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Happy film productions are all alike; every unhappy film production is unhappy… well, it is unhappy in almost always the same way.

In Hearts of Darkness the angst, agony and ecstasy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now receives a masterful dissection. That it doesn’t descend into parody for one minute is an accomplishment of Herculean proportions.

Coppola had originally intended upon shooting Apocalypse with George Lucas during the Vietnam Conflict. Screen writer John Milius wanted to stage the thing in Vietnam. Studios wouldn’t go near it for obvious reasons, and Coppola had to settle for making The Godfather I and II.

By 1976 he had parlayed that success into American Zoetrope and developed enough clout to make the epic.

Hearts is full of ghosts. The first is that of Joseph Conrad.

Conrad can have a funny influence on people. His books caused this reviewer (an ardent pacifist) to join The United States Navy. He inspired both Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola to tackle “Heart of Darkness.” Challenged would be closer. Should the Necronomiconesque qualities of the dour Pole be doubted, consider the Unabomber.

Welles must have felt the chill in the room. Before rolling a frame, Welles was looking at twice his allotted budget, butting heads with the studio and lost his screenwriting partner. No mention is made as to whether Coppola sought out Welles when beginning an adaptation of the same novel in a different war, but his shadow looms in any event. It is a substantial coincidence that after Welles’s aborted Heart of Darkness he went on to make Citizen Kane. Considering that Welles and Coppola respectively released what many consider to be the Number 1 and 2 films in the history of cinema, the idea of an odd type of curse is pervasive. “You may try,” we find Conrad taunting, “and for your efforts you will be rewarded. But I will be damned if you make the thing.”

Coppola is obviously cognizant of the connection. While we watch the priceless footage shot by his wife Eleanor, the feeling that he is willing the thing to be a fiasco is omnipresent. It is hard not to speculate as to whether Coppola wanted a failed production. He certainly played his hand into it. Negotiating a deal with Ferdinand Marcos whereby Philippine helicopters were leased with the caveat that they could be taken back at a moment’s notice should they need to be used for counterinsurgency. Giving his lead actor the sack and hiring on Martin Sheen, at the time something of a loose cannon. Casting the temperamental Brando as Kurtz and advancing him $1 million. (Why not just shoot the moon and have Orson play him?) It doesn’t require an undue amount of cynicism to postulate that the fruition of the film was the real failure in Coppola’s mind. As tapes of his conversations indicate, Coppola was motivated by something much larger than just a movie. With each outburst it seems that he’s aiming not so much for “Heart of Darkness” as “Dead Souls,” “The Anathemata” or Orson Welles’s Don Quixote. Though completed works make legends, those testaments to a creative genius delving so deeply into a work that he loses himself entirely make myths.  Read the rest of this entry »