Apocalypse Now

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

3 December

 

 

Joseph Conrad born, 1857

On this day in 1857, Jozéf Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, later known as Joseph Conrad, was born in Berdichev, in what was then the Russian Empire. Conrad was the son of Polish nobility and considered himself Polish. Conrad’s father was a political campaigner against the Russian occupation of his country and his activism got him first imprisoned in Warsaw, then exiled to Vologda, 500 km north of Moscow. Conrad was home-schooled by his father, who instilled in him a love of Polish literature and Shakespeare. By 1869 both Conrad’s mother and father were dead and his upbringing was taken over by an uncle, who eventually enrolled him in the French merchant navy. After four years Jozéf joined the British merchant navy, where he spent most of the next 15 years. Somewhere during this stint he spent three years working for a Belgian trading company, and he became captain of a steamer on the Congo River. Conrad took up writing aged 36 in 1894, by which time he had moved to England and anglicised his name. Though English was his third language (after Polish and French), Conrad chose to write in it, most probably because he lived in that country. His stories were often tales of sea-going adventure, with a romantic touch that allied them to the Poland of his birth, though their manner was reminiscent of the French authors he so admired. This polyphony of styles made Conrad unique in English. An emotional, nerve-wracked, pessimist who was always in poor physical health, Conrad had attempted suicide when he was 20, though he lived to the age of 66 before dying, most probably of a heart attack.

 

 

 

Apocalypse Now (1979, dir: Francis Ford Coppola)

Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t the first to adapt a Conrad story for the movies. Victor Fleming had made Lord Jim into a film in 1925. Hitchcock had tackled Sabotage in 1936 and Ridley Scott had taken on The Duellists (from Conrad’s The Duel) in 1977. But they all take a back seat to Apocalypse Now. The film’s title had been coined by screenwriter John Milius, whose antipathy to hippies and their blissed out slogans, such as “Nirvana Now”, had prompted the legendary right-wing blowhard to blow right back. It is the notoriously difficult, non-appeasing, truculent, anti-peacenik view of the Vietnam War that gives Apocalypse Now one of its many edges, and Milius’s prickly dialogue pointing up the glamour of war – “napalm in the morning” etc – that gives it a lot of its enduring appeal. War is hell, but it’s also great fun – especially as seen by a generation who were casting aside the bonds of family. The story of a ship going up river to where a man named Kurtz has established himself as a god is lifted directly from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and the film’s atmosphere is a read-across from the impressions that Conrad himself formed on his own journey up river, the horror of which never left him. That simple arc – a ship goes up river, things getting worse all the time – is the skeleton on which Coppola hangs his film, a film that lays out the truth of the Vietnam War in one of Marlon Brando’s closing speeches, the one about North Vietnamese hacking off arms inoculated against polio – that “Charlie” is going to win the war because he is prepared to do anything to win it. That said, Apocalypse Now doesn’t function as a bag of ideas about Vietnam, it’s more a sensory approximation of the war, which Coppola perhaps foolishly described with his vainglorious line “This isn’t a film about Vietnam. This film is Vietnam”. Take the enduring images: that mad entertainment spectacle of Playboy bunnies in the middle of a tropical nightmare; the helicopters flying to the Ride of the Valkyries; the explosive finale; Martin Sheen emerging glistening from the river; the cow being slaughtered; Dennis Hopper skittering about with the cameras jangling around his neck. Most films would kill to have one of those. And the film uses voiceover, usually the sign of a film in trouble. But when you’ve got “Saigon. Shit. I’m still only in Saigon” as a foundation, no wonder the movie is this great.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Walter Murch’s editing
  • Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography
  • Young Harrison Ford, even younger Laurence Fishburne
  • Even the making-of film is great

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Apocalypse Now – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Apocalypse Now”

  1. My favourite movie of all time. This was a flawed piece of work by Coppola and seeing the documentary 'Heart of Darkness' made it even more compelling. Coppola at this point was king of Hollywood after making 'the Godfather' and 'GodfatherII' and had developed the ego necessary to even dare try to make a movie like 'Apocalypse Now'. Through sheer arrogance he went to the Phillipines with a partial script and thought he would know what he would do when he got there. Just as Captain Willard thought he would know what to do once he got to Col. Kurtz's compound. And just like Willard, he DIDN'T know what he was going to do once he got there. This is such a masterpiece of American cinema, beautifully photographed and the river is such a perfect metaphor and backdrop for the story. What I like most about 'Apocalypse Now' is that it offers no answers or conclusions. Consequently, because of this open-endedness, it infuriates some viewers who like their movies to be much more obvious.

