TIFF 2011: ‘Twixt’ bounces with self-deprecating humour and love for American Kitsch

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Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

USA, 2011

Francis Ford Coppola’s newest film, Twixt, enters the realm of popular supernatural dime novels. Val Kilmer is Hall Baltimore, a second-rate Stephen King who is in a slump. Not only has he lost all enthusiasm for the series of novels about witches, but his personal life is plagued by tragedy, alcoholism and financial difficulties. As many American protagonist have before him, he rolls into a small town only to find himself intertwined in the case of a mysterious and supernatural death of a young teen.

Twixt bounces with a self-deprecating sense of humour as it continually tears down Hall Baltimore. Though he has clearly already reached rock bottom, his adventures in real life crime and a strange dream land only further cement the absurdity of his existence. The film revels in a twisted brand of existential angst which continually re-inforces the cruelty of chance and the meaninglessness of human enterprise.

Coppola’s tone is quite light and laughs are plentiful. His venture never veering too deeply into meanness, as he delves deep into American kitsch. The film is ultimately a celebration of the small joys of the middle class American lifestyle. The town is distinguished by a seven faced clock tower in which no single clock face tells the right time. The narrative flourishes that simplify and commodify real tragedy and injustice, the American way of turning the other way as a means of protecting a innocent world view. There is nonetheless a lot of affection for this mode of preserving American idealism. It’s a mixture of nostalgia and reverence for a world view that has shaped so completely the American dream.

Val Kilmer truly shines in this world and his charm lends pathos to a character who is not immediately sympathetic. Working often with improvisation, he dictates in part the film’s outcome and holds together two worlds that veer a fine line between strange and improbable. The film’s aesthetics are glossy in a small network’s prize formula television series might be. This is elevated by a strange poetic vision in the dream’s monochromatic colour scheme, as well as the suggested confidence of the largely static camera.

Twixt will not please all audiences, especially those expecting a certain gravitas associated with Coppola’s heaviest works. Those with an open-mind and a passion for kitsch, will certainly enjoy this offbeat comedy. Coppola, conscious or not of what his reputation and legacy suggests, creates a debate on the value of low art. Questioning implicitly if we should even make the differentiating, perhaps harkening back to cinema’s uphill battle towards legitimacy in America.

– Justine Smith

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8th to the 18th. Tickets, schedules, and other information can be found on the festival’s website.

  1. Justine says

    I have little to no insight into America, when I discuss it, it is largely from an anthropological point of view constructed from a life-time exposure to American pop culture. I am familiar with the american “brand”, which I am very conscious is different from the American “place”. Which totally de-legitimizes every comment I’ve ever made on the country. So take anything I say about the States with a grain of salt. I make broad generalizations though, many of which are unfair. Even turning the other way as a means of “protecting” a world view, Canada is just as guilty. It reminds me of when there was a horrible shooting in downtown Toronto and the chief of police said something like “this is totally unexpected, this is CANADA, not America.” It is a totally naive dismissal of a real issue and problem, a means of preserving the image they have of Canada as a peaceful and happy place.

    American kitsch is something I stand by though. In this case I am referring to things like 3-D which is utilized in the film, I tend to see Hollywood and it’s influence as something that is distinctly “American”, even if that is a broad generalization.

    Val is sooo great, worth seeing the film for his performance alone. Hopefully he continues to get roles like these, because he is still such a vital screen presence and his talent for comedy should not be wasted.

  2. Duke. says

    I am heartened by your interest in the movie, especially as yours is the opinion I’m usually most curious about of those who post here, though this wouldn’t be the first time your comments about America have left me doubting your ultimate insight into the place. It’s always good to see Val working. I’ll give it my dollars when it rolls into town.

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