Coppola on set of 'Twixt'
Coppola on the set of 'Twixt'

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt," the third in a series of low-budget “personal” films he’s written, produced, and directed since the turn of the century (after “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro”) has toured the film festival circuit – from Toronto in 2011 to San Francisco in 2012 – and was released in France in April, but a broad release remains elusive. To celebrate its exclusive run at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco, Coppola appeared for Q & As after two screenings on the first day of its engagement, which sold out as soon as they were announced.

Coppola introduced the 4:45pm screening by saying that “Twixt” meant “betwixt dream and reality, success and failure, young and old…”. In his mid-sixties, he continued, he decided it was pointless to make films like those he did when he was young. He decided to make “student films,” with no resources – adventures in countries with great theatrical traditions, like Romania (“Youth Without Youth”) or Argentina (“Tetro”), where dollars were still strong. Both films contained some personal subject matter – explorations of aging in “Youth Without Youth,” and family in “Tetro.”

He was in Istanbul, it seems (“No currency advantage!”) when he was introduced to raki (“It’s like ouzo”) by an attractive young dinner companion. He drank a lot of it, and afterwards had, he said, the most vivid dream he’s ever had in his life, mostly taking place in a forest, with the appearance of Edgar Allen Poe – unfortunately interrupted by the 5am call to prayer. He tried to go back to sleep, in search of an ending, but both remained elusive.

Still, when he returned home, he wrote up the dream, drawing on Poe’s own history of losing his beloved young wife – his fourteen-year-old cousin, Coppola says, but other sources say she was thirteen – who died of consumption, as well as Poe’s obsession with beautiful young women bleeding and in chains, as in “Tomb of Ligeia,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.”  Returning to his horror-movie roots at the age of twenty, when he made “Dementia 13” for Roger Corman, Coppola said he was now 72 – and that “Twixt” took him to a place he never thought he would go.

He alluded to the fact that “Twixt” features two 3-D sequences – we’ve had 3-D since the Fifties, he said, and I don’t think 3-D is the future. His granddaughter Gia, who wants to become a filmmaker, was on the set with hm, and they had a great time during the filming – in Napa, and other California locations, so he could sleep in his own bed at night. He made “Twixt” to laugh, he says, and they laughed every day.  “It defies its genre,” he said, like “Moonrise Kingdom” and also the Coen brothers’ movies.  The highest compliment, he says, is to leave a screening and say “Well, I never saw a film like that.”

The movie, indeed an unsettling combination of comedy and horror, in which a tired and alcoholic writer (Val Kilmer) finds inspiration for a new book in exploring current and old murders in a California town with the aid of a sinister but comic sheriff (Bruce Dern), Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin), and a ghostly young girl (Elle Fanning), unspools before a respectful and responsive audience. Startlingly, the inspiration for one death – a speedboat accident -- seems directly drawn from the accidental death of Coppola’s son Gio at the age of 22, while he was shooting “Gardens of Stone.” Gio’s daughter Gia, the granddaughter who assisted Coppola during “Twixt” – she’s credited in the end titles as “Creative Associate” -- was born after he died.

Before taking questions from the audience, Coppola compares himself to Toshiro Mifune in either “Yojimbo” or “Sanjuro,” he’s not sure, in which Mifune shaves his head, gives away his possessions, and goes out with a begging bowl. (“Yojimbo!”, someone helpfully yells out from the audience.) “I wanted to destroy myself and come back,” Coppola says.