If I would have to pick one movie that truly, from the bottom of its soul, defines ‘war’… then it would be Apocalypse Now. This movie left an impression when I saw it the first time and still does when I watch it today. There is such a depth and so many layers of detail to it, that no other production captured as good as this title did/does. There are a few close ones like ‘The Deer Hunter’. But when it comes to portraying the sheer madness, and what it all can do to your psyche/mind, then Apocalypse Now is this one milestone in moviemaking history that got it pretty much all right.
The psychedelic hotel scene with Martin Sheen, the famous helicopter scene, Robert Duvall’s Kilgore character, the huge massive napalm explosion, the slaughter scene at the end. This movie is so full of iconic details, that it’s almost unthinkable that the movie had so many production problems, they almost had to shut it down. ‘Hearts Of Darkness’ sheds some light on the production of that movie. Francis Ford Coppola’s wife got the opportunity to document a lot of things throughout the production. From day one up to the last day, we can see how much work and determination went into this project. At one point in production a huge typhoon even destroyed the already built sets and forced them to take a break for a couple of weeks. From the beginning there were financing problems that forced Coppola to use his own money to keep the movie on track. He really took some risks for that monster of a film.
The fascinating thing to see is how, not only the characters in the movie itself, turn more and more psyched out. The production crew went through the same thing. Filming happened on the Philippines. Of course the humid conditions and vegetations are similar to Vietnam. All that affected the crew and equipment as well. And after more than 230 days of shooting the whole crew has had such an experience that it made them not being who they were before. The documentary has a lot of footage from the sets. A lot of footage where Coppola is trying to explain the actors why their characters do what they do. Coppola constantly rewriting scenes and dialogue, trying to get that picture in his head, on paper and eventually on film. There is almost no scene where you are not able to see his inner struggle. To me he seemed like a driven man. He had to finish this monster, no matter the costs.
Under such conditions you are vulnerable for wrong decisions. One that always comes up is Marlon Brando. Coppola had the chance to cast someone else but he kept Brando. I personally can see how someone else could have played Kurtz’s character better. But I also belong to that, I guess rare, group that doesn’t care too much. Brando’s performance, by no means, destroys the movie or experience (and yes, I think that film is rather more an experience than a movie) for me. All the things that happen along the journey that leads to Kurtz are so impressive that Brando’s part doesn’t hurt. Yes, it may make the finale feel a little weak, but to me the trip as a whole works just fine.
This great piece of documentary takes you by the hand and lets you experience the movie Apocalypse Now from a very different point of view. As a movie fan it’s a gem! After wachting Apocalypse Now I often feel like hit by a big giant rock. And this documentary delivers some answers to the question ‘why’ it does. This monster of a movie wants you to feel that way. It even made the creators go through some kind of hell. A nice piece of documented movie history.