    This movie defies categorization. Some call it a war movie which it isn't at all, really it is more of a personal study of man. The best pic about Vietnam is 'Platoon' in my opinion and if a viewer is seeking a retelling of the Vietnam War go there first for answers.

    Coppola should be commended for his take on the bureaucracy of war which he conveys quite effectively with the meeting with Gen.Corman and Lucas (Harrison Ford) and the Playmate review. The sheer audacity of Kilgore makes him an unforgettable character and the dawn attack will always be a Hollywood classic.

    It is an almost psychedelic cruise to a very surreal ending which makes it a movie not accessible to everyone. Very challenging to watch but rewarding as well. I could offer my explanations on each scene but that would be totally pointless. This movie is intended for interpretation and contemplation as opposed to immediate gratification.

    A little footnote, definitely if your a first-time viewer of Apocalypse Now, watch the original version first, the 'Redux' version is, I think, more intended for the hardcore fan and is more of a curiosity than a 'new and improved' version of the movie

  2. I first saw APOCALYPSE NOW in 1985 when it was broadcast on British television for the first time . I was shell shocked after seeing this masterpiece and despite some close competition from the likes of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING this movie still remains my all time favourite nearly 20 years after I first saw it

    This leads to the problem of how I can even begin to comment on the movie . I could praise the technical aspects especially the sound , editing and cinematography but everyone else seems to have praised ( Rightly too ) these achievements to high heaven while the performances in general and Robert Duvall in particular have also been noted , and everyone else has mentioned the stark imagery of the Dou Long bridge and the montage of the boat traveling upriver after passing through the border

    How about the script ? Francis Ford Coppola is best known as a director but he's everyway a genius as a screenwriter as he was as a director , I said " was " in the past tense because making this movie seems to have burned out every creative brain cell in his head , but his sacrifice was worth it . In John Milius original solo draft we have a script that's just as insane and disturbing as the one on screen , but Coppola's involvement in the screenplay has injected a narrative that exactly mirrors that of war . Check how the screenplay starts off all jingoistic and macho with a star turn by Bill Kilgore who wouldn't have looked out of place in THE GREEN BERETS but the more the story progresses the more shocking and insane everything becomes , so much so that by the time reaches Kurtz outpost the audience are watching another film in much the same way as the characters have sailed into another dimension . When Coppola states " This movie isn't about Vietnam – It is Vietnam " he's right . What started off as a patriotic war to defeat communist aggression in the mid 1960s had by the film's setting ( The Manson trial suggests it's 1970 ) had changed America's view of both the world and itself and of the world's view of America

    It's the insane beauty of APOCALYPSE NOW that makes it a masterwork of cinema and says more in its running time about the brutality of conflict and the hypocrisy of politicians ( What did you do in the Vietnam War Mr President ? ) than Michael Moore could hope to say in a lifetime . I've not seen the REDUX version but watching the original print I didn't feel there was anything missing from the story which like all truly great films is very basic . In fact the premise can lend itself to many other genres like a western where an army officer has to track down and kill a renegade colonel who's leading an injun war party , or a sci-fi movie where a UN assassin is to eliminate a fellow UN soldier who's leading a resistance movement on Mars , though this is probably down to Joseph Conrad's original source novel

    My all time favourite movie and it's very fitting that I chose this movie to be my one thousandth review at the IMDb

