“There is therefore an inherent tension in late style that abjures mere bourgeois aging and that insists on the increasing sense of apartness and exile and anachronism, which late style expresses and, more important, uses to formally sustain itself.”1

– Edward Said, On Late Style

The concept of late style, apart from a few scattered articles, comments online and an essay on Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) by Laura Mulvey, is seldom discussed seriously in regard to cinema; frequently dedicated to dissecting the work of aging playwrights, musicians and authors. Theodor Adorno’s key text Late Style in Beethoven, in which he says art works existing in the late period of an artist are “devoid of sweetness, bitter and spiny, they do not surrender themselves to mere delectation,”2 exists to define pieces of art that do not conform to a traditional set of aesthetics largely cultivated by an artist through their oeuvre. Edward Said largely expanded on, and attempted to decipher, Adorno’s concept by defining it as a moment “when the artist who is fully in command of his medium nevertheless abandons communication with the established social order of which he is a part.”3 Few directors could as easily have both of these definitions applied to them than Francis Ford Coppola, a man who, as he approaches the final years of his life, has spent his last three films – Youth Without Youth, 2007, Tetro, 2009 and Twixt, 2011 – entirely reconstructing his own aesthetic style and thematic obsessions in a highly idiosyncratic way. These films were released after a decade of silence following The Rainmaker (1997), a John Grisham adaptation which was released to a middling response. The most recent of these three films is Twixt, a poetic depiction of an artist overcoming grief and finding new inspiration for their art.

Twixt concerns the life of Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer), a horror novelist whose initial success and popularity has drastically waned over the years, turning him into a writer whose public appearances have been reduced to ad hoc stalls in sleepy American towns. The local sheriff, Bobby LaGrange (played to comic perfection by Bruce Dern), even refers to him as the bargain basement Stephen King, in a foregrounding of the film’s meta narrative. Baltimore’s lack of critical success and frustration can be read as representing Coppola’s own fading relevance in both critical reception and box office success, a gentle irony as Twixt, too, was staunchly rejected by most mainstream film critics. Baltimore’s publisher is a mean figure who dictates that Baltimore’s books should have “a lot of story, none of that style bullshit”, a mirror of Coppola’s tumultuous relationships with producers, notably Robert Evans with whom he constantly disagreed. Although the most acute element of Coppola’s own life, reflected in the on-screen image of Baltimore, is the haunting spectre of grief that hangs over him. Baltimore’s daughter passed away in a tragic boating accident for which he blames himself; this mirrors the exact circumstances of Coppola’s own son, Gian-Carlo’s death, which was caused by a tragic boating accident during a break in filming Gardens of Stone (1987, on which Gian Carlo was a camera operator).

Throughout the film, Baltimore grapples with what his next novel should be about. A last attempt to find inspiration leads him to taking an idea from the highly eccentric LaGrange: replacing his traditional stories about witches and with a story about a vampire, loosely based on a murder that may or may not have happened in the town. LaGrange has a dead body in the morgue, which Baltimore is invited to see, but Coppola never reveals who the victim is and refuses to explain any more about it. Baltimore’s new tale comes to him in the form of lucid dreams: as he sleeps, he wanders around the town at night, with each frame drained of colour apart from glimmers of the vivid red drawn curtains of a building, or the orange glow of a small guiding lamp in the dark, creating a highly evocative atmosphere. These dreams are centred around a mysterious young woman named V (Elle Fanning) who visits Baltimore in numerous dreams, and an ominous hotel that was the grounds of a brutal murder conducted by a priest against a group of children – the film alludes that V managed to escape. How this connects to the real-life unsolved murder is unclear, but V, whose full name is actually Virginia, is a clear symbol for Baltimore (and thus Coppola’s) own dead child Vicky, with Baltimore even using the names interchangeably. It is clear that Baltimore is struggling with a severe case of fatigue with his writing, his success has stagnated and his fresh ideas are running out; he uses his dreams as a way of overcoming these problems, exploring the inner fragments of his mind to search for meaning – even creating a simulacra of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin) who helps guide him through this new creative journey.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

On the surface, Twixt is a horror film, full of generic tropes: a mysterious group of rebellious and potentially insidious teenagers, a sparsely populated sleepy town, a menacing clocktower that looms ominously over everything, and a mysterious murder that continues to haunt the residents. This is, of course, not Coppola’s first time in the realm of the Gothic, his iteration of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is an expressive and deeply romantic depiction of the mythic monster. It is clear that Twixt exists on a totally disparate plane to the heightened excess of Dracula – its budget is about one fifth of Dracula’s – but Coppola bends the framework of Gothic horror to craft something unique. In his introduction to his book on the Gothic, Fred Botting says that gothic atmospheres continually “signal the disturbing return of pasts upon presents,”4 with the ancient architecture being used to highlight a return of the past through the use of spectres and monsters. Botting describes the Gothic as being something that condenses a myriad of fears such as social transgressions or spiritual corruption. However, Coppola uses it not to dig up the history of a decaying society, but rather the nightmarish memories of his past life, mainly the guilt he feels from the death of his son. The film’s villain – although the film’s ethereal atmosphere makes it unclear what is fiction and what is not – who murders a group of innocent children, becomes a demonic personification of Coppola’s own guilt. Despite the usage of Gothic tropes, Coppola’s film rarely feels scary; it actually feels cosy, more akin to a folk story told around a fire than something designed to scare or intimidate its viewers into submission. Part of this is due to the film’s overtly comedic nature – though many critics sadly believe the humour unintentional – which sees Dern’s screwball comedy acting clash against Kilmer’s incredibly stilted, yet serious performance. 

The symbiotic relationship between times and dreams is something that has constantly pervaded Coppola’s films and has clearly become a signature motif. After a decade of absence, Coppola returned to directing with Youth Without Youth, an inexplicably dense film about a man who yearns for the lost love of his youth and believes his dedication to the study of linguistics has made him a bitter, solitary man. In this, there is an aesthetic yearning for the past. When Dominic Matei (Tim Roth) is suddenly struck with lightning, his age is reversed, and he finds himself a young man again. He uses his newfound youth to revitalise a passion for his work, as well as falling in love with a woman who looks eerily identical to his childhood love. These help Matei to rebuild his life anew, as he learns to adapt to new ways of viewing the world.

In an interview for the Tribeca film festival, Coppola even described his recent filmmaking as if he were returning to a “film student” style.5 It is not a stretch, then, to see this film as a metaphor, albeit highly abstract, for Coppola’s revitalised youthful mentality with regards to filmmaking, especially given how it utilises newly developed digital technology. This technology has allowed Coppola to cheaply make a string of films that, due to being self-financed, are unrestrained by traditional studio restrictions, allowing him complete freedom. But Coppola isn’t using digital technology solely for production purposes, either. In Twixt, the shiny, artificial textures of the digital camera contrast with the film’s more archaic Gothic structures and shadowy forests, creating an uncanny and dreamlike feeling throughout the entire film.


Twixt is also a further refining of Coppola’s obsession with time. The clock tower in the centre of the town is a fixture commonly returned too: a huge tower with a variety of clocks spanning different time zones. The clock tower is important to Baltimore’s dreams, where time is frozen; it becomes a place of temporal disconnection where Baltimore can truly explore the inner sanctums of his memory. Coppola’s directorial style here is minimalistic; there is little in the frame and thus little room for allegory or abstract puzzles. One character within Baltimore’s dreams tells him, “You can’t change time, time changes you,” dialogue so direct that it becomes impossible to interpret the film as anything other than deeply concerned with the unrelenting flow of time. This blunt, minimal style is a marker of late style, which primarily exists as an intense distillation of a director’s aesthetic and thematic obsessions. 

