' ' Cinema Romantico: Twixt

Monday, September 16, 2013


Our protagonist, Hall Baltimore, your typical alcoholic witchcraft murder mystery writer, is attempting to summon the words for the opening sentence to his new novel and, in doing so, mimics Marlon Brando. It is a telling moment for a couple reasons. It is telling because Hall Baltimore is played by the portly, puffy latter day version of Val Kilmer as opposed to the Julliard-trained heartthrob of the 80's, and it is a reminder of how much Kilmer has become like Brando. Reclusive and disinterested…..unless he chooses not to be.

It is telling because "Twixt" is a film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, a legend famous for many endeavors but particularly for guiding Brando to a pair of towering performances several decades ago. He has returned as an independently financed filmmaker seeking to tell personal stories. Indeed, while "Twixt" is a film about many things, it is foremost a film about a broken-down storyteller desperately searching for a proper end to his story.

Baltimore rolls into the town of Swann Valley - less sleepy than foreboding - for a book signing at a hardware store (one of many moments that sounds funny in theory but just does not quite visually pull off the intended laugh). Tom Waits croaks out a voiceover involving a clock tower with seven clocks that all tell different times and a pack of goth teenagers on a shore across the lake led by a creepy outcast named Flamingo. It all feels distinctly of a different era, and is why I was so disappointed to see Baltimore Skyping with his ex-wife (played by Joanne Whalley in a brilliant coup of casting) as opposed to conversing with them via pay phone. Then again, these contrasts underscore the confusion of the clock tower. Yes, you could just get the time from your iPhone, but it's still disconcerting when the noon chimes go off at 6:37.

Approached by the kooky town sheriff Bobby LaGrange (Bruce Dern) about co-authoring a novel set around the long-ago murders of a dozen young girls. Baltimore is reluctantly intrigued. It's been awhile since he's had an in-print hit. He forges ahead, but his publisher (David Paymer, properly existing in a totally different universe) wants an outline and an end.

From that point Baltimore is repeatedly suspended in dreamlike states where he goes back in time, sees the young girls, watches the murders and encounters the wise apparition of Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin). It seems Poe once stayed at a hotel in town, the same hotel beneath which the murdered girls were buried. Now he plays ghostly mentor to Baltimore, offering advice on endings and why murdered young girls make the best main characters, suggesting Coppola may have been influenced by a colleague's fanciful ideas as much as his own.

Coppola, it seems, concocted this story in league with a weird dream he had one night. "But as I was having it I realized perhaps it was a gift,” he explained in an interview, “as I could make it as a story, perhaps a scary film, I thought even as I was dreaming. But then some loud noise outside woke me up, and I wanted to go back to the dream and get an ending. But I couldn’t fall back asleep so I recorded what I remembered right there and then on my phone."

Truer words have never been spoken for "Twixt" very, very much evokes the sensation of a wild, wooly dream being recorded on a phone in the middle of the night. Intriguing ideas are raised, sketched, considered, and afforded unsatisfactory see-throughs - if, in fact, they are seen through at all.

The clock tower, looming over the story like it looms over Swann Valley, said to house the devil himself, receives a visit from Baltimore that may or may not be real and then is heard from no more. Ultimately it's just eerie, useless symbolism. Baltimore's requisite backstory involves a young daughter that perished under mysterious circumstances and in many ways the story exists to get her father to point of a catharsis - I'm just not sure the story gets actually gets him there, let alone gets him there coherently.

Yet, I would be remiss in labeling "Twixt" a traditional misfire. The innumerable effects are often shoddy and the sound mixing is oddly echoey, but this also enhances the individuality of the project. Coppola shot much of the film on his sizable California estate as if he was a young filmmaker just starting out and shooting a movie in the places available to him. Also in the manner of a young filmmaker, he seems unable to contain his narrative, too in love with certain images and concepts to cut them. He wants to include everything, and I’m kinda glad he does, like a moonlit motorcycle rescue which looks as staged as a high school play which makes it so wonderful. Alas, evoking his own protagonist, Coppola comes armed without an ending.

So suddenly he just shrugs and skips ahead to one.


Alex Withrow said...

I've been curious about this one, but pretty much written it off as a total wash. Glad you think otherwise. Sounds film schooly, which I can get into.

Nick Prigge said...

Film schooly! Yes! That nails it. Which is so odd when you consider it's Francis Ford Coppola, but also what sort of makes it endearing.