February 07, 2005

One from the Heart



There's sometimes wonderful good that comes from the most self-indulgent of excesses...it's a paradox that both pleases and perplexes us.

The excess in question here is Francis Ford Coppola's visionary but unnecessarily expensive love story, One from the Heart, a film from the early 80's that I (and woefully few others) loved when it first came out. It's at once intimate and a gloriously over-the-top mess (said affectionately by yours truly, said more derisively by more than a few critics.) This film...which I've recently fallen in love with again thanks to a grand DVD release...is full of fire and portent and shameless melodrama and enough neon to blind the populace of a small city. It's dazzling.

The good alluded to above is the film's absolutely amazing soundtrack...a song cycle that both compliments and transcends the movie for which it was created.

One of the key conceits of One from the Heart is that is a musical in which the actors onscreen (Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest as the star-crossed lovers) don't sing. Instead they act out the songs in understated ways while the voices of Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle fill the air...and the spaces.

...I can't tell if that's a siren or a saxophone...

The amazing songs...all written by Waits....give heft to the film's simple plotline of love lost and found anew (as tale as old as love itself, of course.) The singers become the thoughts of the troubled lovers made aurally tangible. In the movie the effect is showy (and occasionally distracting) but often devastatingly effective just the same.

On paper the pairing of Waits' gruff, gravelly growl with Gayle's pristine, measured lilt would seem too incongorous a match to work. But, beyond all common sense, it does indeed work. Waits' voice is modulated with a tenderness that a casual acquaintance of his music might not believe him capable of. And just as marvelously, Waits manages to elicit from the frustratingly-mannered Gayle something no one really had before...a truly soulful, subtle and substantive, series of performances that easily outshone almost the entirety of the rest of her often pretty but mostly vacuous (the sweet uptown stroll of "Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blues" being a shimmering exception that proves the rule) recorded output.

As with most movie music, something is lost when listening to the music without viewing the images it was composed to accompany...but that loss is not all that great here with this music as the songs flow like bluesy operetta, telling the story in vivid enough strokes to stand on their own. Heartbreak-weary pianos and plaintive (are there really any other kind?) saxophones glide in and about the vocalists...the blues in waltz time (especially for dancers who don't seem to know that they do indeed know how to dance...and for lovers who almost forget that they're truly in love with each other.)

The music soothes and pleads as love is won...love grows cool and complacent...love leaves...love comes back chastened and renewed...

take me home, you silly boy, because I'm still in love with you...

A story as old as time, bittersweet fodder for filmmakers and, most especially, for songwriters and poets and torch singers who always have and always will celebrate the imperfect majesty of love. Oh baby, this one's from the heart...


2 comments:

Badaunt said...

FINALLY...somebody else who loved that movie!

The music made it, but I loved the over-the-topness of it, too. It's a glorious movie.

Saint Nate said...

Thanks for reminding me. I have to get the soundtrack to this one to complete my Tom Waits collection.