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Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
"My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It's what it was really like; it was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment and little by little we went insane."
The title is derived from the source material for Apocalypse Now, the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness. Using behind the scenes footage, and narrated by Eleanor Coppola, it chronicles how production problems including bad weather, actors' health and other issues delayed the film, increasing costs and nearly destroying the life and career of Francis Ford Coppola. In 1990, Eleanor Coppola turned her material over to two young filmmakers George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr who then shot new interviews with the original cast and crew and intercut them with her existing material.


Originally aired on television in the United States, Hearts of Darkness won several awards: The National Board of Review, USA award for "Best Documentary," 1991, an American Cinema Editors award for "Best Edited Documentary", 1992, two Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awards for "Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming - Directing" and "Outstanding Individual Achievement - Informational Programming - Picture Editing", 1992, and the International Documentary Association award, 1992.


Relevance to Apocalypse Now “The film Francis is making is about a journey into self. He has made that journey and is still making it. It’s scary to watch someone you love go into the centre of himself and confront his fears; fear of failure, fear of death, fear of going insane. You have to fail a little, die a little, go insane a little to come out the other side."


From the moment Eleanor Coppola utters this quote it is clear that the comparisons being made between this text, Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness is not coincidental; she wastes no time in introducing the passion and quest for truth which defines the film and the responder is meant to see this as a parallel journey all the way through the film. Francis Ford Coppola, from her perspective, is the same obsessed, brilliant, tragic hero we see in Kurtz. The following notes are being posted in order to aid those of you who may be interested in using the documentary as a companion text to Heart of Darkness. They are by no means comprehensive, so watch this space.


· Katherine Coppola narrates and is the lost female voice of Heart of Darkness and (the M-rated version of) Apocalypse Now.


· Irony re: American imperialism in this country


· Film shot in the Philippines and Coppola has to bribe dictator Ferdinand Marcos to film there


· Note the references to Dispatches by Michael Herr – this text is known to have influenced Coppola in terms of representation of soldiers


· Responder perception in 80’s compared to 1991 – Coppola is clearly illustrating the values of text in terms of historical/social/cultural perspectives


· Coppola refers to the making of the film as “The Idiodyssey”. This quote links the documentary to both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now through the mythological/quest viewpoint.


· Coppola’s own personal financial contribution illustrates his overriding obsession with making this film. He almost lost it all – the family estate in Napa, his American Zoetrope studio, but most importantly his independence as an artist from the studio system he despised.


· Katherine Coppola does not hold anything back, even admitting the exploitation of Vietnamese workers on the film set who were paid $1.00 per day.


· Use of newsreel and interviews lends the film gravitas and also places the events firmly within a particular historical context. They are also used to great effect to show how the soldiers were effected emotionally by the events unfolding and this encourages a range of emotional responses within the responder


· Use of music for dramatic effect – Coppola’s use of Wagner as Kilgore’s unit bombs the village and La Boehme set against the film of the cyclone bearing down upon the coast


· Threat of actual attack


· Throughout the film we see many examples of Coppola’s vision/focus/hubris. For example, his calculated and hysterical response to the media attention given to Martin Sheen’s near death experience.


· Orson Welles reads from Heart of Darkness over scenes from the film set


· Martin Sheen’s heart attack mirrors Marlowe’s near-death experience


· The documentary is edited using music, and clips for particular dramatic effect – it is interesting to think that, by seeing behind the scenes of the film to the workings of the set that the responder may feel some kind of disassociation with the original text but quite the opposite happens. This text is made to be just as dramatic as the film