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Francis Ford Coppola, the 72-year-old director of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, is pretty much the opposite of your typical Comic Con audience. And yet, he's up onstage in the gigantic Hall H, captivating the crowd by wearing an Edgar Allan Poe 3D mask, confessing he removed his 3D glasses while watching Avatar, and showing off an extended sizzle reel for his upcoming film, Twixt.
First, you really need to check out these masks, which were handed out to every single audience member as we entered the hall. They serve as 3D glasses for the segment of the Twixt sizzle reel that required them, but on the back they also contain the credits for the film-- Coppola compared the masks to the programs he handed out for the first run of Apocalypse Now, and since those became collector's items he reminded us to hang on to ours. Below is a photo of Coppola wearing the mask to show us all how it works, and for more of a close-up, me in the audience wearing mine.
After showing off a seven-minute sizzle reel for Twixt, Coppola announced in kind of a low-key way what seems to be his real reason for appearing at Hall H: he wants to tour with the movie, a month before it opens, and "perform" it for audiences, altering the film based on audience response. He brought with him an Ipad and board which allowed him to kind of remix the film live in front of us, and while it had some technical challenges, you could tell how engaged he was with the idea of bringing movies back to something like opera or live theater, which changes in every incarnation. It doesn't seem to be a solid plan just yet, but here's how he explained it:
I'd love to go on tour a month before it opened and go on tour myself, with all my collaborators and live music, and actually perform the film for each audience uniquely for them. A different version for each audience. That's what opera was like."
Coppola took the stage like, well, the Godfather of Comic Con, cajoling journalists in the front row to put on their Poe masks-- "Journalists can have fun too!"-- and explaining his philosophy of 3D to not have every scene in 3D, just "some good sequences should be in 3D, so you don't have to wear the glasses and get a headache throughout the whole experience." After the sizzle reel-- strange, blatantly digital, spooky and maybe a little goofy-- screened, Coppola went in depth talking about both the history of art and the potential future of the movies. This quote should probably be embroidered on a film professor's pillow somewhere: "Cinema has many more surprises that you and your children will invent, because it's at the beginning of this expression. Of course we're going to see wonderful innovations come."
It's hard to explain exactly what Coppola is planning with this live, interactive, edit-the-movie-with-the-audience plan, and I'm not sure he's entirely figured it out either. Sitting up onstage with an iPad and another screen, he spent some time getting over some technical glitches before showing us a second version of the sizzle reel, with more emphasis on star Val Kilmer, he said, because he was on the panel. Here's an example to explain the difference, sort of. In the original sizzle reel we watched Kilmer, a hack author investigating a murder in a small town, vamp in front of a computer while he tried to come up with the opening line for the book-- putting on different voices, accents, coming up with hack lines, lots of stuff. It's a really funny scene, and because the audience laughed so much at it, Coppola then played another version of the sizzle reel in which that scene went on far long. It's like he has the ability to show you the director's cut and the theatrical cut all at once, cutting between them based on what he thinks he wants. Coming from the guy who made so many different versions of Apocalypse Now, you can kind of see the appeal.
At the same time, he seems to be treating it like some kind of giant playground, as if he's been handed the world's most tricked-out iPad and is letting us watch as he plays with it. The last version of the sizzle reel he showed us was what he called a "shuffle," with scenes cut together seemingly at random. When the picture froze yet again, he and Kilmer started singing the chant "Nosferatu" that you hear at the end of the reel when things are going well. For the first remix, he read the narration instead of using the recording of Tom Waits doing it. The plot of Twixt seems like kind of a simple ghost story, with the weird added twist of Edgar Allan Poe as a character, and the digital photography seems pretty workaday aside from some splashes of strange black and white and exaggerated 3D. But Coppola hasn't made and edited this movie to stand on its own-- it seems clearly like a jumping off point to present audiences with something far stranger and uncommon.
There was only time for a handful of audience questions-- Coppola was having too much fun up there to stop-- but one last question goes to a guy dressed as Captain Eo before Coppola closes things up saying "Thanks for playing with us." It's the first panel I've seen in Hall H to get a standing ovation, and with probably the most technical goofs I've seen here. It doesn't matter-- Coppola has completely won over an audience with his own unbridled enthusiasm for new technology, at an age when he could easily rest on his laurels and hang out in his winery. Comic Con is at its essence a gathering of enthusiasts, and on that level Coppola was right at home here.