Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hearts of Darkness

I occasionally post about DVD's that I hope will eventually get released. Among the ones I've been waiting for are the Frank's Place series, the movie Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and the documentary Hearts of Darkness. Happily, I need wait no longer for Hearts. It was released on DVD on November 20.

Hearts of Darkness was put together from home movies that Frances Ford Coppola's wife Eleanor took while they were in the Phillipines while Coppola filmed his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. The movie, based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, began filming not too long after the actual Vietnam War ended, in 1976. It was not released until 1979, after drastic cuts imposed by the studio. Eleanor Coppola's camera captures a Francis Ford Coppola struggling to get the movie made, unaware, apparently, that his quest is beginning to mirror the story the film was based on.

The filming of the movie was a textbook study in Murphy's Law-- that everything that can go wrong will, and at the worst possible time. From the start, filming in the jungle locations was an ambitious-- and expensive-- proposition. Things go wrong right from the start. Coppola begins filming with Harvey Keitel in the part of Captain Willard, the lead character. Coppola fired Keitel just a few weeks into filming, and hired Martin Sheen to play the part. In the meantime, Marlon Brando, showed up to play the part of the gaunt, malarial Col. Kurtz-- but weighed over 400 pounds.

Coppola was able to work around these things, but more and more goes wrong. The Phillipine government, which had been renting helicopters to the production, suddenly needed the helicopters to fight a guerilla insurgency. A typhoon demolishes the set-- and then actor Martin Sheen had a heart attack. All through this, Coppola begins to unravel. He is afraid that the studio discovers that Sheen had a heart attack, it will pull the plug on the production, which is way over budget, and is rumored to be heading toward being one of the most expensive film ever made, at $20 million. Coppola frantically tries to control every aspect of the production, including any information going out about the production.

In the meantime, Coppola's life and marriage were headed toward meltdowns. Eleanor Coppola's camera is unsparing, often unflattering to her husband and amazingly frank in documenting what was going on. Watching the documentary, one is amazed that the movie finally did get made (a version that restored the cuts the studio forced on Coppola was released a few years ago) and that the Coppola's marriage survived. This movie is definitely worth a rental.

15 comments:

Hot Lemon said...

holy crap. I had enuff trubble getting through Pockyclipse Now that I don't think I could handle this stuff. Fortunately, your description is good 'nuff to gimmie a good feel for th' flick.

Chris said...

Awesome! I have been waiting a long time to see this!

Monica said...

oh i'll be netflixing this if possible. the marlon brando part is way too funny. is it set up in the film as comedic or unfortunate? maybe i'm a jerk for laughing...nah

dmarks said...

hot lemon: Go to Youtube and look up "Porklips Now"...

I recall Saturday Night Live or some similar show doing a skit about the movie studio having to send a task force to the Phillipines to go get Coppola because he was out of control and set up in the jungle somewhere filming "Apocalypse Now".

SkylersDad said...

Thanks for the heads up on this JY, it is a must view in my book.

And I still love the smell of Napalm in the morning...

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I'll be seeing this one sometime soon. Thanks for the heads up. And I'm with you on Sammie and Rosie.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Just moved it to the top of my queue, thanks for the heads up!

Bubs said...

This is one of my favorite films! There's so much to like about it on so many levels. One of my favorite aspects of the movie is watching Coppola dealing with a not-yet clean & sober Dennis Hopper...whew. And my favorite Marlon Brando line:

(...pause) "I think I've swallowed a bug."

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent. Love Hearts of Darkness. Love the French scene cut from the original especially.

Erik Donald France said...

p.s. George Hickenlooper has some other good documentaries -- and some I'd like to track down.

Tenacious S said...

One of the most interesting documentaries I've ever seen. Nice parallels.

vikkitikkitavi said...

I do a mean impression of Brando doing the "swallowed a bug" line.

One thing that's always bugged me is why they let Keitel go. They never really say.

Johnny Yen said...

Hot Lemon-
Hope you change your mind. The flick is fascinating.

Chris-
It was out on VHS, but has been out of print for years. Definitely worth checking out.

Monica-
Brando is inadverently hilarious. Part of what almost brought the production down was Coppola having to sit for hours with Brando discussing the character "motivations," etc. (remember, he was a Method actor) all while the entire crew sat and the meter ran on the production at thousands of dollars an hour. And as a few people have mentioned, Brando's "I think I swallowed a bug" line is worth the entire price of admission.

Dmarks-
I was thinking about that bit too after I wrote the post! I think that Martin Sheen was the guest host, and they pretty much did a straight-up spoof of the thing. The thing was that I remember reading an article in Time magazine about the foundering production in '77 or so. I think the title was "Apocalypse When?"

Skyler's Dad-
"It smells like.....victory!"

Soldier: "Sir, even Charlie doesn't want that beach!"
Col. Kilgore: "Yeah? Well Charlie Don't Surf!"

The Clash had a song called "Charlie Don't Surf" on their Sandinista! album; it was about American political and cultural imperialism.

Dr. Monkerstein-
You're welcome.

RE Sammy and Rosie; I'm astounded how many people missed what I thought were very well explicated points on that movie.

Kristi-
You're welcome!

Bubs-
I'd totally forgotten about that line until you and Vikki mentioned it!

Erik-
I bought the double version-- with both the theatrical release and the restored version. I'm looking forward to seeing the full version.

Looking up Hickenlooper, I didn't realize he did Factory Girl.

TenS-
It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, but knowing it's already happened.

Vikki-
Why am I not surprised?

I would kill to see the outtakes of Harvey Keitel as Willard. Sheen was excellent in the role, but Keitel would have been brilliant.

Splotchy said...

I liked this movie a lot, the highlight for me also being the outtakes of Brando, particularly the "swallowed a bug" line.

A nice companion piece to this documentary is Les Blank's Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.

Here's a nice taste of the madness of Herzog.

Dale said...

I remember reading about this film and wanting to see it, glad that I now can.

Your description put me in mind of the documentary Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gilliam's attempt at getting his Quixote film off the ground, a lot went wrong there too.