SDCC 2011: Coppola Experiments with Form on the 'Twixt' Panel

Saturday, 23 July 2011 10:14 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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SDCC 2011: Coppola Experiments with Form on the 'Twixt' Panel

Yesterday morning, venerated filmmaker Steven Spielberg made his first ever appearance at San Diego Comic-Con in order to promote his new performance-capture adventure The Adventures of Tintin.  In some respects, it's more surprising that Spielberg had never been a presence at the Con before.  Today, another legendary director made an appearance at the Con, and in the case of Francis Ford Coppola, it's more surprising that he appeared anywhere so public, let alone the cavernous Hall H.

The usually more reclusive director behind The Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, and The Outsiders was on hand before the cosplay crowd to discuss his new film Twixt, formerly titled Twixt Now and Sunrise.  An unusual horror tale which Coppola adapted from his own short story, the film stars Val Kilmer as "a third string writer of popular fiction" on his latest book tour who becomes involved in a murder mystery after being visited by the ghost of a young girl played by Elle Fanning

Coppola graciously bowed to the enthusiastically cheering crowd before introducing Dan Deacon, the electronic musician contributing to the Twixt score, as well as Val Kilmer, sporting a head of silky long hair.

Upon entering Hall H, attendees received not the standard issue 3D glasses, but a full face mask of American Romantic literary titan Edgar Allan Poe, with 3D lenses over the eye-holes.  In the film, Ben Chaplin plays Poe, who consults with Kilmer's Hall Baltimore in what may be dreams or hallucinations.  Coppola asked that the lights be brought up as bright as possible to see a room of several thousand people wearing black-and-white Edgar Allan Poe masks, apparently amused by the surreality of the sight.

The director explained how, in the aftermath of Avatar's success, he was consistently asked about his thoughts on 3D exhibition, and he always replied that he has long been a fan of the format.  Despite the potential of 3D, he said that he tires of wearing uncomfortable, headache-inducing 3D glasses for entire films, even during scenes not particularly enriched by the third dimension.  He confessed that, when watching Avatar, he would spend long stretches without the glasses on, electing to wear them during certain sequences.  As such, Twixt will be partially in 3D.

He then introduced a batch of footage from the film, opening with Tom Waits providing ominous voiceover describing a small town inhabited by some indeterminate evil.  Hall Baltimore is seen at a would-be book signing in a hardware store, where he meets a the sheriff, played by Bruce Dern, who offers to collaborate on a story based around a series of grisly, vampirically-inspired murders in the town.  The footage is divided between full color and black-and-white scenes.  The tone is phantasmagoric, gothy, and pulpy, with potentially evil teenagers, along with talk of witches, vampires, and murder.  Coppola mentioned it having a Halloween sensibility, and that seems an accurate encapsulation.

After the footage ended, Coppola discussed his desire to make moviegoing a more lively, less standard experience of art. He asked, "Why do films have to be canned?"  In modern culture, he said, "All we have that is vaguely alive are concerts that you go to, some theater, and sports." 

Copola's insanely well-versed in film history and technique, and he reminded the audience that the medium is still very much in its infancy and should be pushed into interesting new permutations.

Believing, as he says, "There's a yearning for a little bit more of the live to be put back in cinema," the writer-director shared a scheme to do just that with Twixt.  He, Deacon, and a technician showed off a touchscreen interface offering different versions of every scene, he could choose different takes and combinations of scenes on the fly.

Coppola explained his plan to tour the film to thirty cities prior to release, attending each screening with his composer and other key creative personnel, presenting a different experience of the film each time, performing music and accompaniment on the spot.  He illustrated this idea by showing a "dress rehearsal," replaying the footage presentation in a new order, with a few extended or shortened scenes and Coppola himself reading the narration.  The idea was to inject a little spontaneity into the moviegoing experience, remixing the whole thing in the moment.  The demonstration certainly provided that; Coppola and Deacon futzed with their equipment, starting and restarting with an infectious, shambling enthusiasm.  Basically, they were playing, having fun withe idea and winging it like DJ's doing an experimental set. 

The Twixt panel was about as far from the typical Hall H panel as it could possibly get.  Rather than simply hyping a project with hyperbole, Francis Ford Coppola laid out an ambitious idea in a thoroughly unconventional manner, and the result was refreshingly offbeat and earnest.

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