Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Year: 1991
Studio: American Zoetrope
Director: Fax Bahr/George Hickenlooper/Eleanor Coppola
Writer: Fax Bahr/George Hickenlooper
Cast: Francis Ford Coppola, Eleanor Coppola, Martin Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne, John Milius, George Lucas, Sam Bottoms, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper

There's something very meta about not just the existence of this movie but the content. Just like the throwaway line in the opening crawl of Star Wars about rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans grew influential enough in pop culture to warrant its own movie, the behind the scenes stories about how hellish and slipshod Apocalypse Now were have become film lore just as much as the movie. We've all seen that still of Coppola with a crazy look in his eyes holding a gun to his head.

Those stories are Hollywood doing what it does best – mythmaking. And the myth behind Apocalypse Now's creation has become as mythical as the film itself. So it's no real surprise when you look between the lines of the movie that the biggest mythmaker about how insanely out of control and dangerous the shoot was might be Coppola himself (his views ably supported by his wife Eleanor, who captured and assembled a lot of the behind the scenes material it's based on). Not that we should be surprised – he is a professional and talented storyteller, after all.

With audio recorded (apparently in secret – do you believe that?) by his wife when he and his whole family decamped to The Philippines for principal photography, Coppola isn't just emotional about his expensive war movie going off the rails, he's suspiciously eloquent about it. He might indeed not have known he was on tape during these sessions, but so much of what he says and the inflection of it is of a tortured artist throwing himself wholeheartedly into the tortured artist mould for whoever happened to be witness to it.

All that said, if you're an Apocalypse Now tragic there's a lot of context and background about the infamous stories, from Brando not sticking at all to the script (as he seems to have frequently done) to Sheen's massive heart attack midway through production to the worst typhoon to descend on the country in decades.

All the principals are on camera both at the time and in then-current interviews to talk about the little slice of it that they saw, and if you're a fan you'll absolutely love learning so much about it that you didn't know.

It's just a bit hard to decouple Coppola's image of himself and the myth that's spun up ever since from the actual experience. Did people really go insane, threaten to kill each other, contemplate suicide, etc? Maybe a less invested party (like an independent unit publicist) might have assembled something that bought into the myth a bit less.

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