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Comic Con 2011: Mr. Beaks Digs The Improvisational Nature Of Francis Ford Coppola's TWIXT!

For a second there, Francis Ford Coppola's TWIXT looked like little more than an old-fashioned ghost story shot on some highly affordable DV cameras. Judging from the extended trailer, the film's central gimmick appeared to be a selective use of 3D; at random points during the movie, 3D glasses swipe across the screen, cueing viewers to don their specs. So Coppola was making his San Diego Comic Con debut in order to sell a slightly arty homage to the showmanship of William Castle - and, due to the paucity of production value (and the presence of a ghostly Edgar Allan Poe), perhaps an affectionate nod to his one-time benefactor, Roger Corman. A nice gesture, but, in terms of cinematic experimentation (which has been the filmmaker's m.o. for the last few years), hopelessly behind the times.

Then Coppola got out his iPad. "Theoretically, I could push this shuffle button and show you thirty versions of what I just showed you." An hour later, I was giddily dreaming about an entirely new way of making and presenting movies.

This October, Coppola and musician Dan Deacon will take TWIXT on the road for a series of live performances, during which they'll re-edit and re-score the horror film based on their own whims and the vibe given off by the audience. Since Coppola will have every scene - and every variation of that scene - accessible to him on his laptop, all of this will be done on the fly. Theoretically. Thus the true purpose of Coppola's visit to Comic Con: he wanted to do a "dress rehearsal" of the live show to see how/if it might work. It took me a while to figure out precisely what they were trying to accomplish (there were certainly plenty of technical glitches, especially with Coppola needing to be coached through the operation of the iPad), but once they got in a rhythm, I started to sense the possibilities. Improvisation based on classical narrative structure. It's cinematic bebop.

It's exciting to see the seventy-two-year-old Coppola playing innovator again - especially at a time when "innovation" seems to begin and end with 3D. "Cinema is so young," said Coppola at Saturday's funky Hall H panel. "How dare anyone think it doesn't have anything else up its sleeve but 3D and higher ticket prices." While Coppola obviously isn't anti-3D (or anti-higher ticket prices, as I'm sure this touring version of TWIXT will cost more than a regular trip to the multiplex), he doesn't believe the process should be applied to the entire film. Having watched significant chunks of AVATAR sans glasses, Coppola is in favor of presenting only select set pieces in 3D - which would alleviate headaches the process induces in many viewers, while also keeping them from adjusting to the enhancement. This has been done before (as far back as 1961's THE MASK, and possibly before that*), but it really is ideal.

But the use of 3D in TWIXT is really the least interesting thing about it (actually, the most interesting thing about the 3D was watching it through an Edgar Allan Poe mask, as pictured below); what really gets me excited is this notion of an ever-shifting moviegoing experience. Thirty years ago, Coppola attempted to move film production forward from an Airstream trailer called "The Silverfish" on the set of ONE FROM THE HEART; the idea then was to create an "Electronic Cinema" that would, via video playback, allow for each day's footage to be edited - and, perhaps, scored - as the shoot progressed (rather than waiting to piece the film together in postproduction). That was a costly experiment, one that brought Coppola's dream of an artist-driven studio to a sudden, debt-ridden halt. But whenever I'm hanging out in video village on a film set, I can see the partial implementation of what Coppola was trying to accomplish. He clearly understood where film production was headed.

And he might've had an idea of where it could go once moviegoers started craving an alternative to the canned theatrical exhibition of a finished film. Forget editing and scoring on set. What if the film wasn't ever truly finished? What if the journey wasn't predetermined? What if it could change from screening to screening? And what if you had a live, in-house band to roll with the adjustments like a jazz combo? Coppola, Deacon and TWIXT star Val Kilmer demonstrated how this might work during their Hall H "dress rehearsal", and, despite numerous snafus and restarts, actually won a good portion of the crowd over.

But there is one catch: the plot of TWIXT feels kinda humdrum. Kilmer plays a hack horror novelist who, while visiting a small town during a book tour, gets drawn into serial murder investigation by the eccentric local sheriff (Bruce Dern). Kilmer slowly becomes obsessed with the vampire-ish killings, which, for some reason or another, leads him to consult the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) in his dreams. He also encounters a sweet young girl named V (Elle Fanning, giving yet another great performance) who took up with a motorcycle-riding bad boy (Alden Ehrenreich), which may have led to her death or her being turned into a vampire. All of these dream sequences and flashbacks are shot in beautifully expressive black-and-white (with occasional color augmentation); they offer a striking contrast to the drabness of the color scenes.