In an essay for Establishing Shot, Jack Miller referred to cinematic late works as a purification of vision, which he defines further as “an evolution toward formal simplicity,”6 citing two of the last films Fritz Lang made for RKO in the 1950s: sparse films that strip away many of Lang’s traditional aesthetic choices. Twixt could easily be defined in the same way: it is an incredibly sparse film, both in terms of location – the barren environments happen to be Coppola’s own vineyard – and its mis-en-scène, which is far more subdued than his earlier, more excessive and operatic works such as Dracula and One From the Heart (1981) where Coppola used their large budgets to produce large, lavish sets to recreate the burning neon lights of a mystical Las Vegas strip, or a haunting London graveyard. Both films have an intense use of colour as well, both use deep reds and blues, emphasising the romantic nature of the film’s narratives, and are, at their core, about the everlasting power of love. In Twixt, the mis-en–scène contains far less colour, with only small glimmers of red; Baltimore’s relationship with his wife is clearly strained, too, something we see through their arguments on skype. This minimalist aesthetic suggests a departure from the poetic romanticism of his earlier work, into something more mournful. However, through the other-worldy digital textures, the layers of artifice found in his previous works are still prominent in every frame. 


Reconciliation is also a recurring theme for Coppola: two lovers coming back together after drifting apart in One From the Heart, or a fractured family reuniting in Tetro. Even more belaboured is Hall Baltimore reconciling with his own guilt at the end of the film, in which he glances onto a riverbed and sees a vision of his dying daughter – finally overcoming his grief in order to escape the purgatory he has placed himself in. Overcoming this grief is the instigator for Baltimore’s newly found creative energy, which allows him to overcome his writer’s block and explore new ideas through his dreams. 

Said quotes Kretschmar as saying, “Beethoven’s late works often communicate an impression of being unfinished”.7 There are traces of this in Coppola’s new Director’s Cut of Twixt: as Poe reads out the last lines of dialogue – quoting himself thus, “Our work must be the grave that we prepare for its lovely tenant,” closing remarks that solidify Coppola’s reconciliation with his own guilt/grief – Baltimore watches the fleeting images of his daughter, gracefully layered over the lapping of the waves from over the cliff. The screen slowly fades out to the reworked, yet originally intended title B’Twixt Now and Sunrise.8 When the final credits roll, it still feels as if there is an infinite cosmos of story yet to be told; in many ways, it feels as though Baltimore’s story is just starting. Where most people would use the overcoming of grief to trigger character development, Coppola gently pulls away, leaving uncertainty over what the future holds for both the character and for Coppola himself. The lack of a material ending will likely alienate some viewers; its refusal to give Baltimore’s story a tidy resolution is frustrating, but Coppola’s refusal to give closure is also what makes the film feel so deeply personal. Twixt exists as a personal rumination on Coppola’s own feelings far more than it does as a classic narrative drama designed for audiences. But this, through the lens of Adorno and Said, is the purest definition of rejecting the social expectations of an acclaimed artist and embracing late style in the face of death itself.


  1. Edward Said, On Late Style (New York: Vintage Press, 2007), p. 28.
  2. Theodor W. Adorno, Essays on Music (Berkley: California University Press, 2002), p. 564.
  3. Edward Said, On Late Style (New York: Vintage Press, 2007), p. 20.
  4. Fred Botting, Gothic, (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 1.
  5. Francis Ford Coppola, interview with Jay McInerney for Tribeca Film Festival (New York, 2016)
  6. Jack Miller, “Purification: Late Films and Late Style,” Establishing Shot, August 15, 2022.
  7. Edward Said, On Late Style (New York: Vintage Press, 2007), pg. 22.
  8. The original cut ends with Baltimore’s new book getting a publishing deal.

About The Author

Oliver Parker lives in Nottingham, UK and is a writer and current postgraduate student studying film. They love Westerns, French cinema and Yo La Tengo.

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