Movies We Like
Hearts of Darkness
Francis Ford Coppola said of Apocalypse Now at its 1979 premiere in Cannes, “The way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little we went insane.” That madness is what you see in Hearts of Darkness, an extraordinary documentary about the film’s torturous, quixotic shoot.
With her own crew, Coppola’s wife Eleanor documented her husband’s protracted struggle to complete his epic about the Vietnam War; her footage is the basis of Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper’s feature. She came away with an intimate picture of the feature’s near-catastrophic progress, or lack thereof. Shooting in the Phillipines, Coppola replaced a lead actor after filming began; saw helicopters on loan from Ferdinand Marcos’ army diverted to fight rebels in a real civil war; witnessed the destruction of a main set in a ruinous typhoon; and was forced to halt production when one of his key players suffered a near-fatal heart attack. And then the volatile Marlon Brando showed up, overweight and unprepared for his role as the monstrous Colonel Kurtz.
Eleanor Coppola’s 16mm footage catches all the drama behind the camera in fly-on-the-wall detail, and no punches are pulled. New interviews with the Coppolas, screenwriter John Milius, George Lucas, and star Martin Sheen flesh out the story.
Apocalypse Now is a masterpiece unlike any other, and Hearts of Darkness is a crucial supplement that delineates the extreme financial, emotional, physical, and psychological tolls extracted in the making of that collaborative work of art. As a movie about moviemaking, it’s in a class by itself.