Saturday, June 13, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER'S APOCALYPSE"

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (1991)

Director/Screenplay: Fax Bahr & George Hickenlooper     
Director of Documentary Footage: Eleanor Coppola



I think I have to explain something about filmmaking before I tell you about “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” and that is that, you don’t just point a camera and click on and tell your actors to read from a script, there’s a lot more going on. You’re working 8-16 hour days, and you have to get all the crew together, the sets have to be built, the props have to be made, or brought in, the actors have to be paid for working specific days and times, special effects and stunts have to be coordinated, the script is often rewritten continually and sometimes will look nothing like its original form, and that’s just some of the dozens and dozens of things that have to be prepared before shooting, and that’s if nothing goes wrong, which something always does. For every filmmaker, you don’t just make a film, the way a painter may draw a painting, every film is a true experience, and therefore the experience will then be with you as you go into your next project, and than your next project… and so on and so forth. You than, must realize the state of mind that people who are in that situation day after day, week after week, and sometimes month after month will be in. This movie, which originally aired on Showtime, and than got a theatrical release, documents Francis Ford Coppola’s 3 year odyssey in the making of “Apocalypse Now.” Shot by his wife Eleanor, while on location in The Philippines while she secretly tape recorded conversations between her and her husband while he was going through a Kurtz-like odyssey himself.


The shoot was a nightmare. After location scouting, he made a deal with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to use his Army’s helicopters for battle scenes, only to have his helicopters go and leave to fight rebel armies every other day in the middle of shooting. He then replaced his leading man early in the process and had to fly back to L.A. to cast Martin Sheen, who was drinking and smoking heavily at that time. He than casted Marlon Brando for the part of Kurtz, 3 weeks of work for $3,000,000 dollars, including a $1,000,000 advance, which he threatens to keep and leave the project later. Sets are destroyed and submerged after typhoons hit, and Coppola urges to keep shooting, and encourages the crew at almost every second. He does begin to lose it while shooting a scene at a French rubber plantation that didn’t make the cut in the film, as he wasn’t satisfied with his actors. Then Sheen, at age 35, had a heart attack soon after shooting his scenes in the hotel room, where he cut his hand, and did karate moves, all while being so drunk, the crew thought he might actually attack Francis. They then shot without him for some months while he was recovering in the states. All while talking discouraged writers and producers into believing the film will be so great it will win a Nobel Prize, he reveals to his wife, who shot most of the footage and secretly videotaped her conversations with him,  his fear that he’s making a bad film and might kill himself. When they get to Kurtz’s compound, Dennis Hopper is so stoned, he can’t remember any of his lines, and Marlon Brando insists on spending his three weeks talking about the character, as Coppola slowly realizes that he hasn’t read the book, and probably not the screenplay either. Which only adds to the increasingly urgent fact Coppola doesn’t know how to end the film, and is continually rewriting and shooting improvisations as he goes along. The 4 month project that was to cost $13,000,000 was over budget 3 months in, and finished 2 and a half years later, nearly bankrupted Coppola literally and metaphorically, and shows that Willard’s journey upriver into the heart of darkness wasn’t the only journey. 

It was Truffaut I believe who said that he was only interested in two things when watching a film, the joy of filmmaking and the agony of filmmaking. This film shows arguably more than any, the agony in filmmaking. Coppola descending into the madness that he's creating, terrified that it's all for naught, that he bit off more than he could chew and shows filmmaking as a continuously ongoing project, from both an artistic and business perspective, and all the ways that everything has to be negotiated around, to keep the project going, to keep the film going, to make sure everyone's happy. In my mind, there's three great documentaries about the perils of filmmaking, and along with Les Blanc's "Burdern of Dreams" about Werner Herzog's unbelievably even more surrealistic and disastrous shoot for "Fitzcarraldo' and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's "Lost in La Mancha", about one of Terry Gilliam's numerous failed attempts to bring "Don Quixote" to the screen. Seeing all three of these films could probably deter almost anybody from filmmaking, but if you can survive that, you also see all the positive aspects of filmmaking. Storytelling, determination, passion, desire, and just how much, skill and luck is needed for everything to go right. It makes you appreciate the film they were making even more. 
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