Saturday, July 14, 2012


(November 1991, U.S.)

This documentary film about the production of Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) originally aired on the Showtime network back in 1991 but then had a very limited screen engagement in one or two art house theaters. Since I didn't have cable back then and was dying to see what was behind one of the most infamous and also one of the best war films ever made, I decided to pay my ticket price to have a look. I didn't regret it because this is one of the best documentaries about filmmaking that I've ever seen.

Using behind the scenes footage originally shot by and narrated by Coppola's wife Eleanor, it chronicles how production problems in the Philippines including typhoon weather, Martin Sheen's heart attack and other unforseen issues delayed the film, greatly increased costs and nearly destroyed the life and career of Coppola, despite having been responsible for the worldwide success of two previous GODFATHER films. As fans of Coppola's work, it's intruiging and even frightening at times to watch the filmmaker suffer throughout production just to bring his visions and his dream to the screen. One particular piece of information that was new to me at the time was learning that Martin Sheen's opening sequence of the film was very much real. Sheen WAS really drunk off his ass, he really DID smash his fist into the mirror and really DID confront the worst side of himself through his intoxication and his pain. It was shortly after that incident that he had his heart attack which he (thankfully) survived. In this documentary, we also get a look at the French Plantation sequence which never made it into the final film but did eventually make it into the REDUX version of the film released in 2001, a version I was finally able to see on the big screen because my parents were not about to let a twelve year old boy in 1979 see APOCALYPSE NOW.

In considering Coppola's uphill battle to make his precious Vietnam film, it's very easy to put him and his efforts alongside director Michael Cimino and his infamous making of HEAVEN'S GATE (1980). The difference being, of course, that APOCALYPSE NOW went on to be a cinematic success. HEAVEN'S GATE, on the other hand...well, I'll have more to say on that subject later.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Francis Ford Coppola: "My greatest fear is to make a really shitty, embarrassing, pompous film on an important subject, and I am doing it. And I confront it. I acknowledge, I will tell you right straight from...the most sincere depths of my heart, the film will not be good."

Thank goodness he was dead wrong!

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