APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

One of a cluster of late-1970s films about the Vietnam War, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now adapts the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness to depict the war as a descent into primal madness. Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen), already on the edge, is assigned to find and deal with AWOL Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), rumored to have set himself up in the Cambodian jungle as a local, lethal godhead. Along the way Willard encounters napalm and Wagner fan Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), draftees who prefer to surf and do drugs, a USO Playboy Bunny show turned into a riot by the raucous soldiers, and a jumpy photographer (Dennis Hopper) telling wild, reverent tales about Kurtz. By the time Willard sees the heads mounted on stakes near Kurtz’s compound, he knows Kurtz has gone over the deep end, but it is uncertain whether Willard himself now agrees with Kurtz’s insane dictum to “Drop the Bomb. Exterminate them all.” Coppola himself was not certain either, and he tried several different endings between the film’s early rough-cut screenings for the press, the Palme d’Or-winning “work-in-progress” shown at Cannes, and the final 35 mm U.S. release (also the ending on the video cassette). The chaotic production also experienced shut-downs when a typhoon destroyed the set and star Sheen suffered a heart attack; the budget ballooned and Coppola covered the overages himself. These production headaches, which Coppola characterized as being like the Vietnam War itself, have been superbly captured in the documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Despite the studio’s fears and mixed reviews of the film’s ending, Apocalypse Now became a substantial hit and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor for Duvall’s psychotic Kilgore, and Best Screenplay. It won Oscars for sound and for Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography. This hallucinatory, Wagnerian project has produced admirers and detractors of equal ardor; it resembles no other film ever made, and its nightmarish aura and polarized reception aptly reflect the tensions and confusions of the Vietnam era. Steve McQueen was the first to turn down the role of Captain Willard. Harvey Keitel was then cast as Willard. Two weeks into shooting, director Francis Ford Coppola replaced him with Martin Sheen. George Lucas was originally set to direct “Apocalypse Now” from a screenplay by John Milius. Lucas’ initial plan was to shoot the movie as a faux documentary on location in South Vietnam while the war was still in progress. Francis Ford Coppola, who was to be the executive producer, tried to get the film made as part of a production deal with Warner Bros. The deal fell through, and Coppola went on to direct The Godfather. By the time both men were powerful enough to get the film made, Saigon had fallen and Lucas was busy making Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Milius had no interest in directing the film. Lucas gave Coppola his blessing to direct the film himself. Francis Ford Coppola believed that Marlon Brando was familiar with Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and had prepared for the role before the legendary actor arrived on the set. When Brando did come out, Coppola was horrified to find that Brando had never read “Heart of Darkness”, did not know his lines, and had become extremely fat (Kurtz had always been written as a tall but starvingly-thin man). After some panicking, Coppola decided to film the 5’10” Brando as if he was a massively built, 6’5″ brute (to explain Brando’s size) and steered the camera clear of Brando’s huge belly. The scene at the beginning with Captain Willard alone in his hotel room was completely unscripted. Martin Sheen told the shooting crew to just let the cameras roll. Sheen was actually drunk in the scene and punched the mirror which was real glass. Sheen also began sobbing and tried to attack Francis Ford Coppola. The crew was so disturbed by his actions that they wanted to stop shooting, but Coppola wanted to keep the cameras going. When Francis Ford Coppola asked Al Pacino to play Willard, Pacino turned him down saying, “I know what this is going to be like. You’re going to be up there in a helicopter telling me what to do, and I’m gonna be down there in a swamp for five months.” The shoot actually lasted 16 months. Francis Ford Coppola lost 100 pounds while filming. Martin Sheen had a heart attack during the filming and some shots of Willard’s back are of doubles, including Sheen’s brother Joe Estevez who was flown out specially. Coppola was so worried that backing would be withdrawn by the studio and distributor if news of Sheen’s heart attack leaked out, that he kept it quiet, even to the extent of explaining Sheen’s hospitalization as being due to “heat exhaustion” in the official Shoot Schedule. Filmed in 1976 but released in 1979. Francis Ford Coppola shot nearly 200 hours of footage for this film. A typhoon destroyed sets, causing a delay of several months. There are no opening credits or titles. The title of the movie appears as graffiti late in the film, which reads, “Our motto: Apocalypse Now”. This was done simply so the film could be copyrighted, since it could not be copyrighted as “Apocalypse Now” unless the title was seen in the film. Randy Thom, one of the film’s sound mixers, said that the sound mix took over nine months to complete. In May 1979 this became the first film to be awarded the Palme D’Or at The Cannes Film Festival before it had actually been completed. Because the Cannes jury was unable to come to a unanimous vote, this film shared the Best Picture prize with The Tin Drum (“The Tin Drum”). Laurence Fishburne lied about his age (he was 14 at the time) when production began in 1976. The character of the photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) was reportedly inspired by legendary photographer Tim Page, author of “Nam” and “Derailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden”, among others. Shown – again – as an “official selection” though not part of competition at Cannes Film Festival, May 2001. Carmine Coppola (director’s father) wrote the score for this film. The first film to use the 70mm Dolby Stereo surround sound system. James Caan was the director’s first choice to play Col. Lucas. Caan, however, wanted too much money for what was considered a minor part in the movie. Harrison Ford was eventually cast in the role. One of the sequences cut from the original release version but added to the “Redux” version is a sequence featuring the soldiers making out with two Playboy playmates. Colleen Camp was the playmate surrounded by birds. Camp said her character trained birds at Busch Gardens; Camp actually did this in real life. The people on the riverboat were actual Vietnamese refugees who had come to the Philippines less than six weeks earlier. The movie’s line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” was voted as the #12 movie quote by the American Film Institute, and as the #45 of “The 100 Greatest Movie Lines” by Premiere in 2007. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #30 Greatest Movie of All Time. Voted No.1 in Film4’s “50 Films To See Before You Die”. Military sets for the movie were nearly destroyed by a hurricane during filming. Instead of breaking them down and starting over, the partially-destroyed sets were used to create new scenes in the movie (including the scene in “Redux” where the playmates are stranded at the deserted military base). It took Francis Ford Coppola nearly three years to edit the footage. While working on his final edit, it became apparent to him that Martin Sheen would be needed to tape a number of additional narrative voice-overs. Coppola soon discovered that Sheen was busy and unable to perform these voice-overs. He then called in Sheen’s brother, Joe Estevez, whose voice sounds nearly identical to Sheen’s, to perform the new narrative tracks. Estevez was also used as a stand-in/double for Sheen when Sheen suffered a heart attack during the shoot in 1976. Estevez was not credited for his work as a stand-in or for his voice-over work. Francis Ford Coppola threatened suicide several times during the making of the film. When Steve McQueen was being pursued for the role of Willard, the script was called “Apocalypse Three” as it featured three main characters, including a helicopter pilot. Gene Hackman reportedly was considered for the role of the pilot, as it was Francis Ford Coppola’s idea initially to cast the three roles with stars. One of Francis Ford Coppola’s top five favorite films of his own. Voted #7 On Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time (September 2008). Although the filming on locations in the Philippines lasted from March 1976 until May 1977, Marlon Brando’s presence on set was only 6 weeks (from September 2nd until October 11th 1976). So there see this movie you will not be disappointment.

 

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