One From the Heart (1981)

One From the Heart (1981)

“Honey, let’s just promise to never, ever fight again, okay?”

A quibbling working-class couple in Las Vegas (Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest) seek solace in the arms of glamorous new lovers (Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Allen Garfield Films
  • Francis Ford Coppola Films
  • Fredric Forrest Films
  • Harry Dean Stanton Films
  • Musicals
  • Nastassja Kinski Films
  • Romance
  • Teri Garr Films

Francis Ford Coppola’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to Apocalypse Now (1979) was this infamously expensive musical, filmed entirely in Coppola’s own Zoetrope studios, and pulled from theaters (by Coppola) after just one week (earning back only ~$600K of its 26 million dollar budget). The film’s biggest disappointment, as so many concur, is the failure of the central romantic couple (Garr and Forrest) to engage either our interest or our sympathies. Through no fault of either actor, the characters they inhabit are simply too poorly developed to care about, and the break-up of their 5-year relationship is clearly just an excuse to throw them each into the conveniently available arms of exotic lovers — who are both infinitely more interesting and charismatic than the leads. Kinski in particular — playing a young circus performer — is a gorgeous, kittenish delight, and one definitely wishes she was given more screentime.

What saves the film from its uninspired screenplay are two central elements: Tom Waits’s gorgeously bluesy score (sung much of the time by Crystal Gaile — an inspired choice), and the consistently stunning visuals. From its opening neon credits, the movie is strategically theatrical, infused with bold, screen-popping hues and shot with creatively stylized cinematography. While it’s true that the visual scheme entirely overwhelms the story — and Coppola really should have demanded a more nuanced storyline to go along with his richly conceived alter-universe — there’s nonetheless plenty here to watch and enjoy. You’ve surely never seen a film quite like One From the Heart (which seems like a clear inspiration for Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge), and if it’s not entirely successful, it’s at least entirely original.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dean Taboularis’s other-worldly production design
  • Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography
  • Creative opening credits
  • Nastassja Kinski as Leila
  • Raul Julia as Ray
  • Tom Waits’ bluesy score

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical notoriety. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director


2 thoughts on “One From the Heart (1981)

  1. A must-see.

    It’s true that you’ve certainly not seen another film like it. For me personally, the film’s title takes on a second meaning – in that, I think Coppola made this one for film lovers to lounge in and linger with. I see it mostly as a valentine, not only for lovers everywhere but for film fanatics (which, obviously, Coppola is himself).

    Which is why, for me, the actual ‘story’ is of secondary concern. If it were more than slight, the whole idea of its being a mood piece would be lost. That said, Kinski certainly comes off as the strongest, most nuanced character – even though she isn’t given an overwhelming amount of depth to play either (btw: she looks great in a stylized martini glass and she’s awesome when walking on a high-wire). So, in that regard, I might appreciate the film that much more if the other characters at least came up to *her* level (such as it is).

    But overall, I’m not disappointed by the film as it is and find it very satisfying as something I can simply let wash over me. It is clearly Coppola at his most romantic, and the (not particularly rose-colored glasses) romantic in me eats it up. It points up to me exactly how fragile and rare a real meeting of the hearts can be. (The fullness of that element comes through in Kinski’s performance, but it’s also there in the central relationship if we wish to realize that, by film’s end, the main lovers have come to see what fools they’ve been. On the other hand, as suave as he is here, I don’t really buy Julia’s character in terms of sincerity.)

    This is among the most visually striking films out there. Waits and Gayle are a very winning singing duo (has Waits ever been this sexy before or since?). But Coppola’s direction is also assured.

    This film has been unfairly maligned to a considerable degree. As well, the DVD now available is apparently a considerable re-working of what was released. (I’ve read comments by some who say the original release was perfection and the re-working is an embarrassment. I saw the film on release and remember liking it then as well. I don’t find the DVD version to be at all the ‘horror’ some of the original fans claim it is.)

    If there is a commentary on a DVD, it is not always an interesting one. Overall, Coppola’s own commentary is a good one to take in. He gives an intriguing overview of the whole process of the film, the experience of giving birth to the ill-fated Zoetrope Studios – and he was clearly in love with his cast and has wonderful and interesting things to say about them all.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful film. A stunning looking, beautifully cast ode to the Freed Unit musicals. Waits’ score is sublime. However, it’s only real relevance is to Coppola’s career in that it bankrupted him and led him to take director for hire work for over a decade.

    So, much as I love the film, not essential nor must see.

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