Film Fridays – ‘Apocalypse Now’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start ‘Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – in my case in alphabetical order because I am sad like that….

‘Apocalypse Now’

The legendary opening scene is on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIrvSJwwJUE

This is a movie I first saw on TV. I was getting quite interested in movies at the time (mid 80s) and had heard this was a good movie.

The story opens, in Saigon during the war in Vietnam, with a Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) being given instructions to, effectively, assassinate a U.S. Colonel (Colonel Kurtz – played by Marlon Brando) and war hero who has set up his own little kingdom way up river in the jungle and whose behaviour is causing great concern. The movie follows Willard’s journey upriver by boat, encountering various combat situations along the way.

This is a real oddity for me to choose. I don’t enjoy war movies. Director Francis Ford Coppola is best known for the Godfather movies – and I don’t like gangster movies either. And in case you are wondering after last week, nor does it feature Jenny Agutter. In fact, in the theatrical version of the film there are no female speaking roles at all, which is another negative. This might be the fault of the original source material – Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ which was set in colonial Congo. Coppola did film a long sequence set on a French colonial plantation hanging on in the midst of the war, and this sequence has female characters, but it was deleted and only restored in subsequent releases. There are also longer scenes involving the ‘Playboy Bunnies’ who make a brief appearance in the theatrical cut. These scenes especially seem a bit exploitative and pointless, but then arguably this could be said for sending those girls into these situations in the first place, so maybe that was the point.

However. This movie is so compelling in ways I can’t articulate. It has some great performances: Sheen and also a career best Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore. A pre-fame Harrison Ford has a small role at the beginning – his reward for using his carpentry skills to expand Coppola’s office. (By the time this movie was released, two years after filming, Ford had made ‘Star Wars’ and was a huge star)

Visually it is spectacular: The opening sequence to the Doors track ‘The End’, the helicopter attack with ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, the amazingly lit battle at the bridge, and the horrors of Colonel Kurtz’s compound.

This movie reminds me of one of those books you can’t put down. It starts out simple enough but each set-piece adds another level of horror and also the movie almost imperceptibly gets more hallucinatory and deranged until, by the time of the final sequence in Kurtz’s compound comes along one is almost accustomed to the horror and craziness. For me, it is this gradual tonal shift that makes the movie such a directorial triumph.

The troubled production of Apocalypse now has become legendary – even spawning it’s own documentary movie filmed by Coppola’s wife Eleanor (Hearts of Darkness – a Filmmakers’s Apocalypse) and released in 1991. Troubles included:

  • Sets being destroyed by weather,
  • Brando turning up so hugely overweight he had to be filmed in semi-shadow,
  • Star Martin Sheen having a near fatal heart attack brought on by stress,
  • The helicopters borrowed from the Philippine military being rerouted mid-scene to go chase smugglers.
  • Even after filming ended there were problems with editing, sound etc – hence the long delay before release.

This is, at heart, an anti-war movie in that it highlights the craziness and brutality. It is not an easy watch – despite having the DVD I have only watched it maybe 4 times. (Not helped by it being rather long – the ‘Redux’ directors cut added another 50 minutes to what was already a 2.5 hour movie. It is rare I can get two hours to myself let alone over 3!).

Do I recommend it? Not if you are in a sensitive mood! But it is a great movie, hence its inclusion. It is, you will be happy to know, the most disturbing movie on my list – so all is much brighter from now on!

By The Way: Is it just me that thinks Brando was really over-rated as an actor? I could never work out why he kept getting paid a fortune for brief and mumbled performances (not to mention Diva behaviour on set) at this stage in his career.

11 Comments

  1. You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve actually watched Apocalypse Now! And even more that I liked it. Not in the sense that I’d like to watch it every year like Indiana Jones etc. because it’s just a tiny bit too brutal for me, and I don’t think I’m going to watch it again because I also remember that I was a complete wrack emotional wise afterwards but it is indeed a brilliant film. And the soundtrack is fab, I think that’s often the case: you like the film, you like the music and vice versa.
    What’s funny is that I’ve watched quite many war films and also think that many are actually anti-war films in their portraying of the brutality and senselessness of slaughtering each other. I don’t know the title in English, it’s Die Brücken am Kwai in German with Alec Guinness which I liked, and another one with Christian Bale that was extremely brutal but also extremely well done. That Spielberg one as well – and yet I can’t watch them twice, they’re just too intense.
    Oh, about Marlon Brando – big fan here so I’m not going to start an argument now. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad that you liked it too Sarah! Totally agree about the music thing too!
      The Bridge on the River Kwai is good, yes. As is ‘Das Boot’. I also like ‘Ice cold in Alex’ with John Mills. I never want to see ‘Schindlers List’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan’ again though…
      Brando? I was maybe being unfair as I have never seen any of the films he made at his peak in the 50s, so my judgement us based on his 70s output.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, I could have guessed ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’! 😂 But sometimes they translate movie and book titles completely different in German and I wasn’t sure. 😄 I’m embarrassed to admit, especially since it’s German but I’ve never seen Das Boot. I think the claustrophobic u-boat setting upsets me too much. Yes to both the Spielberg films.
        Mmh, okay if you’ve only watched Brando’s later films I think I could understand your judgement – a bit. You really need to watch his earlier films, they’re absolutely brilliant. Will make a little list of recommendations for you. 😉 Have a lovely evening, Darren! 💕

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you Sarah – and please do send me that list. You should watch ‘Ice cold in Alex’ if you have not already. I missed ‘The Great Escape’ from my list of war movies I grudgingly do like😉. You have a great evening too❤

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Not sure I should risk getting into the Brando debate but here goes. I’ve never especially rated him as an actor but I think it’s because I haven’t particularly liked any of the films I’ve seen him in. I suspect that the studio system meant that he was seen as a particular kind of character and cast that way. From Stanley Kowalski to Col Kurtz in a fairly direct line. I definitely prefer his older movies (to the newer) because I think he was less formed as “Marlon Brando” and had much more scope to explore a character. Towards the end of his career I think he was mostly playing riffs on the “actor known as Marlon Brando.”

    I agree about Apocalypse Now. Loved the soundtrack, found the film terribly compelling and have never ever wanted to watch it again.

    Like

    1. I think that is what bugs me Su. He seemed to be getting big bucks on the basis of his reputation rather than what he could bring to a role. But, to be fair, I really should watch more of his earlier movies. He must have gained that reputation somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

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