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On the set of Apocalypse Now
April 17, 2011 10:54 PM   Subscribe

In the tropics one must before everything keep calm. Some backstory on the making of Apocalypse Now, originally published June of 1977.

"It’s hard to say who gave the most, but nearly everyone agrees that a great catharsis came at Kurtz’s compound – a hot and humid pit a half mile long.....To express Kurtz’s “horror,” Tavoularis, who describes his life as “a shambles” after working two years on the film, let his feelings of depression and alienation run wild. He piled up garbage. He spread blood and skulls all around. He got old bones from a restaurant in Manila. Rats arrived on the set and people began to complain of the stench of festering flesh.

“Francis and I reached the same point through different channels,” says Tavoularis. “We both did it by going through a certain madness. He was feverishly rewriting the whole end of the film, talking to Marlon and Dennis Hopper. I was living the house of death I was making. It became such a low level in my life that somehow putting blood on staircases and rolling heads down steps seemed natural to me.”
posted by nevercalm (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
“I am doing this film half intuitively,” says Coppola, sitting inside his houseboat, where he wrote out the script each day on index cards. “I am spinning a web. The movie has two levels – the level of the life on the boat and the mission and then what happens to Kurtz’s mind when the film becomes a surreal. His mind is blown by the extent of the horror of the war. You have to invent. All I do is see more or less what the truth was and put it in the movie. ”

THIS. I love everything with that half-dreamed, half real feel.

The most confusing thing about Tropic Thunder was that it was obviously parodying this, 30 years too late.

In honor of Coppola, the Ifugaos re-enacted their sacred sacrifice of a water buffalo and Coppola has used this on film as one of his story’s most important symbols. “First the Ifugaos talked to the water buffalo for two days and told it not to be afraid of death,” reports one extra. “Then they killed four pigs and sacrificed a chicken. The meat was passed around and eaten, sometimes raw. Then the elders took long knives and gave the buffalo four blows at the back of the neck. During this time the water buffalo didn’t utter a sound, but he had a big tear in his eye – he really did. Wham, the fourth blow killed him. In the film, Sheen kills Brando the same way.”

Perhaps this sacrifice had something to do with the movie's artistic success. The bleeding heart at the centre of it. Reality beyond reality.

I've only seen it once. Amazing. A strange night.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:31 AM on April 18, 2011


Or maybe the director needed to sacrifice the buffalo himself for the ritual to work.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:42 AM on April 18, 2011


The prop man, Doug Madison, became adept at fabricating top secret CIA documents, thought nothing of driving 400 miles to fetch a special Army knife, and made a connection with a supplier of real corpses – before he was vetoed.

Vetoed. Can you imagine that discussion?
posted by three blind mice at 12:50 AM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Something along the lines of "You want a toe? I can get you a toe..."
posted by Ghidorah at 12:52 AM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


A remarkable movie. A remarkable director. I've watched it over and over. Like 2001 and Kubrick, I never get bored. I'm always seeing things in a new light. Fascinating stuff. I recommend Hearts of Darkness if you're interested in this.
posted by Splunge at 12:59 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Haunting movie, one of the classics. Thanks for this nevercalm.
posted by arcticseal at 1:02 AM on April 18, 2011


Vetoed. Can you imagine that discussion?
posted by three blind mice


"Well, you see, Doug, in Hollywood, things get confused out there--power, ideals, the old morality, and practical moviemaking necessity. Out there with Brando and Sheen and Hopper it must be a temptation to be god. Because there's a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and horrendously overbudget. The good does not always triumph. Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Capra called the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a breaking point. You and I have. Francis Ford Coppola has reached his. And very obviously, he has gone insane."
posted by George Clooney at 1:07 AM on April 18, 2011 [17 favorites]


Seconding Hearts of Darkness. Amazing documentary.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:10 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


“With my helicopters, the boats and the high morale of the well-trained extras we had, there were three or four countries in the world we could have taken easily.”

And it would have been a better movie than The Expendables.
posted by arcticseal at 2:23 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine worked as part of the art department on this movie. He relates it as being a very strange experience, unlike any other film he's worked on.
posted by tomswift at 2:50 AM on April 18, 2011


I want to third Hearts of Darkness. My High School English teacher showed this documentary to us. Coppola is no less than brilliant.
posted by chemoboy at 2:51 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The strained making of 'Apocalypse Now'
Interview with Dennis Hopper
Editing Apocalypse Now Pt. 1; Pt II
Pt 1 of Hearts of Darkness
posted by adamvasco at 3:57 AM on April 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


A friend of mine worked as part of the art department on this movie. He relates it as being a very strange experience, unlike any other film he's worked on.

Dude, tell us more. Quit teasing...what you said, describes my experience as a cashier at Target. Give us the good stuff.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:31 AM on April 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Be nice if in this day an age I could easily go into a bricks-and-mortar store and easily purchase a relatively inexpensive Blu-ray edition of Apocalypse Now Redux including Hearts Of Darkness but oh no it appears not for absolutely no good reason in the world whatsoever. And somehow it's my fault that I'm not buying shit locally. Hello, nughty-region-unlock-codes-for-my-Blu-ray-player! Hello, Amazon with express shipping! Hello, spending less than I would have spent buying it in a shop! Sorry you couldn't accommodate me, Australian free trade!
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:32 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The film is scheduled, if all goes well, to open in December [1977].