  3. As I peruse through the hundreds of comments that loyal readers of the IMDB have posted on this film, I find it very interesting how few ,"middle of the road" comments there are. Everyone either loves it, or they hate it. Having seen Apocalypse Now approximately 30 times, and having recently dissected it on DVD (how did we ever live without those magical digital machines?????), I can say without hesitation that I am one of those who have a very special place in my heart for this film. "Why would you like a film that’s so confusing?" ask many of my associates. The answer is this: Forget the war, forget the brutality….This is a classic story of society protecting itself from those that refuse to fall in line with the status quo. Brando represents the individual that has his own way of getting the job done. They (Big Brother) sent him out to do the job, he does it too well, without adhering to the accepted "standards" of death and destruction (Am I the only one who’s troubled by the fact that we have ‘standards’ for death and destruction????), so they send the "Conformity Police" out to eliminate the individual. Hmmmmmm….Draw any parallels between this and things you see every day? With the deepest respect to Mr. Coppola, whom I believe is one of the best directors of all time, I think he transcended his original intent of the movie, and probably didn’t even realize it until after the movie was released. The subtle sub-text that permeates the entire movie has way too much to it to have been planned and portrayed; instead, it seems to have ‘grown’ itself, like some wild flower in the middle of a vegetable garden. Again I must reiterate: I think FF Coppola did a bang-up job on this entire production, as did the cast and crew, but the sum of the movie exceeds the individual efforts ten-fold. So if you haven’t seen the movie, rent it, watch it, then watch it again, and maybe a few more times, and look for all the generic parallels to everyday life. Only then make a judgment on the quality of the film. Those of you that have seen it, watch it again with the mindset previously described. I think you may just have a whole new appreciation for the film. Or maybe not! No matter whether you love it or hate it, be sure and give credit to Coppola for his masterful story-telling style!

  4. I’m starting to get weary when I hear the term "director’s cut". Some are good like Ridley Scott’s "Blade Runner" but William Friedkin totally screwed up the end of "The Exorcist" in his restored version, but this is even worse. "Apocalypse Now" was very well made and it seems that Coppola who was in his creative prime when he made the film (having completed "Godfather I & II" and "The Conversation" and then never coming even close to anything compelling after that) simply decided to desicrate this film. He should have realized that he was a much better director when he made "Apocalypse Now? then he is at present, and that he cut out the scenes in question for good reason.

    -I like the extra footage of Col Kilgore, but having Willard steal his surfboard and then laugh with glee like a frat boy was totally not in his character and it was best left on the cutting room floor.

    -The playboy bunnies extra scene is beyond ridiculous. It wasn’t even inserted into the movie correctly. One minute it’s a sunny day Willard is reading Col. Kurt’s letter to his son and looking at a photo of Kurtz, and then suddenly it’s raining and they come across the army camp. Willard offers two drums of deisel fuel in exchange for sex for the boys on the boat. Again..totally out of character for Willard, and completely unbelievable as a whole. Theres a five minute awkward scene with the men and the bunnies and then FLASH their back on the boat again, it’s not raining anymore and Willard is staring at the same photo of Kurtz again, terrible editing!! Afterwhich is the scene where they come across the Vietnamese supply boat and kill the passengers. The impact of this scene is taken away as the motivations of the crew are not as understandable anymore. Also when Willard kills the injured Vietnamese woman because he’s in a hurry to get moving, makes no sense now. He wasn’t in too big a hurry in the previous scene having made the deal for the men to have sex with the bunnies????

    -The French Plantation sequence is too looooonngg. Willard (at their dinner table) asks why the family is still in Vietnam, to which he gets a TWENTY MINUTE answer by everyone at the table as they yell back and forth at each other. He then SUDDENLY ends up with this French woman while the soundtrack spews very sappy music. I was wondering what happend to the movie during this entire sequence….the river….the war….colonel Kurtz???? After watching this awful sequence I said to myself "the horror, the horror".

    -The extra scene with Brando reading Time Magazine is also pointless. Also seeing the Kurtz character in broad daylight, instead of the shadowing figure that we were limited to in the original version takes away his foreboding.

    All these scenes add nothing to the film except extreme length. I tend to like long movies but not when they are injected with pointless scenes, the movies previous 2 1/2 hour length was perfect for it. I will keep my old original DVD of "Apocalypse Now". I hope some day they release a two disc set of this film. It will have the original version in the 2:35 to 1 aspect ratio. And another disc with trailers, "Hearts of Darkness a filmaker’s Apocalypse", and they can even throw in the extra "Redux" scenes in a deleted scenes option just for laughs.

    STICK WITH THE ORIGINAL!!! As far as "Apocalypse Now Redux" goes, for me, this version does not exist…nor will it ever exist.

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