1979 – APOCALYPSE NOW


There are scores of movies based on the War in Vietnam.

Francis Ford Coppola proved his mastery with this movie starring Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall. In the era when everybody was upset about the  American war in Vietnam this film added fuel to fire.

Movie Review by Bill Rendall

Apocalypse Now is based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness which is not about Vietnam. Heart of Darkness was written in 1902 and is about a journey up the Congo river into the heart of darkest Africa to find a power-crazed white trader named Kurtz.

This isn’t a film about Vietnam. This film is Vietnam.” So claimed Francis Ford Coppola, the director of Apocalypse Now.

You should see Apocalypse Now for a spectacular depiction of the insanity of war and mankind in general. Apocalypse Now suggests that America and her allies might be the bad guys committing atrocities. This was a change from earlier war movies which tended towards propaganda.

An effective movie contains scenes that you will recall long after watching it. While there may be a question about the accuracy of some of the scenes in Apocalypse Now there is no question about their impact.

Who could forget the combat-crazed Kilgore? Who could forget the helicopters blasting out Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ as they approach a Vietnamese village? According to Scandinavian myth the Valkyries were goddesses who carried the slain from the battlefield to Valhalla but I don’t think the villagers would appreciate the irony.

One of Coppola’s controversial quotes was that he patterned his life on Hitler. The music and philosophy of Wagner was a significant source of inspiration for Hitler and evokes memories of the atrocities of World War II.

Coppola’s friend George Lucas established the practice of using pre-existing pop songs to set the timeframe of movies in American Graffiti. Coppola took note of this. ‘The End’ by the Doors is used to great effect in Apocalypse Now. Sixties rock music became de rigueur in movies about the Vietnam war.

Harrison Ford played a small role in Apocalypse Now, as he did in American Graffiti. His character was named G. Lucas.

Apocalypse Now could have been a classic but it is spoiled by a confused ending. Coppola brought in Marlon Brando to play Kurtz in the hope that he would repeat the success of his performance in The Godfather. Brando came in unprepared and improvised his role. The result was aimless mumbling and raving. Without Brando the movie would have been better and Coppola would have saved himself a lot of money and anguish.

Perhaps I am being too harsh in my criticism of Brando. Nobody could have saved the ending of Apocalypse Now. The real problem was that Coppola took on too much himself as producer, director, co-writer and financier. He even composed some of the music with his father Carmine. He really needed an independent producer to rein the movie in.

A redux version of the movie was released many years later which significantly extends the movie’s length. It does nothing to resolve the problems of the latter part of the movie.

Despite my criticisms of Apocalypse Now I consider it essential viewing. It is a magnificent example of hubris and Robert Duvall’s performance as Kilgore is brilliant.

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