Dir. and written by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring Val Kilmer, Elle Fanning, Bruce Dern, Ben Chaplin
|Original title: TWIXT THE BURIED AND ME: THE HALL BALTIMORE STORY|
Coppola, man. Ever since APOCALYPSE NOW broke his mind, he hasn’t been quite the same. I mean, JACK? And then he seemed to give up after suffering the the ultimate indignity for any serious artist (filming a John Grisham adaptation) and decided to leave the filmmaking to his kids while he took up a quixotic quest of making decent but overpriced wine products. But you know, I bought that wine, I bought it every time I could, and you know why? Because I knew it was going towards him making his own films, on his own terms, that everyone would hate but both he and I would know were great, and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.
And that’s exactly what we get in TWIXT, a sorta-horror-sorta-comedy which was understandably hated by almost everyone but loved deeply and unabashedly by me. It’s an odd, slight, but beautiful and wonderfully strange flight of fancy by a talented guy who genuinely doesn’t have to please anyone but himself anymore. You know you’re in good hands right off the bat, because the movie begins with Tom Waits narrating some facts about the creepy town the movie is set in in a way which is completely needless but utterly necessary. Then we move on to the setup: washed-up horror writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer, embracing his Fat Brando period) is on a humiliating booksigning tour, and has ended up in a tiny town which doesn’t even have a bookshop (he sets up a table in the hardware store). As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s also going to be plagued by a pushy sheriff (Bruce Dern*) who wants to collaborate with him on a new novel, a mysterious ghostly young woman (Elle Fanning) who also seems to want a favor, and a pushy Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) who shows up in his dreams to help him solve a mystery which might involve vampires. Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. And you are correct, Hall Baltimore is indeed the greatest fictional name of all time. Anything which comes after this might as well just name everyone “Protagonist 1”or “Side Character 2” because this is it, it’s over, the ceiling has been reached. Reached by Hall Baltimore. I could just say that name all day long. Hall Baltimore, Hall Baltimore, Hall Baltimore.
|Baltimore. Hall Baltimore.|
Anyway, Hall Baltimore is down on his luck, his antagonistic wife** is threatening to destroy his first-edition copy of Leaves of Grass (“Whitman touched that with his hands!” he protests) and so he decides to stick around in town and see if he can find some inspiration for a new novel and score an advance from his publisher (David Paymer). Problem is, his heart really isn’t in the pulpy horror genre anymore, he’s got severe writer’s block, and a serious long-term codependent romantic relationship with J & B Whiskey, so progress is slow and he spends a lot of time passed out and dreaming various symbolic things which may or may not have something to do with a) his unconscious mind solving a mystery which might have to do with the corpse in the local morgue and a hypothetical serial killer (though there’s only one body) b) a mass murder/suicide that occurred at a now-closed motel decades earlier c) vampires or d) the creative process of being a writer or e) all of the above. I list those possibilities because they all seem to factor into Hall Baltimore’s journey (and I didn’t even mention the permanent Goth Kids encampment presided over by a teary-eyed mopey biker hunk named “Flamingo”) but if the movie ever really chooses one path or storyline I missed it, I’m not even sure I completely understood what the mystery in question was when it reaches it’s resolution. Either there are a ton of red herrings here or I missed some key piece of expository detail, or, and I’m leaning towards this last one here, it doesn’t matter.
|I hope Walt Whitman shows up as a spirit guide in the sequel.|
See, TWIXT is not really a film about solving a mystery or vampires or anything like that, it’s just a weird, lovely, mildly but legitimately funny filmatic dream-within-a-dream (about Hall Baltimore. Hall Baltimore). And just like a dream, there are a bunch of evocative, disconnected images and plotlines that never really add up to something concrete but feel meaningfully connected. There’s hardly a plot here at all, really; to the extent that Hall Baltimore solves or even pursues some kind of elusive mystery, he does so entirely while asleep, where events clearly are not meant to be taken literally. Hell, even the idea of vampires appears to come out of nowhere; Hall Baltimore just casually drops that term one day as if something we’d seen before would explain why. That’s just how Hall Baltimore roles, he ain’t got time to explain his thought process, you just gotta trust Hall Baltimore and go with it.*** I’m genuinely unsure if there actually are any vampires in this movie, or if there are, I’m definitely sure I don’t know what their deal is, or how they’re related to any of this. But that’s OK, because describing dreams is boring, but experiencing them is always intense, and Coppola loving fills this one with surreal color schemes, funny details, and odd occurrences. He wants to conjure a sense of wistfully gothic romantic melancholy more than he wants to tell a story, and if that is the goal than the movie is a stunning success.
A part of me wonders if perhaps there is another, longer cut out there that explains a little more about what the fuck is going on and perhaps offers a narrative with a little more meat on it. There are definitely the elements for such a movie here, but you know, as much as I would definitely enjoy that version (and as much as the critics might have keen kinder), I’ve seen movies like that before. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one like this before. It’s an ornate, delicate trifle, the very definition of art for it’s own sake, and in it’s own odd way it’s completely perfect. But even if that doesn’t appeal to you, it’s still worth watching for the scene where Hall Baltimore (via Val Kilmer) hilariously pursues an abortive attempt to write the first sentence of his novel. Neither Hall Baltimore nor Coppola seem able to make the kind of art that people expect them to anymore, but at least in Coppola’s case his restless, stubbornly unconventional interests have brought him somewhere new yet again.
In closing, I’d just like to say: Hall Baltimore. OK, I’m done.
*Is he intentionally supposed to look exactly like John Carpenter? Compare:
|From left: Hall Baltimore, Bruce Dern, John Carpenter|
**Joanne Whalley, who I guess used to be married to Kilmer, haha? But I take this as a sign that this movie is an unofficial sequel to WILLOW.
***You’ve just boarded the Hall Baltimore Express, baby, and the Hall Baltimore Express is going one way to vampireville, so strap in, shut up, and enjoy the ride.