Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Directed by Fax Bahr, Eleanor Coppola, and George Hickenlooper, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now and its notorious production as it was captured by his wife Eleanor. The film showcases many of the aspects that nearly troubled the production from weather to all sorts of illness as the film also features new interviews with the film’s cast and crew. The result is a fascinating yet evocative documentary film about the making of Apocalypse Now.

In early 1976, production for what would be Francis Ford Coppola’s re-imagining of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness into a film set during the Vietnam War begins but what happens would be one of the most troubled productions ever in the history of cinema. Coppola’s wife Eleanor arrived to the Philippines with their three children in Gian-Carlo and future filmmakers Roman and Sofia where Eleanor was supposed to make some promotional footage for United Artists on the making of the film. What happened instead is that she would capture is the unthinkable as well as record private conversations with her husband unbeknownst to him at the time of the film’s production. Much of it would involve delays due to a typhoon that destroyed a film set, military personnel forced to take their helicopters to fight rebels in the south of the country, and Francis trying to figure out an ending and be faithful to John Milius’ original script.

The film would feature new interviews with the Coppolas plus actors Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Robert Duvall, and Dennis Hopper plus cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, producer Fred Roos, and production designer Dean Tavoularis as they talk about a lot that went on in the production. A lot of it is revealed to be true as it showed a lot of things that went wrong where a week into shooting, Francis decided to replace Harvey Keitel with Martin Sheen as it was just the first of many things. The film begins with a rare footage of Francis at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival where he premiered a work-in-progress version of the film where Francis declared that the film isn’t about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.

Through Eleanor’s footage with a few of her camera operators, she showcases a lot of the things that went wrong as well as some of the things that really made the production one of the most maddening where her husband would have meltdowns during the production. There’s also moments where Eleanor would capture some of the things that happened in the Philippines where some of it would be surprising such as its ceremonies and such to showcase some of the light-hearted moments in the production. With the new interviews shot by cinematographers Larry Carney, Shana Hagan, Igor Meglic, and Steven Wacks, the actors, crew, and the Coppolas reflect on the craziness that went on as Francis often wondered how the hell he managed to continue.

With the help of editors Michael Greer and Jay Miracle along with sound editor Brian Risner, the film compiles many of the footage that occurs in the making of the film plus some of the film‘s deleted footage that would later be restored for its 2001 Redux version of the film. Even as Risner would use some of Francis own conversations that Eleanor had recorded to play into his own madness and his difficulty with the production as he would deal with the press who were already calling the film a disaster before it even finished. Especially as some of the audio features recordings by Orson Welles reciting the Joseph Conrad novel which he had hoped to adapt for many years. With some original music by Todd Boekelheide that is mostly low-key in its ambient score, much of the music in the documentary is from the original film to play into much of its madness and setbacks.

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is a phenomenal film from Fax Bahr, Eleanor Coppola, and George Hickenlooper. The film is something that anyone who loves Apocalypse Now must see over its troubled production as well as what happens when things can go wrong only for a director to persevere despite all of the obstacles he goes through. In the end, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is a tremendous film from Fax Bahr, Eleanor Coppola, and George Hickenlooper.

Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

I haven't seen Apocalypse Now but someone recommended this doc to me anyway. Sounds fascinating, I always like to get some insights into filmmaking projects, esp. something as popular as this one.

thevoid99 said...

I would recommend seeing Apocalypse Now and it's extended Redux version and then watch the doc. It's a must-see for anyone that wants to know what it's like to make a war film and deal with all of shit that happens.