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The Black Dog inspires creativity -- its high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and spacious tables encourage daydreaming, journaling, doodling and other precursors to art making.


Twin Town High (vol. 8)

Your Locally Grown Alternative Newspaper

“Apocalypse Now”
Friday 29 June @ 13:42:10
Classic REVIEW


As timely now as it was in 1979 (when it won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival), Francis Ford Coppola’s hypnotic war film “Apocalypse Now” takes the viewer on a journey into darkness, a hell that can only come from war. Coppola certainly wasn’t the first to show war as hell, but he definitely took it to another level with film. The film is not so much about the Vietnam War as it is an exploration into the psyche of good people turned into fucked-up fighting machines that don’t realize what they’re doing anymore.

When our country is at war, directors often use cinema to comment on its atrocities; rarely do you find a filmmaker that is pro-war. What I find especially interesting about Coppola’s dark vision here is how exact and bleak it is, showing the true effects of a war campaign gone on far too long and for all the wrong reasons (hmm, kind of sounds like our current situation). In “Apocalypse Now,” the enemy is not the Vietnamese, but a seriously deranged American Colonel (played memorably by Marlon Brando) hell-bent on creating his own kingdom at any cost, regardless of the lives it costs (again this is sounding very familiar).

Coppola provides no easy answers in the film, instead opting to give the audience a war experience unlike anything ever seen before, and never accomplished since, though films like Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” Oliver Stone’s “Platoon,” Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” and David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” have successfully shown war in a gritty, realistic way that serves the same purpose but gets there in different, visceral ways. “Apocalypse Now” is a unique war film, even though it really isn’t about the war, but the people in it.

Take the opening of the film. Perhaps the best beginning to any film, Coppola lets us know exactly what’s in store for the audience in the next two-and-a-half hours (or the next three-plus hours if you watch the Redux version). It’s as if Coppola wanted to say: You are about to embark on the most drug-induced, psychedelic, horrifying and beautiful journey in war film history.

Coppola says all of that by opening on a jungle. We hear the sounds of helicopters echoing in the distance. One helicopter passes the camera. The sound of The Doors’ “The End” begins to play. The song couldn’t have fit better in any other movie than this one. Its psychedelic guitar and keyboard opening is followed by Jim Morrison’s low howl chanting “this is the end … beautiful friend … This is the end, my only friend, the end.” The end of what? The film is called “Apocalypse Now,” so this Doors classic fits well with the hell our protagonist is about to go through.

Then the jungle erupts in flames as we witness the fury and pure destructive force of napalm. The camera pans to the right as we see an image of Capt. Willard’s face superimposed over the jungle image. Followed by a beautiful cutaway in which the sound of helicopters is matched to the image of a spinning ceiling fan in Willard’s room as he imagines all the horror he has witnessed in Vietnam. This is the mother of all film montages, with a fantastic rock song accompanying the overlapping images, and Coppola (along with co-editor Walter Murch) puts it in the first four minutes of the film.

Anyone who isn’t hooked in the beginning of this film should have their pulse checked for signs of lifelessness. This is filmmaking at its most pure and driven. The details of the production of “Apocalypse Now” have been mulled over by film historians and critics ever since its original release. Coppola never made another great film after it, but that’s forgivable because the man gave us “The Godfather,” “The Conversation,” and “Godfather Part II” in his filmmaking prime in the ’70s.

Other fantastic scenes from the film include the unbelievable battle scene in which Robert Duvall’s Lieutenant Col. Kilgore leads a helicopter attack on a beach (“I love the smell of napalm in the morning … It smells like victory.”). The collection of images in this sequence were so far ahead of their time that few battle scenes have been able to match its sheer power and awe (the only thing I can think of would be the first half hour of “Saving Private Ryan”). In an age where cinema’s battles are typically being constructed by computers, this sequence shows us everything for real. The psychedelic bridge scene later in the film is another highlight of sound, music and image joined to give the audience a true visceral, hallucinatory experience.

The DVD is stocked full of wonderful extras and goodies for film geeks such as myself. Two separate commentaries (one for each version of the film) done by Coppola are fascinating as the auteur recounts the hellish experience of making the film. Numerous other featurettes go into the film’s revolutionary sound design, the synthesized score, deleted scenes and other making-of specials.

For a film experience unlike no other, seek out this fantastic special edition DVD. Coppola’s overall goal was to make a rock ’n’ roll war film, and he accomplished this indeed. The film plays out with an orchestral plotline that has high notes and low notes much like a symphony linked with powerful images. Legendary cinematographer Vittorio Storaro deservedly won the Oscar for his fusion of light, shadows, scale and composition that gives beauty to a film that is ugly in so many places.

“Apocalypse Now” is a film that begs to be seen and discussed for generations to come, and with no end view in sight of our current mess in the Middle East, it is as topical as ever. An obvious cliché would be to say that war is hell, but clichés exist most of the time because they speak of some basic truth that most people agree on.
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