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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Twixt (2011), directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Twixt -

In the center of the tiny town of Swan something-or-other in Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt stands a clock tower with seven faces. No matter where you are in the town, the residents say, you can see the time. The advantage of this is questionable, however, as no two clock faces agree on just what time it is. Indeed, one character tells horror writer Hall Baltimore that she missed his book signing because of the tower. This isn't long before Baltimore meets Edgar Allan Poe. Poe wrote a story about a clock tower. It was one of two linked stories written to satirize the style of fiction of a popular magazine of his day. Twixt, though, isn't satire; it is the inspiration for it.

I'm not typically a fan of historical figures popping up in non-historical settings. Add one-quarter of one star to my rating if you are. I wouldn't recommend any more than that because Poe here is even less interesting than Baltimore, who is a walking, talking cliché. I will, however, say this: the film could contain any number of references to Poe and his work that I failed to catch. I've read all his short stories (well, except one, which seemed to contain more French than English), but it's hard to concentrate when you're falling asleep.

There's "Baltimore," of course. And "Virginia," the 13-year-old girl who never made it to the book signing. And maybe that clock tower. I don't know about the rest. Mostly, I was thinking that a story about a guy who writes about witches and who decides to try his hand with vampires has nothing whatever to do with Poe.

The story is about how Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a "third-string Stephen King," rediscovers his muse. In dreams (which sounds more like Lovecraft to me). We know that his career is in jeopardy because, first of all, his book signing tour takes him to this ridiculously small town, where he must set up his table not in a bookstore, but in a hardware store that carries a few books (which is kind of funny). Then there's his wife, with whom he skypes while in his motel room. She complains that she doesn't have the money to pay the bills, then threatens to sell Baltimore's most prized possession, a rare edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. On the psychological side of things, he's also vaguely tormented by the accidental death of his daughter years earlier. So, yeah, he's in trouble.

His predicament (that's the name of Poe's clock tower story, by the way, "A Predicament") leaves him open to new ideas, including one by the town's sheriff, which has to do with vampires, and specifically with the body of an unidentified young girl now in the morgue. Whoever she is, she has a large wooden stake sticking out of her chest.

When Baltimore later falls asleep, his mind conjures the dream world that he walks for most of the rest of the movie, as he tries to piece together his life with a bankable new story. And it's a dark world, inhabited by Virginia (Elle Fanning), a buck-toothed outcast the other kids call "vampire"; Poe (Ben Chaplin) himself, who carries a glowy lantern and talks about death and love and the (boring) process by which he conceived "The Raven"; a nasty clergyman; and a bunch of runaway kids across the river who are led by a Cry-Baby type named Flamingo (Alden Ehrenreich). If any of that sounds interesting to you, add another quarter star.

Baltimore is the kind of writer who has a "process." It includes having his writing desk just so and a bottle of booze near to hand. He worships Poe, treasures Whitman, and can identify Baudelaire quotations spoken in the original French. But he's modern: he doesn't smoke.

It's this lack of imagination that ultimately sinks this movie. I say "ultimately," but not to imply that it fails only near the end. With the exception of the two or three minutes of Baltimore's first meeting with Virginia -- at night, in the woods, and including a lovely effect of the girl seeming to float rather than walk -- it's pretty much a bust right from the get-go. The opening narration tells us, "There was, once upon a time, a town not far from a big city. A road ran through, but there were only a few businesses. A coffee shop, a hardware store, a sheriff's office...." Maybe lumping the police in with commercial enterprise was supposed to be satirical. But I don't think so. I think it was just dumb.