04 April 2011

Inside an Artist's Overwrought Soul: "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1991)

Francis Ford Coppola in the Philippine Jungle Shooting
Apocalypse Now (circa 1976)

Francis' wife Eleanor Coppola co-directed and narrated this examination of the literally maddening process of her husband Francis making his modern adaption of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), the Viet Nam war epic Apocalypse Now (1979). The result is this excellent complementary documentary to the film, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991).

A unique, gripping look at a film director as artist working under the most extreme conditions imaginable -- conditions that drive him to the edge of insanity. The project: film, in the Philippines, the definitive Viet Nam war film -- using Conrad's classic novella for the structure and certain themes of the story. (Filming Heart of Darkness is a project Orson Welles attempted on a smaller scale but could not get made. Welles then went on to make Citizen Kane instead.)

The documentary also gives us an look behind the scenes at more than one member of the production being pushed beyond their limits. Just one example of the challenges Francis Coppola met to get this film made was directing a troubled Dennis Hopper (see clip below). Such challenges came by the dozens and pushed Coppola to the brink -- and to new heights of creativity.

It's been my belief for a long time that the better we understand our (i.e. the U.S.) role in Viet Nam, the better we understand ourselves. Both the film and also this complimentary documentary help. As a little something extra, Francis and Eleanor add a fine commentary on the documentary.

I can't wait to see Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) again soon.

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