Spoiler, it didn't go well. Actual release date? August 15, 1979!

I just finished reading Michael Ondaatje book of interviews with Walter Murch called "The Conversations" which goes into a lot of detail about his work editing Apocalypse. It sounds like the movie was thought unreleasable for a while. Coppola had shot ten times more footage for the movie than you normally would but still hadn't finished the screenplay. At the point that this Newsweek article was written, Sheen's voice over narration hadn't even been written yet. Coppola hadn't even decided on the ending by the time of the release and the 35MM and 70MM prints shown ended differently.
posted by octothorpe at 4:44 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the late 70s Coppola's wife published her diary on the making of the film. I ran across it once in a library years ago. I can't even remember what it was called, but it's worth searching for.
posted by cropshy at 5:06 AM on April 18, 2011


OK, I looked it up. Eleanor Coppola's book is Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now.
posted by cropshy at 5:08 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe one of the most monumental (in scope at least) artistic enterprises anyone has ever undertaken. I spent a weekend last year with the Hearts of Darkness / Apocalypse Redux DVDs and was totally entranced.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:15 AM on April 18, 2011


NYT 2001 'Apocalypse' Then, and Now. And no discussion of this movie can be had without mentioning Despatches by Michael Herr possibly the best book ever to come out about the Vietnam War.
posted by adamvasco at 5:35 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If Coppola really needed to capture a sacrifice, he should have filmed himself drinking his own awful wine.
posted by rain at 5:45 AM on April 18, 2011


Amazing... this captures the demands of real art. You have to go where you are afraid to go, geographically or mentally, to pull something out that was once incomprehensible and maddening and give it meaning.
posted by sulphur at 5:59 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


NYT 2001 'Apocalypse' Then, and Now.
His wife, Eleanor, marveled that once upon a time he had said that the Vietnam film would be such fun after the stress and intrigue of the ''Godfather'' movies. It would be a picnic. So they went to the Philippines.
...
It was also nominated for eight Oscars. But it was defeated for best picture and best director (by Robert Benton's ''Kramer v. Kramer''), winning only for cinematography (Vittorio Storaro) and sound (Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Marks and Nat Boxer).
posted by kirkaracha at 7:34 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bad writing: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." Come on, seriously?

Bad acting: A mumbling Marlon Brando in a one-note, sedated performance. Robert Duvall in ham-handed, ultra-macho mode.

A hackneyed and dull soundtrack.

I haven't seen this movie since it came out, and certainly have no desire to give it another go. This is not a great film; it's not even a good one. This movie came out at the height of resentment over the Vietnam War; convenient timing and riding a wave of good will from the Godfather films gave this movie undeserved attention and unjustified acclaim. I'm surprised it isn't all but forgotten. It certainly should be.
posted by rain at 7:36 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


A hackneyed and dull soundtrack.

Hendrix and the Doors hackneyed and dull?

rain it was 1973.
posted by the noob at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


1977 (sorry)
posted by the noob at 7:51 AM on April 18, 2011


If you're a big fan of the film...and admittedly you have to be a pretty big fan....check out the five-and-a-half-hour workprint. While much of it has been worked into Redux, there are some fascinating extra scenes and, my favorite part, a different introduction to Kurtz which I think has much more impact.
posted by antihostile at 8:02 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would say that if you haven't seen the movie since it first came out, which was over 30 years ago at this point, then maybe you should give it another go, even despite your first instincts about the idea.

In the past 30 years, I promise you that you will have developed and deepened in many ways which will directly impact the way you take in a process cinema. You have a broader range of experience with styles of storytelling and with stories in general, and you have much greater life experience to draw upon which creates poetic resonance across art forms and your existence.

The question will be which cut of the movie to watch. Some may suggest the Redux edit. It's much longer and oddly more lyrical, but it's much longer. And did I mention how much longer it is? You may be content with something as close to the original release as you can get. I'll leave that up to you.

Now, I'm not promising that you'll like it better this time around. But I do think that three decades plus of life's sweet passage may give you something different to bring to the movie this time around. If you still find it to be forgettable after that, then you've probably given it as fair a a shake as anyone and can walk away never looking back.
posted by hippybear at 8:11 AM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Gotta second rain here. I am amazed that the person capable of making The Conversation, a near-perfect film (and an exercise in restraint) could excrete such turgid schlock.
posted by generalist at 8:23 AM on April 18, 2011


rain; I really suggest you watch it again. As Roger Ebert said in his original review:
"What's great in the film, and what will make it live for many years
and speak to many audiences, is what Coppola achieves on the levels Truffaut was discussing: the moments of agony and joy in making cinema. Some of those moments come at the same time; remember again the helicopter assault and its unsettling juxtaposition of horror and exhilaration. Remember the weird beauty of the massed helicopters lifting over the trees in the long shot, and the insane power of Wagner's music, played loudly during the attack, and you feel what Coppola was getting at: Those moments as common in life as art, when the whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance".
And from his review of Redux:
"My own feeling is that the original cut was neither mainstream nor tame, but epic filmmaking on a scale within the reach of only a few directors -- Tarkovsky, Lean, Eisenstein, Kurosawa."
And if you can , find a copy of Hearts of Darkness.
posted by adamvasco at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some may suggest the Redux edit.

