Friday, September 26, 2014

Waiting For A Mission- Apocalypse Now 1979

Waiting for a mission, getting softer


Martin Sheen is one of my favorite actors and though he hasn't gotten a lot of great parts throughout his career, parts equal to his considerable talent, he did star in two of the best films of the 1970's- Badlands and Apocalypse Now- arguably two of the best films ever. Apocalypse Now works on so many different levels, it's both an outward and inward journey, literal and metaphorical. The film is a masterpiece of atmosphere, a tone piece that you can sink deep inside, it's completely hypnotic and succeeds magnificently in recreating the main character's inward trip, into the heart of darkness, in the viewer. 

It's impossible to imagine anyone portraying Captain Willard more effectively that Sheen with all the subtle notes in his performance, the way his eyes and voice allow you into the character's mind and soul. Throughout the majority of the film Willard is passive, an observer, but Sheen is able to masterfully convey the changes happening internally in the character as the movie progresses. Steve McQueen was who Coppola originally envisioned as Willard but he turned down the part due to the long shooting schedule outside of America, and Harvey Keitel began the film's initial shoot in the role but was let go after Coppola viewed the rushes and was unhappy with his performance.

I've watched this film countless times, and while the theatrical cut is still the go to version, the redux cut is interesting once you've become acquainted with the film as released, in particular the French Plantation scene, which is the only part of the redux that might have significantly added to the strength of the theatrical release- though it is a considerable detour from the journey down river. I highly recommend the three disc Blu-Ray that includes both versions of the film as well as the making of documentary Hearts of Darkness. These films can be watched again and again, always revealing different layers and nuances. It's truly a psychedelic film about what was in many ways a psychedelic war. 

It's important to note that film as we know it, including the final narration and the majority of the sound elements, was shaped through a torturous post-production editing process that took close to two years to complete. So the somewhat secret heroes of the film are people like Walter Murch, Richard Beggs, Carmine Coppola (who composed the score) and Michael Herr. Peter Cowie's book, The Apocalypse Now Book, provides fascinating insight into the whole film including this post-production process. A favorite quote in the book from Murch regarding the use of the Doors' song "The End"- "There was no connection other than a very deep bond between the psyche of Jim Morrison and the psyche of the film". 

My favorite scene from Apocalypse remains the opening Saigon scene which contains segments that were largely improvised by Sheen on his 36th birthday after a day of drinking. During the filming of this scene he reportedly had a breakdown ("my heart is broken") and accidentally cut his hand on a mirror but demanded that Coppola continue shooting. That scene and the behind the scenes cut from the documentary Hearts of Darkness follows. Kinda reminds me of every morning at my house trying to get ready for work, heh. Austin, shit, I'm still only in Austin. 

"Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another." Captain Benjamin Willard

The shot after he cuts himself and is crying and raises his head back reminds me of renderings of the passion of Christ. 

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