Thursday, November 03, 2005

Apocalypse Now (1979)

After Depression era dance marathons, and bitchy dramedies, I thought I'd take an entirely different route for this week's Classic Movie. Since Jarhead opens tomorrow and all non action-genre war movies are invariably compared to this one, I thought it was time to re-shout hosannas to Apocalypse Now.

Despite the fact that Jarhead and any new film that plays in the 'war and what it does to the psyche' field will be dissed in relations to this movie, I have to say that I'm not sure that Apocalypse Now would receive the same shower of affection were it released fresh into the world today. It's tough to imagine a movie like this opening now and being widely hailed as a great film and also big hit. I see people scratching their heads, limited box office, and scattered critical hosannas --like say Dogville or Mulholland Drive. Resolutely idiosyncratic and feverishly hallucinogenic auteur pieces are not well loved today. They're usually polarizing. They receive lots of "what were they thinking?" "unsatisfying", "confusing," or "messy" comments in their critical dismissals, rather than becoming celebrated hits with 8 Oscar nominations. I'm not sure that audiences or critics like to grapple with challenging material in the way they used to--at least not as much as they used to.

And let's face it, Apocalypse Now is often downright confounding. For example: What exactly is the director doing revealing himself onscreen in the famous beach sequence? There he is in the midst of all the chaos shouting at his lead actor (Martin Sheen) to not look at the camera. It's a moment that would be unthinkable to see in an acclaimed film now. Yet, it's the moment in watching Apocalypse Now that I realized that I loved the film. The moment I became unhinged realizing that anything could happen in this film. The chaos became complete...something that was happening right there in my head as well as up onscreen. Coppola's vision had left the realm of the fever dream and morphed into a waking nightmare. By the time you reach the end of the river hours later you've completely absorbed the film's surrealities and you're as ready as the poor souls onscreen to be taken in by the insanity embodied in Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando).

But conjecture and description of audience response aside, Apocalypse Nowopened in the 1979 at the tail-end of that time period when both filmmakers and audiences embraced great and dark auteurial visions with regularity. Films with rough weird edges were welcome to the party back then. Francis Coppola was on one of cinema's all-time hotstreaks as he began this Vietnam film, having just made The Godfather, The Godfather II, and The Conversation back to back. WithApocalypse Now he forged another brutal classic --four in a row. What the making of this film did to him, as detailed in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse, doesn't have as happy an ending. But great art, they say, has its price.

"the horror. the horror"


Javier Aldabalde said...

Your insight on modern critics and audiences is spot on. I'm very embarrassed to say I haven't seen this film yet, though. Bad me.

Anonymous said...

Apocalypse Now is as suffocating as They Shoot Horses, Don't They?.

What Coppola managed to do with Conrad's classic novel is outstanding. A wonderful work of adaptation: plot, mood, setting.
Another must see film.

Congratulations Mr. Rogers.


Anonymous said...

Arguably, this is best film ever made. Great showcase, Nathaniel...certainly a worthy (re)addition to your canon.

Anonymous said...

See now, this is actually a selection that I can find quite easily, unlike the other two which I'm fairly certain do not exist anywhere in my city. Ugh.

But, as Javier said, you're stuff about critics and auteur pieces today is so true. I can think of a few others that would've been hailed as masterpieces back then but were instead dismissed and almost shunned.

I was actually surprised when I found out this won Best Picture, and that was only recently too. I had always just assumed that it was too much for the Academy and that they nominated it and let it be but then I found out it actually won and I was impressed.

Not that I've seen it mind you... but I hope to!


Anonymous said...

It didn't win. It was beat by the Dustin Hoffman-Meryl Streep divorce drama, Kramer vs. Kramer. All it won were Best Cinematography and Best Sound.


Still 8 nominations and 2 statues is an impressive haul for this type of film. It certainly doesn't coddle anyone and is not for the faint of heart.

Anonymous said...

Best regards from NY! » » »