Sunday, January 23, 2011

#235 Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)


Director: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola

Cast: Francis Ford Coppola, Eleanor Coppola, Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, George Lucas, Dennis Hopper, Sam Bottoms, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne

A brief look into the making of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's epic, ruinous masterpiece that immediately followed his success with parts I and II of the Godfather trilogy. This documentary includes footage, diary entries, and sound recordings collected by Coppola's wife, Eleanor, all chronicling the making of the film.

Filmed on location in the Philippines, Coppola brought his entire family along with an enormous Hollywood production team to shoot the film over the course of what was supposed to be only a few weeks. Instead, it turned into years of filming and editing, with endless disaster: financial, physical, and emotional. Dealing with typhoons, firing main actors, the jungle conditions, the Philippine army warding off rebels, a heart attack, an overweight, unprepared Brando, placing all of his personal assets up for collateral to cover the new budget, and Coppola and his wife seriously both teetering on the edge of total insanity, the documentary focuses on the overwhelming obstacles behind the final product.

Despite all these obvious hurdles, some of the most interesting moments of the film were the views into Coppola's struggle with his own faith in the film's outcome. Often staying awake for days on end, personally re-writing the script, making up new scenes, and basically winging it, Coppola's methods during the shoot can only be described as feverish intoxication. His wife was able to capture via sound byte (unbeknownst to Francis at the time) much of his insecurities about the project turning out. Footage of Francis obsessively working and smoking cigarettes over a typewriter, giving actors' inspiring character direction, along with general interviews about his "artistic vision" for the project brought me back to memories of my own creative fever in the past. It made me wonder why I ever stopped craving that, and at the same time, I felt relief to not have a life full of such anxiety anymore.

Regardless, it's a great documentary to go hand-in-hand with viewing Apocalypse Now, and I highly recommend it. If it does not, on some level, inspire you then I truly question your being alive at all. It's really that grand.

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