A Coppola Pix Now
Here's why you should make it a point to see Apocalypse Now Redux, the new version of Francis Ford Coppola's flawed epic, 22 years after it was originally released in 1979:
The new version makes Coppola's horror-soaked vision so much clearer that it will nail you to your seat with the sure knowledge that you are in the presence of his second masterpiece (after The Godfather).
And if you see it now, while it is still on the big screen, Walter Murch's inspired sound design will do what it is meant to -- quietly and completely blow your mind, what with Zakir Hussain and members of the Grateful Dead on the soundtrack.
With 53 minutes of new material added to the original film, Apocalypse Now Redux runs to 206 minutes, almost three-and-a-half hours. Coming from Miramax Films, this somehow seems fitting. Everything about the production is grandiose.
Coppola, Brando and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax are all large men; their egos are large; the scale of their imaginations are large; even the flaws in the film are large.
Scenes that were cut from the first print have been replaced. Two sequences are completely new. Two other scenes -- the surfer Lance (Sam Bottoms) water-skiing and 14-year-old Lawrence Fishburne dancing to the Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction -- now occur elsewhere in the film.
But it is the two new scenes that make the film into something more ambitious than it originally was, something greater than the sum of its parts.
In one of the new scenes, Willard (Martin Sheen) introduces the guys on the boat to the Playboy bunnies they ogled at the USO show produced by real-life rock promoter, the late Bill Graham. Willard buys an hour with the girls for two cans of fuel.
Lance paints the face of the girl he's with, the Louisiana saucier Chef (Frederick Forrest) arranges his girl in a centerfold pose, while Fishburne's Mr Clean tries to get in on the action and cannot. The interlude is comic more than erotic.
This is one of the ways Willard makes himself a friend to his boatmates. In another scene, he steals a surfboard from Robert Duvall's Col Kilgore ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning") and in the process steals back his humanity in the eyes of the boys on board.
Of course the war will soon steal it back, when Willard shoots dead a wounded Vietnamese woman in a scene reminiscent of the My Lai massacre, except it occurs on water. All he says as they prepare to leave the scene is, "I told you not to stop." Chef weeps uncontrollably.
In the second and more important scene, the men on the boat stumble onto a French plantation left over from another time in Vietnam. The historical castaways live in French luxury while the world collapses around them. Willard spends the night with a beautiful woman who makes him a few pipes of opium.
At some point in the narcotic night, she tells him, "There are two of you, don't you see? One that kills, and one that loves." This is probably the lyrical heart of the film.
It is also the film's dualistic mission, and is as much Graham Greene as it is Joseph Conrad.
Willard's aim, as he and his boatmates drift further up the Mekong, is to destroy a part of himself by destroying the man he has grown to admire, the insane Col Kurtz who has set up a sort of evil empire in the far reaches of Cambodia.
In this way, the film's great conflict is set up for the ritualistic slaughter at the end: Willard vs Kurtz, Christianity vs Buddhism. The United States vs Vietnam. The First World vs The Third World. Brando's ego vs Coppola's craftsmanship.
The film was edited to make it more commercial.
This is strangely ironic, for the restored scenes make the film more comprehensible. Many previously inexplicable moments now make sense when seen in context. For instance, now we know where the surfboard came from. In the 1979 edition, it simply appears at one point without explanation or provenance.
The scene at the plantation grounds the film in a historical moment. As the Frenchmen discuss the war and the doomed role of the white man in the interiors of Vietnam, we understand why Willard must do what he does, we get a small taste of the terror the soldier must face every day.
When eventually Willard murders Kurtz, it is at Kurtz's bidding. Brando's famous speech at the end is still maddening, but it is audible. Murch's remixed sound is miraculous in helping us make sense of the man mountain's method mumbles.
For our fathers, the war was the Second World War. For my generation, the war is the Vietnam War. And, clearly, the film about that war is not Platoon or Casualties of War but Apocalypse Now Redux. In its hallucinatory brilliance, it achieves the near impossible. It communicates the ineffable.
A large part of this is the music and the sound. Murch has used the sound of the helicopter as a sort of constant aural motif. The double-rotor gunships provide the thud of bass while the more common Hueys provide the strings of the middle section. That is how Murch designed the sound, with the common parlance of war translated into stirring orchestral symphonies.
If you made a list of the films that defined the Seventies, it would have to include The Godfather, The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, along with Taxi Driver, Jaws and The Exorcist.
When a future commentator compiles a list of films that defined the first decade of the 21st century, it will no doubt include Apocalypse Now Redux.
It is Coppola's great achievement that his work will be a map to the history of cinema over two centuries.