Francis Ford Coppola started his panel with a ton of electronics on the stage and a second ton of film history ready to impart. Twixt may be an antique story featuring Gothic Romance elements, but it’s set firmly in the modern and made by the future.
What Coppola intends to do with the film is to take it on tour and (using high-powered new tech (and an iPad)) edit the film in real-time alongside live music scoring provided by Dan Deacon. He likened the concept to the way composers would take their music on tour, which means he’ll be responding in part to what the audience loves or hates. He will, on the spot, “change the experience to suit the audience.”
It’s an ancient idea that will be re-painted as a revolution for the way a film is digested. This is film as opera, as live performance, as organic material that is re-shaped every single night that it plays.
So, first of all, it becomes a movie impossible to review. Which is pretty awesome.
But in a grander sense, this is a huge experiment in filmmaking that is fascinating at its roots even if its execution ultimately fails. Plus, if the execution fails, the next night is a fresh canvas to explore.
“Most art given to us is canned,” Coppola said, touching briefly on the concept of seeing a movie opening weekend, and the excitement that comes from watching something that no one has judged yet.
We watched a feature for the film that poured out ethereal imagery and small town, Twin Peaks-style story onto the screen (aided by an Edgar Allen Poe mask with 3D lenses inserted into the eyeholes for our viewing pleasure). It was all bizarre, but Coppola was his usual disarming self.
That featurette told the story of a small town haunted by a ritualistic murder, Val Kilmer as a hack writer traveling through on a book tour, and a strange new death that pulls him into an investigation in the name of fresh fiction.
We then watched the feature again, and it was very different.
We watched it for a third time, and it had changed again (the creepiness returning full force with the help of Coppola and Kilmer chanting “Nos-Fer-Atu…Nos-Fer-Atu” like cult members underneath a spooky musical accompaniment).
In fact, they started for the third time and stopped when Coppola realized that he wanted to do the narration live instead of hearing the recorded version from Tom Waits. So he did so with Deacon smiling and asking, “What movie has ever stopped and started again with narration added midway through?”
Effectively, Coppola has a computer set up (which he hadn’t quite mastered yet) modeled after a program called Isadora which was made to help choreographers line up visuals with live dancers. The screen went dark a few times. Music didn’t line up perfectly at first. At one point, Coppola built up suspense, pressed a button, and when nothing happened for several moments, Deacon yelled out, “The future of cinema is here!”
But why wouldn’t there be a few kinks at a dress rehearsal? Coppola has until October to get the machine oiled and running before taking it on the road to shift and change his film at will.
I left the panel beyond intrigued, questioning whether the concept will work for a film instead of just a promotional package. Even when the scenes were tossed around, there was an abruptness to every shift that was jarring in the way that trailers can get away with. For a film, those edits won’t have the same safety net, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be presenting a narrative throughline in three acts or show off an art house experiment of contextless images and sounds.
Then, I realized that it’s both and neither. This film can be anything it wants to be – from esoteric pile of scenes to mainstream commercial thriller.
This is a big, glorious test of technology and art consumption coming from a living master. There may always be some kinks, but it’s overwhelming to see something like this being attempted (no matter how it turns out).
Coppola seems to understand that more than anyone, because at the closing of his presentation, he didn’t tell the audience he hoped they would come see it or that he hoped they liked it. He simply said, “Thanks for playing with us.”
One future of cinema is here.