There are so many reasons to re
view—or to appreciate for the very first time—Francis Ford Coppola’s
cinema masterpiece, Apocalypse Now
, that I almost hesitate to write about them here. This has always been such a special, such a powerful, film for me—since I first viewed it on opening day in 1979 with my Vietnam Vet brother-in-law
—that I’ve felt each person who sees it should come upon the experience the way he and I and so many others, as soldiers, did—with the light and space of Vietnam
irrefutably present, framing perfectly the moral dilemma of that particular American Disgrace.
In a way, Apocalypse Now has always been a work in progress. The production was famously over-budget—238 shooting days and 30 million dollars in the mid-1970's. The malicious and know-it-all press taunted the filmmaker, referring to the work as Apocalypse When? or Apocalypse Never during the torturous years of editing. Word got out that the film didn’t even have an ending, and I, personally, have seen two different ones over the years.
Nonetheless, Coppola stayed his artistic course remarkably, and managed to put together a film experience of undeniable beauty and power, which also happened to make a lot of money for everybody, even the people who didn’t believe in what the director was doing in the first place. Apocalypse Now, in whatever version you happen upon, is nothing less than a miraculous thing to see.
The film was always at least four hours long in its earliest incarnations. And now, 22 years after its initial release, Francis Coppola has seen fit to return the movie to something approaching his original vision. He calls it Apocalypse Now Redux.
"We shaped the film that we thought would work for the mainstream audience of its day," says Coppola, "keeping them focused on the journey up river and making it as much a 'war' genre film as possible.
"More than 20 years later, I happened to see the picture on television. What struck me was that the original film—which had been seen as so demanding, strange and adventurous when it first came out—now seemed relatively tame, as though the audience had caught up to it. This, coupled with calls I received over the years from people who had seen the original 4-hour plus assembly, encouraged me to go back and try a new version."
Make no mistake about it. Apocalypse Now Redux, the film that is in theatres nationally this month, IS a new version. I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times, and the version I saw today, with my fourteen-year-old son, is magnificent.
The hardest thing to do in editing a film is to get the pace right. Too much or too little "air" here and there throughout a movie—particularly a LONG movie—and the audience will either go to sleep from tedium or go home in confusion and frustration.
The film originally had some tough spots. The audience could be puzzled by information presented too quickly, a plethora of jargon, complex and poetic dialog accompanied by gunfire and LOUD music.
There was always stuff missing. And it was important stuff. Furthermore, had you been unfortunate enough to see the original film in a theatre where they just didn’t care WHAT they were serving up (there are a lot of these), well, by the time you got to Marlon Brando’s stunningly controlled and…unique…performance, you may have forgotten why you—not to mention Captain Willard—were there in the first place.
The new version (Let’s call it THE definitive version. There’s no reason to hang onto those other cuts.) Apocalypse Now Redux addresses ALL problems of pace, theme, character, and meaning and effect. By adding 49 minutes of unseen material to the original film, Coppola and his editor Walter Murch have managed to stun BOTH an old Vet who’s seen it all before AND his young son, who THINKS he has.
Sometimes the changes are small but significant. Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) has a much better entrance in Apocalypse Now Redux, landing noisily and imperiously in his chopper "Death From Above". There are extended sequences throughout the "Charlie don’t surf" episode that are both funny and character-delineating. By the time we get to the mango-hunting scene in the jungle, we have a much better sense of the PBR (Patrol Boat, river) crew (Laurence Fishburne, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms and Frederic Forrest), and thus we care more about them, as does Captain Willard (Martin Sheen).
There are also huge, completely new scenes. Willard trades precious fuel for a chance for his PBR boys to "meet" the Playboy Playmates, whose chopper has been forced to set down at a near-deserted landing zone. The benefits of this scene are multiple: the whole thing occurs during a monsoon, so it reflects the WET part of Vietnam you don’t get to see so much in movies, but more importantly, it places women in-country and, wonder-of-wonders, they’re being ravished by an ignorant ungrateful nation too, just as surely as the boys are. A remarkable, bold sequence, with lots of nudity, which may have contributed to its deletion the first time around.
And then there’s the most prolonged addition, a complex scene at a French plantation way up-river, which includes a very moving funeral scene for Clean, Fishburne’s character, and which serves to delineate the war’s political context and further elaborates upon the conflicting aspects of Martin Sheen’s character (Sheen, by the way, benefits the most from all these additions. He becomes even more fascinating, the assassin with a conscience).
He has a very sexy scene (in the middle of THIS movie, imagine) with a French colonial widow. They smoke opium together, slowly and realistically. She, too, looks wonderful nude. I’m surprised that the definitive version of my favorite war movie has LOTS of naked women in it. It feels right.
And there’s lots more Marlon Brando. A beautiful scene in a metal Conex container (Willard’s prison cell) which MUST have driven the more conservative studio executives insane, because Coppola pulls no punches. Brando tell us exactly how and why Americans were lied to about Vietnam.
The government did that, you know. In Real Life. They lied and lied and men died and died. It’s History. And it’s something about yet-another-war that we must never forget.
I doff, once again, my getting-very-ragged-by-now boonie hat to Francis Ford Coppola. He’s found a way to tell an old sad story in a new and exciting way.
And by the time we’ve lived all three-and-a-half hours of Apocalypse Now Redux, there is no doubt that finally, after all these years, the story has become Our Own.
- I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
- A long time gone
- How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
- Libber and I go to war
- Fate takes a piss
- Thanks For the Memory
- Back in the Shit
- LZ Waterloo
- Saturday Night, Numbah Ten
a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate
Combat Infantryman Badge
Firebase Mary Ann
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?
A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers