Director Francis Coppola today said he had terminated an agreement for Paramount Pictures to distribute his latest film, "One From the Heart," because he was unhappy with the "sloppy way" the film had been previewed.

Coppola said the $23 million musical -- a tale of a Las Vegas junkyard owner and his affairs with a travel agent and a circus performer -- must succeed if his financially ailing studio, Zoetrope, is to survive.

At a news conference in Radio City Music Hall between two showings of the movie, Coppola said, "I became frustrated. I terminated Paramount's release of the film."

Coppola, 42, said the film cost $8 million or $9 million more than was budgeted, largely because he insisted on building his own sets to simulate the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas.

Paramount, as distributor, had planned to open the musical at hundreds of theaters across the country on Feb. 10. An advertisement in last Sunday's New York Times, however, revealed Coppola's intentions to show the film at Radio City.

The movie that's more about moviemaking than anything else was previewed tonight to 12,000 people in two sold-out showings..

Besides technofreaks and Coppola junkies, tonight's audience was flecked with such movie types as Peter Boyle, Christopher Walken, Terri Garr and Coppola himself.

But the film itself was almost overshadowed by Coppola's disagreement with Paramount, which previewed the musical romance once before, in San Francisco, and Coppola later charged that he hadn't known about the screening. Tonight's New York showings may well have been the filmmaker's revenge. Still, these audiences may be the only ones ever to see the film.

Throughout all the hubbub, nobody has really known what the film is about, and they may still not after tonight's screening. And yet the film may become an instant cult classic.

Still, the eccentric director cares enough about the project to have once again taken a second mortgage on his home to complete his cinematic vision, something he was forced to do with his last film, "Apocalypse Now."

Coppola spent five years trying to figure out how to end "Apocalypse." This time he spent five years trying to figure out how to make "One From the Heart." The innovative video production techniques used in it have been the talk of the motion picture industry since the film went into production more than two years ago. In fact, Coppola said this was the last film he would make using photographic film.

"One From the Heart" seems less a love story than a catalog of novel special effects that owes a heavy debt to the video technologies employed in the production.

Much was made of Coppola's shooting the film entirely on sound stages using highly stylized sets and miniatures in lieu of actual locations. And tonight's audience responded with appreciative applause to each new burst of visual pyrotechnics. There was not a single point in the film when anyone clapped for a performance by a human being.

Paramount executives, who had planned to put the film in general release next month, may have foreseen that, or may have reacted with dismay when they heard that Coppola had decided to preview the film without informing them.

Their reaction may mean that the film will not be seen at all, unless another studio assumes distribution or Coppola takes on the additional financial burden himself.