Hearts of Darkness : A Film-maker's Apocalypse


                          This is not a review of  the movie Apocalypse Now. "There's a oft-cited line, in Coppola's 1979 Apocalypse Now, that crystallizes the 70's American spirit, however, with a wit so ferocious that audiences have never quite known whether to laugh, gasp, or shudder. It comes when Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, played to the perfection by Robert Duvall, sniffs the warm Vietnamese air, flashes a contented smile, and expresses his satisfaction with the war he's so zealously fighting: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!" 

                           An art movie made on a blockbuster scale, Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" is a cult film for the ages, a classic whose force and stature have only grown with time. The greatness of Apocalypse Now is its hallucinatory texture of chaos, death, and sensory overload. Whatever its flaws, it remains the most powerful movie ever made about war as madness. It was a monumental work: Hollywood's much-proclaimed attempt on the national nightmare of the Vietnam War and in retrospect, a tombstone that marked the end of American cinema's 1970s golden age. 

A Documentary of Agony and Ecstasy

                               Hearts of Darkness: A Film-maker's Apocalypse, a documentary about the shooting of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), is the most spectacular inside look ever offered into the unspeakable process of film-making. "We went into the jungle, there were too many of us; we had too much money, too much equipment and, little by little, we went insane," says Coppola in an interview. 


                       The U.S. government , that waged war in Vietnam, and Coppola, who went there as a film-maker, lost themselves in the weirdness, with no idea how to end things ;both the war and film. When Apocalypse Now premiered at Cannes in 1979, a still-shaken Coppola announced that, ""My film is not about Vietnam, It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like." Hearts of Darkness: A Film-maker's Apocalypse is a disaster movie, a profound study in ego, obsession, and personal tyranny, and a spellbinding glimpse into the making of a spellbinding epic.

Coppola's Journey Into Madness

                         Many critics in 1972 hailed The Godfather as a brilliant meeting of artistry and commerce. To his credit, Coppola disagreed, seeing the movie's wide appeal as a missed chance to reach the public with ideas as well as entertainment. The Coppola of the mid-1970's wanted to make a social impact through his films. He did that in The Conversation and The Godfather: Part II, two 1974 releases with sociopolitical themes: high-tech corporate snooping in one, the blurry line between capitalism and criminality in the latter one.


                      Apocalypse Now opened new ground for Coppola the director -- it was his first war film and, more important, his first foray into a truly combative topic. As Apocalypse begins shooting, Coppola figures that his only way of touching the surreal view of Vietnam will be to abandon the controlled arena of Hollywood film-making, leaving his movie open to every possible current of intuition, danger, and fear. It wasn't simply the physical scale of Apocalypse Now or the disasters (typhoons, exploding budget, Martin Sheen's heart attack) that made the film seem such a mad undertaking. It was the way Coppola entered the Philippine jungles half intent on losing control, on pushing himself out onto a situation, which he couldn't escape except by finishing the film.

Footage of a Nightmare
 
                        The primary film footage for "Hearts of Darkness" was made by Eleanor Coppola, who, with their three young children, accompanied her highly strung husband on location in the Philippines for what was supposed to be a 13-week, $13 million shoot in March 1976. More than 34 weeks and $30 million later -- after bearing the firing of one leading man (Harvey Keitel), the heart attack of his 36-year-old replacement(Martin Sheen) , a script with no ending, Apocalypse Now finally emerged three years later. 

                       After mortgaging his home and other personal assets to complete his seriously over-budget, over-publicized film, we overhear Coppola's mounting fears of not being able to finish the movie, or worse, that it would stink. 

Curses of A Perfectionist

                          Coppola was a master of precise film-making. He built temples, villages, and military bases alongside the river. His crew, watched tribes slaughtering water buffaloes, and pigs. There is a deleted and very expensive scene, involving French colonials on a Vietnam plantation: For authenticity, Coppola flies actors from France and obsesses over the temperature of wines, then scraps the whole scene just because he didn't like it. 


                       With the arrival of Marlon Brando, his $1 million-a-week star, Coppola's nightmares become reality. Overweight and uninformed -- he hadn't even read Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the inspiration for the film. Brando spent days talking about the movie, and dialogues. Coppola hoped, that Brando would bring a end to the chaos.  However, Brando's improvisation and method acting really served good, in the end. 

                       The movie's rich, elliptical portrait of Coppola keeps prompting us to ask: Is he a reckless egotist or a true artistic hero? The answer, I believe, is both. Heart of Darkness is about a brand of film-making, which doesn't exist any more in Hollywood. Hollywood is now based predominantly around sequels, remakes, TV adaptations, formulaic romantic comedies, action films and cute kids' movies.

                     This documentary reveals the spirit, which was alive once, that put the dream in the dream factory. Watch Apocalypse Now and then this documentary, Hearts of Darkness, to witness the story of how a great movie got made. 

Apocalypse Now - Imdb 
Hearts of Darkness - Imdb
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse - Wikipedia 

3 comments:

Rupertt Wind said...

Will sure see it, your review is compelling

Divenita said...

The passion with which the movie was made and all the things you've mentioned imbibes the spirit of "any hting for art"

I must admit, you have posted a compelling piece [as Rupertt writes].
Compelling not just to watch the movie but to be like the Film Maker.

Thank you again. You instill a new emotion, everytime.

Arun said...

@Rupertt Wind, Thanks for your comment. Give ur opinion after watching the documentary. Keep visiting.

@Divenita, Thank you very much for the comment. Do watch the movie, and give your view on it.