Apocalypse Now (1979)

 


"Seen again now at a distance of 20 years, "Apocalypse Now" is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. "Apocalypse Now" strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link. The best is the helicopter attack on a Vietnam village, led by Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall), whose choppers use loudspeakers at top volume to play Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" as they swoop down on a yard full of schoolchildren. Duvall won an Oscar nomination for his performance and its unforgettable line, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." His emptiness is frightening: A surfing fanatic, he agrees to the attack only to liberate a beach said to offer great waves ("Charlie don't surf"). "

Francis Ford Coppola's film "Apocalypse Now" was inspired by Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad about a European named Kurtz who penetrated to the farthest reaches of the Congo and established himself like a god. A boat sets out to find him, and on the journey the narrator gradually loses confidence in orderly civilization; he is oppressed by the great weight of the jungle all around him, a pitiless Darwinian testing ground in which each living thing tries every day not to be eaten.

Martin Sheen plays Captain Benjamin Willard, a troubled officer, recovering – or not recovering – from a breakdown caused by his last tour of Vietnam. He is tasked by hatchet-faced intelligence chiefs with travelling with a small crew upriver into Viet Cong territory and into Cambodia. There he is expected to track down the renegade Colonel Walter Kurtz – an extraordinary cameo by Marlon Brando – and “terminate his command”, because this once brilliant officer has, as the Brit imperialist used to say, gone native, and become drunk with power, ordering executions. He is rumoured to be revered as a chieftain, or worshipped as a pagan god, and lost his mind through having been vouchsafed some terrible vision of humanity in the jungle itself.



And so Willard sets off into the Boschian chaos, encountering Kilgore, who gives him diversionary air cover to get his boat to the river’s strategic entry point with his bizarre “Air Mobile” helicopter cavalry attack blaring Wagner from the sound-system. It is one of the most staggering war-movie set pieces in history. Willard and his men carry on upriver: Tyrone (Laurence Fishburne), Lance (Sam Bottoms), Chef (Frederic Forrest), and Chief (Albert Hall) - until Willard arrives at the sinister jungle clearing itself, with corpses hung everywhere; they encounter Kurtz’s acolyte: the crazy, gurning photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) – a countercultural parody, like a cross between Charles Manson (whose fate Willard had noticed in a newspaper headline) and one of Manson’s followers. It is presumably this character who has painted the graffiti: “Our Motto: Apocalypse Now” on to a nearby rock.

The rock 'n' roll soundtrack opens and closes with "The End" by the Doors, and includes disc jockeys on transistor radios ("Good morning, Vietnam!"). The music underlines surrealistic moments, as when Lance (Sam Bottoms), one of Willard's crew, water-skis behind the boat. It also shows how the soldiers try to use the music of home, and booze and drugs, to ease their loneliness and apprehension.






Other important films such as "Platoon," "The Deer Hunter," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Casualties of War" take their own approaches to Vietnam. Once at the Hawaii Film Festival I saw five North Vietnamese films about the war. (They never mentioned "America," only "the enemy," and one director told me, "It is all the same--we have been invaded by China, France, the U.S. . . .") But "Apocalypse Now" is the best Vietnam film, one of the greatest of all films, because it pushes beyond the others, into the dark places of the soul. It is not about war so much as about how war reveals truths we would be happy never to discover.

In my original review of "Apocalypse Now" I quoted the French director Francois Truffaut: "I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between." Coppola's joy and agony are revealed in "Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse," a 1991 documentary by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper about the making of "Apocalypse Now," with personal footage and journal entries by Coppola's wife, Eleanor, who made secret recordings of Coppola expressing his doubts and discouragement as the project threatened to swamp him.

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-apocalypse-now-1979



“Apocalypse Now” is a movie that drove Coppola to the brink of both financial ruin and actual madness. The spectacularly ambitious grafting of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the historical quagmire of America’s disastrous military campaign in Vietnam was always a spectacular sprawl, a maximalist spectacle. Its first release was two-and-a-half hours, an overwhelming psychedelic horror vision of will and inhumanity. “Apocalypse Now Redux,” released in 2001, was over three hours, more diffuse, more of a thematic and narrative incoherence, but also mostly galvanically hallucinatory. And now we have “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” hitting almost exactly the three-hour mark. It’s also a 4K restoration from the original negative, with newly remastered sound. If you’re going to see it—and you absolutely should—you ought to see it in a theater that’s optimized for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.










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