When the director of The Godfather starts goth-rapping over his own vampire murder thriller, you could say things are getting weird.
Except they were already pretty weird.
“Nosferatu … Nosferatu … Eyes of blue … Me and you … Nosferatu … Nosferatu …“
This was Francis Ford Coppola, chanting in his resonant baritone before thousands of sci-fi fantasy fans at Comic-Con’s Hall H during a presentation of his self-financed horror mystery Twixt, the story of a “bargain basement Stephen King” (played by Val Kilmer) who visits a creepy small town during a book tour and finds himself encountering ghosts, a leering sheriff, and a series of revolting murders.
Let’s rewind a bit.
Things got strange right from the start in Hall H.
As thousands of audience members streamed into the auditorium, each was handed a program — in the shape of a cut-out of Edgar Allan Poe’s face.
“Some of you are old enough to remember that Apocalypse Now first showed in theaters without credits. Instead a program was given to every theatergoer,” Coppola said. “We wanted to make a little program that you could see — in that tradition.”
The eyes of the 19th century author were also a pair of 3-D lenses, and the face had a strap for wearing as a mask and viewing the stereoscopic elements of Twixt. Coppola was in a playful mood, and had the lights to the auditorium turned up so he could see 6,000 Edgar Allan Poes gathered before him.
He wore one, too.
The footage proved to be far from a commercially polished studio movie. At age 72, Coppola has entered an experimental phase, more a student than a professional — and, for better or worse, the raw quality shows. Twixt features a ghostly Poe (that’s how the masks fit in) and a ghostly young girl named V (Super 8‘s Elle Fanning), whose messed up teeth, constrainted by frightening braces, once earned her taunts as a vampire.
Twixt embraces its campiness in some scenes and turns surreal in others. Tom Waits’ gravel tones narrate the trailer, and Bruce Dern turns up as a weird lawman (does he play any other kind?) who believes some local murders are being perpetrated as “vampire executions,” with the accused strapped into a chair that slowly pushes a wooden stake into their chests.
Coppola was joined onstage by electronica musician Dan Deacon, who is scoring the film, and they attempted what the filmmaker described as a live performance of the movie, presenting re-edits of the footage already screened, while Deacon mixed new music — including the previously mentioned “Nosferatu” track.
“This is my goth debut!” Coppola said, chanting along with his own voice on the soundtrack.
The director had cameras trained on his equipment to show the process, and though the audience was intrigued, the presentation was sometimes halting. Re-editing a movie before a live audience naturally has its pitfalls, and after several starts and stops, some in the audience began chanting their own “Nosferatu … Nosferatu …” when things would go wrong.
The men onstage at least had a sense of humor throughout the hiccups.
“The new age of cinema has begun!” Deacon declared in the silence of one delay.
Eventually they got the hang of it, and a few remixes of the footage were presented on the auditorium’s giant screens.
Kilmer, a friend of Coppola’s for three decades, told the crowd that rough presentation was insight into the mind of an experimenter: “You see today what he’s like every day. He’s trying to capture something that’s genuine and exciting about entertainment.”
But Coppola also revealed he is currently writing a script for a more commercial film, something with a bigger budget and more polish. Not everything he does in the future will be so experimental: “I’m getting old, and I still want to express some things in a slightly larger context.”
As for the unusual Comic-Con presentation of the Twixt footage, Coppola said he was just trying to mix-up the way a movie can be shown, since it is only relatively recently that art has been recorded, locked permanently in one format.
“Music and theater are thousands of years old. Cinema is a baby. So of course we’ll see more innovation,” he said. “Cinema has many more surprises that you and your children will invent.”
For more Comic-Con news, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter: @Breznican