Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What Do You Mean You've Never Seen...

...Apocalypse Now?

In March 1976, film director Francis Ford Coppola and his crew marched into the Philipino jungle to begin filming "Apocalypse Now", an odyssey set during the Vietnam war. Based on the Joseph Conrad novellette, "Heart of Darkness", Coppola's epic follows the journey of US army captain, Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) up river to the compound of insane Green Beret colonel Walter E Kurtz (Marlon Brando). Willard's mission becomes a journey into himself as he sees aspects of the demented Kurtz in his own soul.

The film opens with a gaggle of helicopters strafing the dense jungle, and a napalm strike on the triple canopy. A superb narration (written by "Dispatches" author Michael Herr) accompanies the film and gives the viewer an excellent insight into the character of Willard:

"Every minute I stay in this room I get weaker and every minute Charlie squats in the bush he gets stronger".

This segment of dialogue preceeds a part of the movie which was originally going to be left out. In it Willard does a drunken dance and ends up cutting his hand. In actuality the scene was fimed on Sheen's 36th birthday when the leading man was in a drink-and-drugs induced haze. This type of voyeuristic filming was typical of the madness that surrounded the making of the movie.

The polt begins when Willard is offered a dangerous mission to track down the insane Kurtz. He is told to "terminate with extreme prejudice" and that officially the mission does not exist. He accepts the mission and moves off down the river in a Navy patrol boat with four other crewmen. On his journey he meets some very intriguing people, most notably Lt Colonel William Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and an American photojournalist played by Dennis Hopper.

Kigore is the eccentric commander of a helicopter division who leads his men into battle to the strains of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries". He decides to attack a village around the delta of a river because the surf is good there. When told by one of his junior officers that the point belongs to Charlie, Kilgore, typically gung ho replies "Charlie don't surf".

Hopper's character is a harlequin type figure whose drug induced observations on Kurtz's philosophies are often crazed and irrational. Coppola had at first been afraid to put Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando in the same room together, but in the end the two worked well.

When Willard comes to the end of his mission he finally meets the insane Kurtz. Kurtz captures Willard but does not kill him, instead he tries to figure out why Willard was sent to kill him. Willard completes his mission by killing Kurtz and escaping with the last remaining Navy crewmen.

The final speech of the movie is given to Kurtz and is simply "the horror, the horror". A man is driven mad with the war. "Apocalypse Now" is one of the greatest war movies ever, showing the messed up side of a messed up war. Excellent performances by the four main actors, particularly Martin Sheen (who suffered a severe heart attack during filming and was given last rites), make this a classic film and easily Coppola's best movie.

So over to you guys. Which movie, TV programme or book would you recommend in the "What do you mean you've never seen/read..." thread?


  1. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee: quintessential American novel, explains the South in the '50's and the US legal system.

    The West Wing. But I'm an Aaron Sorkin whore. Sports Night was one of the best sitcoms on tv.

    Harry Potter. I know people who have never read. I mean, really.

    The Time Traveler's Wife. Brilliant, romantic, and sci fi.

    Ohohoh!!! FIREFLY! Best sci fi series, and one of the best fandoms out there.

    I'll crawl back to the couch and tequila now.

  2. Where do you want me to start?

    Completely with Polka on The Time Traveller's Wife, best thing I've read in years and I'm a boy!

    Jacques Tati's Playtime - the last truly great silent film from the end of the 60s. Made with a mad budget it's Msr Hulot's battle against the concrete jungle.

    Heroes, Dr Who, Studio 60 - reasons to watch tv again.

    David O'Doherty - the gentlest surreal comedy.

    And just a few books that might fit:

    John Pilger - Hidden Agendas, one that opened my head to global politics

    John Peel - Margrave Of The Marshes, a brilliant, funny, gentle auto/biography even if you know nothing about him

    Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy - the finest, most involving books of their kind. Harry Potter for adults

    James Plunkett - Strumpet City, the finest Irish book ever written

    Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point, why things explode in popularity the way they do

    Chuck Barris - Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, one part tv gameshow host, one part CIA assassin

    Great idea Mr Pink!

  3. Movie: Cinema Paradiso. Just can't imagine life without it!

  4. God, this is a long one.... I'll have to sit down and actually think! hope babe sleeps tomorrow so I can post.