Original release: November 27th, 1991
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola (documentary footage)
Cast: Francis Coppola, Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, George Lucas
It’s not often we get to see a feature length documentary about the making of one of cinema’s greatest masterpieces. Often we see some promotional behind-the-scenes footage where cast and crew look back on what a wonderful time it was, but rarely do we ever get to see the toll it takes on the director, physically and mentally.
This is why Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is such a treasure, not because it’s a chance to see that side, but because it gives us an idea of the director’s passion for filmmaking and storytelling.
It all began in 1976 when Francis Ford Coppola went to the Philippines to shoot Apocalypse Now from a script loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart Of Darkness. With its story set during the Vietnam War, it’s been described as a journey into the self, a journey that Coppola was about to embark on as well. It’s shot and narrated by his wife Eleanor Coppola who was with him during the 238 days of principal photography. Eleanor also recorded a series of private conversations with him without his knowledge, initially intended to be used only as a reference for her diary, which she kept throughout the production. Filmmakers George Hickenlooper and Fax Bah began editing her footage with new interviews they shot in 1990.
From that we see just what a test of capabilities making Apocalypse Now was for everyone involved and not just tireless director. One of the other things I found fascinating was seeing Martin Sheen’s process as an actor during numerous takes of him as Willard, naked and bloody. There seems to be an air of madness all around during the shooting of this movie.
With the strain of an escalating budget, adverse weather, concerns about the story and even Martin Sheen suffering a hear attack during production and Marlon Brando threatening to take his $1million and not turn up to work, it’s an absolute wonder not only that the film was completed, but also finished to such a level that it was immediately declared a masterpiece, a classic and a triumph by critics and moviegoers alike.
It’s presented in a no-nonsense manner; it’s a documentary in the strictest sense of the word; it documents. There are no fancy title cards, trick editing, flashy cuts or obtrusive soundtrack. The footage, narration and interviews is linear and it tells a story of the making of one the greatest films ever made. Truthful and bare, it’s all about the blood, sweat and tears that went into the movie. It’s utterly compelling and must-see for anyone with an interest in film history.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .