Wednesday, July 01, 2009

TETRO—An Evening Class Question for Francis Ford Coppola

Shortly before the hordes began chanting, "The Daily is dead; long live The Daily", David Hudson gathered reviews of Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro, first from its Cannes debut, and then later mid-June when it opened stateside. Here in San Francisco, Coppola met with his audience at the film's first screening at the Sundance Kabuki.

Outlining how The Godfather created a "tsunami of success" that irrevocably changed his life and filmmaking, Coppola has gleaned from the passing of years a restoration of creative spirit leaning into what he admits is his "second career." Tetro is, in fact, the second film of his second career; Youth Without Youth being the first. Lustrously shot in digital and projected in 35mm, the film is a rapture to watch, even as its rich visuals disguise an anemic narrative that doesn't quite ring true. One is grateful for what one has seen; but, not completely satisfied. I'm not a huge Vincent Gallo fan so I place the blame there—for me, he just couldn't carry the movie—but, Coppola's "discovery" Alden Ehrenreich has charisma to spare in his debut role and is a talent to watch in future years.

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Michael Guillén: One of the images I'm going to carry away with me from Tetro is that of the staged dance sequence near the edge of the sea. It reminded me of One From the Heart for being thrillingly artificial; the kind of artifice that lends itself in some odd way to emotional authenticity. Can you speak to your use of theatrical artifice to create emotion in your films?

Francis Ford Coppola: Of course. Just as the story implies, when Bennie [Alden Ehrenreich] was a little kid, his older brother Tetro [Vincent Gallo] used to take him to movies that were a little bit advanced for a seven-year-old kid and gave him some books to read and what have you and that's why the boy idolized his brother so much. It's true, in my own life I have an older brother who took me to see the Korda films, The Red Shoes—of which there's an excerpt in Tetro—and also Tales of Hoffmann, which is much stranger for a young kid. Just as the character Bennie says, whenever he thought of his brother he always thought of Tales of Hoffmann.

My idea was that—when Bennie is reading [Tetro's] cryptic notes and writings—that he imagines the story as though it's scenes from a
Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger dance film. The version of the story that the boy understands is as though it's told in dance. It's great that film is one of those mediums that can use different art forms to do different things. It was also fun for me—as someone who has admired The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus and all those beautiful Technicolor films—to get to fool with telling this little story in those images. The image you mentioned of the dancers on the stage with the sea coming in is very much inspired by the dance in The Red Shoes, as you can imagine.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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