Posted by keelsetter on August 2, 2009
I’m not of much use when the heat gets above 90 degrees. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to fly to Portland last week – I figured it’d be a reasonable temperature while my homestead here in the Rockies baked under summer sun. And what happens? Boulder got hit with rain and weather in the 50′s while Portland was scorched under record-breaking temperatures that reached 107 degrees. And there I was on the second floor of the Hawthorne Youth Hostel, with no air-conditioning, reeling about in buckets of sweat like Martin Sheen on the tail-end of a drinking binge about to go mad in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. As many people do who look for a reprieve from extreme heat, I sought my refuge in the cool halls of a movie theater. And with Coppola and madness in mind, I found his latest film, Tetro, playing at the Living Room Theaters.
Watching Tetro at the Living Room Theaters in Portland was a treat unto itself because, not only was I able to beat the heat, but I could also enjoy an Oakshire Espresso Stout and a Terminal Gravity IPA, two excellent Oregonian brews. It’s comfortable “make yourself at home” interiors meant I could spread myself out – and that was just fine. Their claim, on the other hand, of being “earth friendly, energy conscious,” and “sustainable” – just because they are “the first all-digital and only-digital theater in the country” is a crock of over-reaching salesmanship.
Tetro (played by damaged soul and tortured artist Vincent Gallo) is a damaged soul and tortured artist living in exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdu). He is annoyed by the unexpected appearance of his younger brother (newcomer Alden Ehrenrich, who is so much the spitting image of Leonardo DiCaprio he is surely sick of hearing that by now). The film was shot digitally in High Def, with some prints being struck onto 35mm so that it can be screened either on celluloid or directly via D-Cinema. In a counter-intuitive move, Coppola shot everything taking place in “the present” in black-and-white and in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and then shot all the flashbacks of “the past” in vivid color and in a standard 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It’s all a bit jarring but not without great moments of beauty.
I’ll admit to being a bit underwhelmed at first because with Coppola’s name there come all manner of high expectations involving epic cinematic grandeur. It doesn’t help when well-meaning critics trumpet this as his best film since Apocalypse Now. Tetro does not go in that direction at all. Yes, it’s operatic and hyper-dramatic, but it’s mostly grounded in interiors as it pivots about the erratic emotions of the three main characters. It works on a smaller scale and definitely feels like “a personal film.” Still… Coppola works in stuff that is pure magic; cunning bits of stagecraft, a fascinating reference to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), a transcendent bit of pure visual poetry involving glimmering glaciers – and these to name but some of the highlights. I’m not sure the sum of the parts work as a whole, but this broken mechanical doll certainly has its moment of enchanting grace that linger long past when the end credits roll by.
Another bit of head-scratching business involving Tetro lies in its distribution by Coppola’s company, American Zoetrope. Instead of capitalizing on the praise the film garnered at Cannes to give it a muscular theatrical push, with all the attendant publicity and advertising that usually entails, the Zoetrope approach has been as decidedly low-key as was Coppola’s decision to shoot an intimate drama on a digital format. Here’s what Shawn Levy at the Oregonian had to say:
This made me think of my travel so San Francisco just a few weeks earlier. At one point my friend pointed to the building that Coppola owned and where he did the sound for Apocalypse Now, and there in the window were a few pieces of paper taped together urging people to go the Tetro website. Low tech indeed!
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