Saturday, September 23, 2006


I got the new DVD, which includes both the original theatrical release and the REDUX version, with gorgeous new transfers supervised by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and Coppola, and lots of extras. These extras are mainly remarkable for having never appeared on the initial DVD release of either version of this film. I’ll post more about them in the near future.

APOCALYPSE NOW is one of my favorite movies. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it. I know that I stopped counting at 18 times during its original release in 1979. I would go to see it every chance I got, until I suddenly stopped. Screenings were becoming rarer, and prints were getting worse. I walked out of one particularly bad screening in the mid-80s, realizing that the appallingly bad condition of the print was beside the point, that I knew the film so well that I didn’t really need to see it again. I restricted myself to assorted videos/laserdiscs, which weren’t really enough but sufficed if I turned up the stereo really loud.

I still have the original programs they handed out instead of running opening/closing credits during the first runs, before it went wide. I read Eleanor Coppola’s book on the filming, entitled NOTES. As proof of my total bizarre devotion, I even managed to obtain (don’t ask how) an actual audience questionnaire from one of the original preview screenings, which asks some very interesting questions about, among other things, the sound effects.

Then along came APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX, which “restored” a lot of things that Coppola had been supposedly forced to leave on the cutting room floor. A reading of NOTES gave me a pretty good idea of what to expect, mainly an extended scene involving the Playboy bunnies who appear at a USO show, and a sequence at a French plantation in Cambodia. Other scenes were re-arranged: in REDUX the scene of the boat crew surfing to the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” comes later than it does in the original.

I remember being mainly glad about being able to see the film again on a big screen. I don’t think the added scenes add very much, and often detract a good deal. Robert Duvall’s Colonel Kilgore gets a marvelous new entrance, striding forth from a helicopter like the God From The Chopper, but is finally allowed to dwindle into a mere fool: an added scene of his voice being played over a loudspeaker begging for the return of his stolen surfboard is a serious diminution. Oddly, the most satisfying element of the new footage in REDUX is the opportunity to see more of Albert Hall, playing Chief, the captain of the PBR that takes Willard up the river. What was a well played minor role in the original is more fully fleshed out in REDUX, and a new funeral sequence for one of the character’s contains the one really moving moment in the entire film, as Chief hands Willard the flag from the bodybag and asks him to accept it on behalf of a grateful nation. Hall takes what could have been a mawkish moment (just how mawkish can be guessed from the atrociously sentimental electronic score playing throughout the scene) and makes it work.

More problematic however are the changes to Martin Sheen’s Capt. Willard. The original’s Willard is a damaged piece of goods who has been too far out and seen way too much while out there, and his growing identification with Col. Kurtz through the dossier he reads manifests itself in a series of scenes where he loses patience with the bogus “army business” he sees around him: after the scene with the small sampan, Willard refers to how the more he sees of them, the more he hates lies. REDUX’s Willard seems rather less tightly wound: he steals Col. Kilgore’s treasured surfboard and laughs about it, and later, after nearly punching out a supply sergeant who seems to be more interested in running a USO show than filling Willard’s order for the boat’s diesel fuel, he trades these same increasingly precious barrels of diesel fuel for some time with the stranded Playboy bunnies (the interminable scene that follows really should have stayed on the cutting room floor, or at best a DVD extra). He even unwinds enough to smoke some opium during a romantic interlude with the wife of a French plantation owner. REDUX’s Willard is more of a participant in the “lies” and his growing obsession with Kurtz and dissatisfaction with the “lies” thus feels less convincing.

I have to admit that I simply have no idea what the French plantation sequence is supposed to mean. It brings the film to a crashing halt, and contains the film’s only really blatant homage to another film: one shot of the plantation inhabitants appearing out of the fog is lifted, with an uncharacteristic clumsiness, right out of KWAIDAN.

The old magic still worked though. The Wagner-scored air strike, the sequence at Do Long Bridge, and the final sacrificial scenes are still dazzling pieces, potent reminders that when Coppola is really on, there is nobody who can touch him.

1 comment:

mrs. bissonette said...

You have original programs? You got those in Missoula, or were you gone by then? I suppose by the time it came to this podunk town it already had the titles on it, because I don't remember getting one.

I completely agree--I didn't think the Redux was an improvement in any way, and was mainly a diminution. However, it was not an abomination like the crap that one-time auteur George Lucas has apparently done to his movies ( haven't bothered with the politically corrected, CGI versions). But I digress. I'm jealous you have programs, and I'm jealous you have the big new shiny Apocalypse release. Good to know the extras are worth it.

I showed this movie God knows how many times in my classes. The big DVD projector and tinny speakers don't do it justice, but at least the screen was huge and the room lit only by the movie. Hearing that helicopter fly from one side of the classroom to the other at the beginning never failed to give me goosebumps. I get a rush just thinking of it now.

Mr. Bissonette and I just watched _One from the Heart_ the other night. 'Twas both better and worse than I remembered. But that's for another post.