I suggest it in particular for the French Plantation scene.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hendrix and the Doors hackneyed and dull?

I love them both, but choosing The Doors "The End" as a song to color a battle scene is cringe-inducing obviousness.
posted by rain at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2011


Rain, how come you remember that after 30 years?
posted by Leon at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2011


Just because everyone copied Apocalypse doesn't mean it was hackneyed.

Quite the opposite.
posted by Aquaman at 8:50 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


choosing The Doors "The End" as a song to color a battle scene is cringe-inducing obviousness.

This is certainly true in any film after Apocalypse Now. It'd be true of a Coppola film that wasn't about characters in Vietnam who'd plausibly be listening to "The End" at about the time of the action transpiring in the film. But if you're making the first film about Vietnam ever made by a major Hollywood studio and you've got Wagner helicopters and frazzled-out clusterfuck USO go-go dancing and drug freakouts and bad craziness and The Horror in a movie about the American military experience in Vietnam in the early 1970s, you've got the only legit license ever issued to use "The End" in a climactic ultraviolent murder scene.

You've also got one helluva piece of filmmaking on your hands, and much as YMMV and your favourite band sucks and all that, I seriously question your evaluation criteria if you place Apocalypse Now anywhere on a continuum outside of one that runs from Fascinating Flawed Mess to Singular Piece of Cinematic Genius That Somehow Invents, Perfects and Forever Closes the Book on the Idea of Method Filmmaking.
posted by gompa at 8:50 AM on April 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


Well, her spelling is certainly apocalyptic -- you'd think she'd get the title right after forty odd years.
posted by y2karl at 8:59 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with the movie is that it makes huge demands on the viewer. The first couple hours are bam-bam-bam non-stop action pack and then it's like a marathoner hitting a wall and the pace slows down to glacial. If you are not full of energy walking into the theater, or if you have had a bad day, or you are not feeling well, this movie may well leave you feeling like crap.

I loved watching the movie but it is easy to understand how people could have had a dreadful experience.
posted by bukvich at 9:00 AM on April 18, 2011


If Apocalypse Now is a bad film I don't want to see a good one... shit I want to watch it all over again right now.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:28 AM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hands down my favorite film, despite my being too young to fully appreciate it.

Singular Piece of Cinematic Genius That Somehow Invents, Perfects and Forever Closes the Book on the Idea of Method Filmmaking.

This.
posted by Ryvar at 9:39 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is not a great film; it's not even a good one.

rain, the temptation is to leap in and enthusiastically tell you all the ways in which you are wrong, wrong, WRONG. But first, for context, care to mention any films from the era (or pursuing similarly dark and epic themes) that you do consider great, or at least good?
posted by philip-random at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


@antihostile - that workprint is actually floating around out there?
posted by Old Man Wilson at 10:30 AM on April 18, 2011


The first couple hours are bam-bam-bam non-stop action pack and then it's like a marathoner hitting a wall and the pace slows down to glacial

But that was how the war itself was. All gung-ho and then just a dragging hell.
posted by Mick at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, first the chaos and trauma of battle -- then the shocked aftermath (nowadays all cleaned up and called Post Traumatic Stress). Another movie that does this very well is Terrence Malick's "Thin Red Line".
posted by philip-random at 10:41 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heard any good Movies lately: The sound of Apocalypse Now Pt I; Pt II
The opening sequence: This is the End.
On preview what gompa said. Francis Ford Coppola is a genius and made the movie that no other studio would touch.
posted by adamvasco at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally I love that Coppola had the hubris to try to film a giant epic movie without knowing exactly where he was going with it when he started and that he (and his collaborators) had the talent to figure it out along the way. If it hadn't worked, we'd only remember it as a grand failure like Heaven's Gate or The Last Movie. Sadly, the studios don't allow for many of those kind of high-wire acts these days; they're all about risk mitigation now.
posted by octothorpe at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2011


Come on people, totally schlocky and hackneyed. I watched that Citizen Kane movie the other day also and it was sooooo boring and clichéd.

Pssht, can't they think up something new?!
posted by P.o.B. at 12:08 PM on April 18, 2011


@Old Man Wilson

Yeah, dig around and you'll find it as a torrent. Not great quality. Some clips are up on youtube.
posted by antihostile at 12:53 PM on April 18, 2011


Fascinating Flawed Mess to Singular Piece of Cinematic Genius That Somehow Invents, Perfects and Forever Closes the Book on the Idea of Method Filmmaking

Herzog?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:56 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Come on people, totally schlocky and hackneyed. I watched that Citizen Kane movie the other day also and it was sooooo boring and clichéd.

I thought Rosebud's acting was kind of wooden.
posted by arcticseal at 10:31 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


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