While Coppola's cinematic technique may not be wholly breathtaking this time out, the notion of sitting in a theater and listening to him intone "Nos-fer-a-tu... Nos-fer-a-tu... Nos-fer-a-tu..." into a microphone over a hypnotically-edited dream sequence is irresistible. This is the kind of spontaneity Coppola is trying to achieve with the touring production of TWIXT, and it could be mesmerizing or silly or both - especially if Kilmer is in tow. Aside from the B&W sequences, the highlight of the TWIXT footage was watching a writers block-addled Kilmer ad-libbing bizarre lines into his laptop camera, segueing hectically from Colonel Kurtz to a gay 1960s NBA player who credits his short-shorts for improving his leaping ability. It's indulgent and spectacularly out-of-character, but the less conventional TWIXT gets, the better the movie - or, at least, the experience of watching it - is likely to be.

The touring production of TWIXT will consist of Coppola, Deacon's "band" (it seems like he might just DJ, but I might be wrong about that), and, possibly, three-screen projection ala Abel Gance's NAPOLEON. Coppola will have the option of dropping out Tom Waits's narration and performing it himself - and I suppose he'll be able to coordinate a mid-film, spoken-word "break" with Deacon if they feel the audience is into it. As for the narrative, Coppola told indieWire that it is "malleable", meaning it can get longer or shorter depending on which takes Coppola decides to use, but will always reach the same conclusion. So this is not Francis Ford Coppola's DR. SARDONICUS - though he, or another filmmaker inspired by the TWIXT method, could go that route in the future.

I have no idea whether the thirty-city TWIXT tour will be a revelation or a bust; I'm just thrilled Coppola is out there inspiring us to create and resist limitation. He's still dreaming. An improvisatory cinema reshaping itself in the moment based on the audience's reaction? The possibilities are myriad. At a certain point, viewers could become familiar enough with the narrative's shifting contours to induce a particular outcome - like rooting one's favorite sports team on to victory (during the panel, Coppola referenced the the harrowing experience of watching Team USA in the Women's World Cup Final). This might not be for you, but it's an option, a way to enhance the communal experience that won't fuck up your field of vision for two hours. It's one I'd love to see explored.

Faithfully submitted,

Mr. Beaks


*Fact-check me, classic 3D aficionados!
Readers Talkback
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  • But I'm not convinced the explanation/summary did justice to the experience.

  • July 25, 2011, 5:04 p.m. CST

    Interesting idea

    by chuckmoose

    It seems to me that this would be most rewarding for the viewer upon multiple viewings, however.

  • But this is clearly bullshit.


  • July 25, 2011, 5:13 p.m. CST

    I'm a little curious about this, I admit

    by arcane1

    but it seems like the audience would never be able to immerse themselves into the story if they are getting on-screen cues to put on glasses, etc. Only one way to find out!!

  • July 25, 2011, 5:17 p.m. CST

    Nah, no thanks-

    by sonnyfern

    -I just want a good story, good characters and a little entertainment from my movie. Anything else is just kinda gimmicky...

  • July 25, 2011, 5:21 p.m. CST

    Now, I usually embrace experimental film,


    but this is a bit too fucking much.

  • Yes it was fun in Avatar, yes it made a couple of How To Train Your Dragon sequences 10% more immersive ..... but it's just not that great. It has not revolutionized cinemagoing and simply put it completely and demonstrably lacks the capacity to do that, despite what its supporters would have the world believe. I saw Transformers 3 in full IMAX 3D. I would venture to say that behind Avatar and maybe HTTYD (i.e. the lone two movies I already mentioned), TF3 was a movie to be seen in 3D more than any other. And yet for all the effects, leaving aside the awfulness of the plotting and the laziness of storytelling and the juvenile humour, it simply was not that much more impressive than the same thing without the 3D effect. I guess what it took me two paragraphs of typing to realize is that yes I'm already completely ready for 3D to fuck off. It adds nothing to a movie but extra financial cost.

  • July 25, 2011, 5:34 p.m. CST

    The Amy Winehouse autopsy should have been filmed in 3D.


    It would have been the most thorough physical deconstruction of a Jew since THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

  • July 25, 2011, 5:37 p.m. CST

    This will only encourage Michael Bay to pursue "Coke-o-Vision."


