As a fan of storytelling, I have to admit that I’ve been overly eager to watch the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now for quite some time. Apocalypse Now is almost the epitome of storytelling, at least in its creation, as Coppola and Co. faced every single possible challenge in making this film, and came out of it with something that still stands the test of time.
But Hearts of Darkness…Hearts of Darkness is the real story, the story that seems to get all too close to the novel Apocalypse Now attempted to emulate, as we watch Coppola slowly drift into madness whilst attempting to figure out how to tell the story he wanted to tell.
On the surface, Hearts of Darkness really is a fairly straightforward “making of” movie. From the start, we are told to expect Coppola to go insane. In fact, the movie opens with Coppola’s own words, “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.” Honestly, all of the build up was probably a bit too much, considering all he really did was have a fairly substantial mental breakdown as the shoot stretched on…but who wouldn’t after being stuck in the jungle for 238 days battling actor egos, government militia, and incredibly inclement weather?
What I found most interesting about this film, however, is the concept of trying to tell the story. Coppola went into the jungle not knowing how he was going to end the movie. He had a grandiose ideal, but no idea on how to wrap it all up. He spent the better part of a year living this movie in the jungle, and still had absolutely no clue how to finish it, resorting to shooting three weeks of actors just winging it during the short time he had Brando on set.
And this is where I found this movie itself lacking. They were trying to tell the story of how Coppola went insane (a story that doesn’t really have an ending itself anyways), but we really telling the story of a man trying to tell a story that doesn’t have an ending…which didn’t get an ending. I mean, there wasn’t even a nod to the editing room where someone (according to Wikipedia, not Coppola) was left with miles and miles of film with the need to somehow put it all together into a cohesive narrative. I suppose the end of the story is the movie Apocalypse Now itself, in which we find that the ending isn’t really complete (in fact: side note: the ending was so incomplete in the original version that Coppola had included shots of random explosions for the credits just as a bit of visual pizzazz, which people believed told of an ordered air strike which would change the tone of the end completely…which Coppola then pulled the film to change the ending to basic white text on black background normalcy).
In the end, this documentary is a fun view into what all can go into the making of a film, especially if the film is intended to be done in a manner well outside of the standard studio method, by a filmmaker who is consumed by his vision. It’s very similar, in some ways, to what happens inside my head when writing a novel. You know, without the malaria shots.
Have fun out there!