Like LBJ, Coppola was tough on his subordinates. He fired Harvey Keitel and drove Keitel's successor, Martin Sheen, to a heart attack. And like Nixon, Coppola had no idea how to end his extravaganza. In a sodden paroxysm of irrationality, he hired Marlon Brando to be his white whale and prayed that once the actor arrived on location, something resembling a climax would occur. Sheen's character, who spends most of the movie pursuing Brando's, speaks for his director: "I really didn't know what I'd do when I found him."
Re-released 22 years later with 53 minutes of new footage and a Redux affixed to its title like a badge of honor, Apocalypse Now remains what it always wasa phantasmagorical trip through the spookhouse followed by a descent so precipitous you can't believe it's really happening. Perhaps in this way it recapitulates the war as well. There's a part of me that loves Apocalypse Nowthe use of superimposition, the orange flares against the green and gold foliage, everything that Stanley Kauffman dismissed then as the movie's "jungle discotheque look."
The moment when Jim Morrison intones "This is the end" and the tree line explodes remains one of the greatest sync events in movies. (I'll never forget the impact it had on me as a neophyte film critic sitting in the third row at the Ziegfeld all-media in August 1979.) There's never been anything to top the fascist excitement of the "Ride of the Valkyries" air cavalry attackor the historical resonance that Coppola packs it with. At the same time, Coppola was one of the first American directors to evoke war as pure terror: The grunt who can't leave the chopper ("I'm not going, I'm not going"), the wounded guys screaming for Mama, and later, the surfer who stumbles through the movie's equivalent of the Khe Sanh siege on acid.
Apocalypse Now Redux
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Coppola and John Milius
Opens August 3
The two major restored sequencesthe reencounter with the Bunny chopper, evidently shot during a typhoon on a rain-demolished set, and the so-called French Plantation sceneare welcome mainly in that they serve to forestall the movie's inevitable collapse. Actually, the Plantation sequencewhich Coppola can be heard loudly complaining about in the documentary Hearts of Darknesshas another use. The conception of a ghost remnant of the colonial past quickly turns into a poltergeist banquet. But even in this static hysteria, something necessary is communicated: "You Americans fight for the biggest nothing in history." How true.
Everything fails in the Brando scenesfirst imagination, then language. The actor gets one good line: "You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill." The rest of his dialogue sounds like lyrics from a bad Doors song ("I watched a snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor") or worse. Dennis Hopper's stoned snicker and screwball delivery livens things up; too bad Coppola wasn't crazy enough to ask him to edit the sequence. Incredibly, Redux lengthens the torture by adding scenes of Brando reading aloud from Time magazine.
Since its premiere, Apocalypse Now has had four different endings. Redux seems to have returned to the 70mm "peace" version. Air strike or not, it hardly matters. Masochistic? Delusional? Despairing? As in all previous versions, Coppola compulsively reprises Brando's pitiful croak"the horror, the horror." Nothing can redeem the movie's final 40 minutes. That may not be an ultimate horror, but it is a real one.
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