Choosing 12 films out of the hundreds of 'must-sees', 'masterpieces' and 'classics' that waited like blank sheets of paper for me to put my stamp of opinion on was a difficult task in itself. The fortunate person I am, the first film I chose proved even more difficulties. The main one: there exist two versions of it, the shorter one being 'only' 153 minutes long. Still, the 200+ minutes 'Redux' (what does that word even mean) cut might be much better than the original one, think of Blade Runner. Luckily, my helpful blogathon host Ryan McNeil immediately responded with the wise recommendation of the shorter cut - apart from the expected 'You're in for a treat', which he knew because everyone except me has seen these films already. In I went then, used to the 90-110 minute features I have stuffed myself with this whole past month. And you know, I've come to realize that watching movies is quite similar to doing sports - you've got to alternate. Now I do ballet, so 'Don't just do the allegro and ignore the adagio' would be my personal interpretation of the lesson that the Apocalypse Now experience taught me. I guess it translates to 'Don't forget to build up your muscles when training for a marathon'.
Apocalypse Now is not just a long film - it's a long war film. Happy times. War films need to be long, seems to be the general consensus. I don't think so, actually, I think war films can work perfectly fine with a running time below 2h. But indeed, Apocalypse Now is a movie that needs room to unfold itself in order to build up its eerie and disturbing atmosphere. Surprisingly, the plot isn't that important - nor are its holes. Basically, it's about great actors delivering great performances in an impossible environment, framed in the most fascinating way you can imagine (Oscar nod: deserved). If you really *have* to have a synopsis though; half-crazy Captain Willard (
Michael Charlie Martin Sheen) is sent on a secret mission to exterminate Colonel Kurtz's (Marlon Brando) insane reign over a group of insane people near the Cambodian-Vietnamese border. The film currently ranks #1 at the website moviemistakes.com and deservedly so. You can't expect anything else from a cut-down from more than 200h worth of filmed material, filmed in 16 months though. Famous production history? I didn't know S about this film's production history. However, it was one of the most interesting things I read since researching Blade Runner.
|Like I said: happy times.|
It almost seems like a mistake, or at least a coincidence, that Apocalypse Now exists in its current form. It could've been directed by Lucas, a documentary-style thing filmed during the actual 'Nam war, it could've featured a haggard Marlon Brando instead of a fat one (no Stanley Kowalski phantasies left there) and it could've featured Nick Nolte in the leading role - hell, it could've been a M*A*S*H style comedy featuring Clint Eastwood or Al Pacino. They could've made 100 different films out of the filmed material. Admittedly, many movies have a troublesome production history, and all of them face the weird coincidences and dictate of nature that other art forms don't (necessarily). But you get the feeling that *everything* went against Apocalypse Now; money, climate, several egos... the list goes on. This makes the end result feel so very precious and delicate to me.
Is it just me or does every good (anti-) war film need a great soundtrack? Full Metal Jacket had 'Paint it Black' and 'Hello Vietnam', Schindler's List had that famous fiddle thing, The Pianist had Chopin's 'Nocturne' and Apocalypse Now has The Doors' ingenious 'The End' (as used in ATU's Apocalypse Movies episode, remember?). It sets the film off to a great [apocalyptic] start in the jungle and is used again in the rather psychedelic-esque close-before-end scene if I remember correctly. Out of the films and songs mentioned, the collaboration of my Blind Spot film and Jim Morrison's beautiful voice + those electric guitars must be my favorite. It's so perfect, I want that song to be played at my funeral. That's how perfect it is.
|Me after watching this movie.|
Apocalypse Now is a *raw* movie. I've used this term before in describing some films that I absolutely love, most insistently in talking about my favorite film of all time, Dil Se... It's an adjective that I connect most prominently with the visuals of these films, but also the performances, the soundtrack, the mise-en-scene, lighting - many things. Raw also equals to real in that way, but more in a sense of reality mixed with poetry. Let's take this example; there's a scene in the film where Willard and his secret-mission-crew visit a sort of military base and enjoy an all-American group of girls performing some sort of arousing dance choreography for entertainment. At some point, the horny soldiers start running on to the platform where the girls perform their 'dance'. We all know that this is what happened in Vietnam, so it's real, but we've never been there (most of us anyway). However, we get an impression of the importance of this little show for the soldiers, we (beautifully) get to feel what they feel for an instant, the sadness, the loneliness, the longing - and this is the poetic aspect. And then, those feelings transform into an animalistic, dangerous action - a raw action. Nothing is polished, neither glamorized nor dragged through the mire.
There's been said enough about the cinematography of the film that I needn't dwell on that. It's haunting and as unique as it gets. The purple haze scene is enough to defend Vittorio Storaro's winning the golden statue (got to watch Reds and The Last Emperor now). All the actors are wonderful, Martin Sheen bringing just the right (huge) amount of insanity to his character to stand out next to Marlon Brando's all-over-the-place presence. The latter is only in the movie for 15 actual minutes but his presence can be felt in each second of the two and a half hours. His character is savage yet intellectual, bearing similarities to Vito Corleone but being completely different nonetheless. There are several other great actors - Robert Duvall, Little 'Larry' Fishburne... And in contrary to many other films, I wasn't bothered by the lack of female characters. It was realistic in this one (not like stupid Seven Samurai), it made sense.
Watching Apocalypse Now was such a rewarding, full experience that I'm starting to question my binging 2013 movies habit of the last weeks. Sure, it was necessary (to keep my you-gotta-be-up-to-date ego happy) but I'm looking forward to a more classic, refined month of February.
1979 • USA • English, French, Vietnamese, Khmer
dir. Francis Ford Coppola
authors Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius
★ Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall
final frame STRAWBERRY EXPLOSION
NEXT IN THE SERIES: MEMENTO