I decided a few weeks ago, after reading the book Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez wrote called, Along the Way, that I really needed to see some of the movies Sheen made along the way. The making of Apocalypse Now (1979) in the Philippines was one of the movies father and son both wrote about in great detail, you might say as a pivotal point in their lives. (Sheen is candid about his drinking problem, plus he had a heart attack during the filming.) It took more than 3 years to make the movie and they ran into a myriad of problems such as a cast strung out on drugs and alcohol, an unreliable Philippine army, typhoons, financial woes, and, apparently, President Marcos kept pinching their helicopters.
Acclaimed by Roger Ebert to be “one of the greatest movies of all time”, the Redux version is 49 minutes longer than the original but the extra footage was not just added in. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and his long-time editor Walter Murch worked with the daily rushes from scratch to create the newer version (2001) and they used a vibrant colouring technique that required painting the colour right onto the film making it quite amazing. This is the version I purchased and have now watched twice.
The story itself is based on Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness (Kindle edition available free now on Amazon) except it takes place in Viet Nam and Cambodia instead of Africa. It is a study of the struggle within the human soul between good and evil, light and darkness, and highlights the disillusionment of American involvement in that war zone. Sheen plays the part of an assassin sent by the U.S. army to kill one of their most decorated colonels (played by Marlon Brando) who has gone rogue, and has set himself up (or been set up) as a god among a tribe of natives deep in the jungle of Cambodia. During the trip up river on a patrol boat, we are shown many bizarre excesses within the military operations there, and are left to contemplate how they compare to what Col. Kurtz has done.
The soundtrack for the film is a spectacular achievement in itself. If you have home theatre, make sure the surround sound is on. The movie begins with “The End” by The Doors and sets the tone of disenchantment. When the patrol boat carrying Sheen reaches the area where Lt. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) is operating, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries is playing over the loudspeakers as a full out assault is made on a village with students and teachers shrieking and running for their lives as they are being cut down. There is another part which is clearly spooking the crew of the patrol boat as they move forward through mist and silence right before they are attacked from the banks and the sound effects are just that, effective.
I missed a lot when I watched it the first time, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie in general. It was overpowering and provocative. The scenes with the French family on the plantation (different from the earlier version) was almost a microcosm of the film, as well as of the Viet Nam war. I felt it was almost as intense as some of the assault scenes. The Playboy bunny scenes seemed out of place. (I kept thinking, OK, well, this isn’t a Bob Hope show.) The ending was extremely profound. All through the movie, Sheen’s character, Capt. Willard shares his thoughts about the war and his assignment through an unspoken stream of consciousness. He can’t reconcile the man he reads about in the dossier he is given with the “madness” being attributed to him. By the end, Willard believes that Kurtz is simply waiting for him to complete his assignment, that he knows of no other way out; he wants “to die standing up, like a soldier”. It seems to be a statement about the war itself — that America couldn’t find a way out until they finally just packed up and left. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. Ebert says, “”Apocalypse Now” is one of the central events of my life as a filmgoer.” Mine, too. * * * * *
You can acquire this film through Amazon.
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