    An onscreen prompt will tell theatergoers to do a bump every time there's a flash of ass, an explosion or a crude racial stereotype. Needless to say, your coke intake by the end of the movie will rival only Len Bias's or Tony Montana's.

  • Who the hell said that it did? Another asinine comment from the increasingly asinine and pretentious windbag that Coppola has become in his old age (and of course, no surprises that that pseudo-intellegentsia fuckhead Beaks agrees with him). Higher frame rates on a technical level for one? The kind of experimentation with narrative that Malick does on another? Instead Coppola can only offer up carny gimmicks, earlier decrying 3D as 'tiresome' yet, ironically, now jumping on the bandwagon and offering up the most gimmicky iteration of the medium possible (constantly putting on and removing glasses at certain intervals like a carnival funhouse where you come out into the light midway through to avoid your eyes becoming adjusted to the dark). That's completely disruptive to the cinematic experience, which SHOULD be about immersion from film beginning to end and where you don't even notice the 3D after awhile. And I'm sure Francis isn't averse to the 3D sufeit charges that wil be going in HIS pocket, either. He should just fuck off back to his vineyards with his nepotic brats. And don't even get me started on the whole 'this will help to alleviate headaches' rot which is the biggest lie ever foisted by the anti-3D brigade, the ones who used to ignorantly crow about this, chicken little-style before 3D became the norm (in both theaters and, increasingly so, in other mediums) and it was proven to be utter bunk. Oh, I'm sure a small portion of people, whether due to medical conditions or eye problems, have occasionally experienced some discomfort. But for the majority of the millions of people around the globe who have watched 3D stuff without any unpleasant artifacts? Fraid not, we're doing fine.

  • Yes, Coppola actually WAS a great artist once, but that was a long time ago. His latest schtick for 'advancing' cinema reminds me of Peter Greenaway's pompous and bizarre ideas that cinema is dated and should now become some kind of interactive travelling carnival exhibit. Two old, bitter fucks. There's a difference between out-of-the-box and out-of-touch.

  • July 25, 2011, 6:15 p.m. CST

    Sounds fun!

    by Mike

    I like the premise of the movie and I think this experience would be really cool! I will check this out if I get the chance. I mean, there certainly isn't anything else like it so why not try it out? Your description of Val Kilmer's performance alone makes it sound worthwhile! Also, I didn't know about Coppola's editing technique on One From The Heart. He was ahead of his time there.

  • July 25, 2011, 6:18 p.m. CST

    Twixt... the only candy with the cookie crunch.

    by Triple_J_72


  • July 25, 2011, 6:21 p.m. CST

    ....and it was proven to be utter bunk.

    by redteeb

    Eh, where? New research. Science - it works, bitches. -gives-you-headaches


  • July 25, 2011, 6:28 p.m. CST

    Never mind what some online article 'claims'...

    by Turd_Has_Risen_From_The_Gravy

    The proof is in the pudding, not what some fraudulent 'research' tells you is supposed to be the case. I've watched 3D films with my own eyes (who hasn't, by now?). I know dozens of people who have watched them. I've never experienced any kind of discomfort and don't know anyone in real life who has, or who had any complaints in that area. That's the only litmus test you need.

  • July 25, 2011, 6:39 p.m. CST

    The people who get 'headaches' and 'eye strain' are a minority...

    by Turd_Has_Risen_From_The_Gravy

    and it's because of conditions that they ALREADY have. So some people are incapable of processing the third dimension? No doubt, but then I guess color film must be inviable because some people are color blind! The point is that the MAJORITY of people do NOT experience discomfort. If that was the case, the format would have been dead in the water immediately, since when a mass audience first peeped eyes on it this would immediately have become apparent. In other news: ban cell phones before they cause cancer!

  • July 25, 2011, 8:27 p.m. CST

    Amy WINEHOUSE obit FFs!

    by Fritzlorrerains

    Have a heart!

  • July 25, 2011, 9:09 p.m. CST

    STFU about Winehouse - she has no place on this site

    by ShiftyEyedDog

    AS far as I know she had nothing to do with movies, tv shows, comics, games, etc... not to mention she had long since pretty much become obsolete even in the music world. ...and oh yeah, an obit is unnecessary because everyone in the world saw this coming for years. A real shocker, eh?

  • July 25, 2011, 10:29 p.m. CST


    by montessaurus

    turd_has_risen_from_the_gravy (paraphrasing here) "ERRYONE I KNOW DOESN'T HAVE ANY PROLBLEM WITH 3D SO ERRYONE ELSE IS LYING!" wow. just grade-A twatsmanship right there bud. that's basically the most retarded fucking thing I've seen on the internet all day, and I'm a 4chan regular.

  • July 25, 2011, 10:46 p.m. CST


    by MoffatBabies

    The most retarded thing on the Internet is someone who thinks that a few people who get eye strain means that most of us do, or even a LOT of people do. People who have issues tend to be LOUDER than the rest of us. (trust me) Oh and citing CNN.

  • July 25, 2011, 11:01 p.m. CST

    I had this idea...

    by TenderBranson

    ...a few years back, regarding if anyone had the balls to make a House of Leaves film. Basically each cut would be different from the next, and no two prints or dvd's would be the same - scene wise, length-wise, or ending-wise. Pot is a helluva drug.

  • July 26, 2011, 12:57 a.m. CST

    Don't go see a 3D movie if you can't handle the glasses...

    by Rupee88 fucking pussies. Most of us don't have a problem.

  • July 26, 2011, 3:29 a.m. CST

    False advertising

    by imp_fx_com

    Sure it will be different viewing everytime, but there is no way in hell he is reading the audience and giving them what they want. He's out of his mind. This will fail.

  • July 26, 2011, 4:29 a.m. CST

    Dan Deacon rocks.

    by Mechasheeva

    All of my socks.

  • July 26, 2011, 6:47 a.m. CST

    Hmmm I've never had cancer,


    so I guess that means cancer doesn't exist and all the claims in news articles regarding getting cancer are null and void. CHOPAHO INDIAN

  • July 26, 2011, 9:27 a.m. CST


    by homer40

    I'm all for letting him do whatever the fuck he wants, and this sounds very cool. It is interesting to look at this from the perspective of Ebert's attack on video games as a non-art form. I think one of the reasons he cited was the lack of a through story, that to be "art", choices by the artist had to be set in stone. So what Coppola is doing is really pretty similar to a video game where choices you make effect the storyline of the game, and in some cases, how it resolves. Just in case anyone hasn't seen Tetro, make a point of doing so. It was a great Coppola film, and the black and white photography was sublime.

  • July 26, 2011, 10:40 a.m. CST


    by kwisatzhaderach

    Two years ago. Though you were probably too busy checking out Michael Bay and JJ Abrams movies to notice.

  • July 26, 2011, 5:37 p.m. CST

    This sounds like he's taking a page from Crispin Glover's book

    by Detective_Fingerling

    I wonder if he will interact with the audience before and afterwards and answer questions and sign things.

  • July 26, 2011, 6:43 p.m. CST

    Why are we taking the piss out of this before we've even tried it?

    by Pop_aristocrat

    It sounds like a fun idea, and even if FFC's first try isn't a rousing success, it could pave the way for another filmmaker with a fresh perspective to do something marvelous with the format. At least he's trying something different in a time full of sequels and reboots.

  • July 26, 2011, 10:26 p.m. CST

    I hope the film's tagline will be...

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    ..."two for me NONE FOR YOU!"

  • July 27, 2011, 7:39 p.m. CST

    Will these board game adaptations ever stop?!?

    by John Maddening

    Hope FFC is paying royalties to good old Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing:

  • July 28, 2011, 5:34 a.m. CST

    Notoriously Indecisive

    by bigtime_charly

    This is a perfect vehicle for Coppola. Someone who is so notoriously indecisive in his editing he now never has to make a final decision at all. Essentially making the film a constant beta.

  • Considering the latest whacked-up ideas for movies based on licensed properties (Battleship, Space Invaders), why not a CYOA movie I say.

  • July 28, 2011, 3:22 p.m. CST

    choose your own adevnture

    by metalfalcon

    That's basically where a lot of video games are headed already. Look at the Mass Effect series.

  • July 29, 2011, 6:21 a.m. CST

    Dragon's Lair...

    by workshed it's essentially a rip-off of that Arcade classic..? WTF happened to the genius that was Coppola..? So very, very sad to watch one boring project after another appear. As much as I like 'Tucker', the inspirational figure of old has been on hiatus for the last thirty years. What a waste.

  • July 30, 2011, 2:36 a.m. CST

    What if it could change from screening to screening?

    by Salvius

    What if the film wasn't ever truly finished? What if the journey wasn't predetermined? What if it could change from screening to screening?

  • July 30, 2011, 2:36 a.m. CST

    The rest of my comment

    by Salvius

    I think Coppola's old buddy George Lucas already had that idea...