Quite an ambitious one, this. Apocalypse Now has recently been given a limited re-release in the UK, so I decided to write an essay detailing its troubled production, its many flaws, and how, despite these matters, it is still a masterpiece. Somehow, Coppola went against his reputation, failing as a writer, director and producer, yet emerged with another great film. Unreal.
When reading the extensive, semi-mythological stories that detail the production of Francis Ford Coppola's surreal Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now, it's baffling that it was made at all.
By the mid-1970s, Coppola was one of the stars of New Hollywood, holding unprecedented power and critical respect, dominating the 1974 Oscars with a total of fourteen nominations shared by his second Godfather rhapsody and the arty Antonioni riff, The Conversation, including a double nomination for Best Picture, and the rare honour of being nominated for both Best Original and Adapted Screenplays. This was alongside producing George Lucas' pre-Star Wars hit, American Graffiti, and contributing the screenplay to the lavish big-screen adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which helped place Coppola in the powerful position of being a successful director, producer and writer.
Coppola had developed a reputation of being both ambitious and reliable. Writing in 1975, the year before Apocalypse Now started shooting, David Thomson described Coppola as shrewd, composed, and almost clinical in his transformation of Mario Puzo's sprawling mafia epic into mainstream entertainment, saying, "For a thirty-year-old without a hit to his name, with Paramount, Mario Puzo and [Marlon] Brando breathing down his neck... it was an achievement to coax that vulnerable dinosaur of a property to lower its guard and then, in delicious slow motion, let the killer punch glide in. Any film student will take heart in the knowledge that the allegedly inaccessible industry will sometimes stick out its chin and ask you to hit it. He should note, however, that with the glass jaw in his sights Coppola stayed every bit at cool as Michael Corleone."
Of all the many things you could call Coppola's approach to Apocalypse Now, ‘cool' is not one. Originally drafted by John Milius (later the director of Conan The Barbarian) in the late 60s as a resetting of Joseph Conrad's colonial novella, Heart Of Darkness, it was later developed by Lucas as a cheap and quick Vietnam flick shot with a documentary-like immediacy. But Coppola had different plans for his Apocalypse.
Read the full article here.