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Film / Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

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"The way we made [the film] was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane. After a while, I was a little frightened, because I was getting deeper in debt and no longer recognized the movie I was making. The film was making itself, or the jungle was making it for me."

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is a 1991 documentary chronicling the Troubled Production of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and how it not only nearly destroyed the career of the director, but also threatened both the mental and physical health and even lives of not only himself, but also members of the cast and the crew.

The film was put together from various behind-the-scenes footage and interviews by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, along with Coppola's wife, Eleanor Coppola, who also provided the narration. As renowned as Apocalypse Now is, this documentary is often considered its equal.

Provides examples of:

  • Auteur License: Coppola notes that since he basically financed the production with his own money, he was his own boss. On the flip side, this meant that he'd be screwed if the movie didn't turn a profit and thus couldn't quit — when asked if he ever considered quitting, Coppola replied "How am I going to quit from myself? Am I going to say, 'Francis, I quit'? [...] I was financing the movie. How could I quit?"
  • Backed by the Pentagon: Apocalypse Now was backed by the Philippine Armed Forces. The drawback of this was that they were also fighting an insurgency at the time, which meant that (1) they sometimes took some of the helicopters away to fight the guerrillas, leaving the production with fewer helicopters than they were planning to use for filming, and (2) the production couldn't count on having the same pilots from day to day, meaning that the pilots who flew the helicopters during filming hadn't been present when they rehearsed the scenes. invoked
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Coppola rants about news of Martin Sheen's heart attack spreading beyond the production team (Coppola's worried that production would be shut down, screwing him over financially and likely destroying his career), dropping several F-bombs in the process.
  • Creator Breakdown: Coppola mentions being under so much pressure during production of Apocalypse Now that he started to think of ways to get out of finishing it, including intentionally having a 30-foot fall. invoked
  • Descent Into Madness: To quote Coppola himself:
    "There were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane."
  • The Determinator: Coppola simply refuses to give up on the film and making it the way he envisioned, no matter what he's faced with. Budget issues, natural disasters, studio executives, his leading man nearly dying in his first scene, civil war in the Phillipinnes and Marlon Brando's notorious difficulty.. It nearly destroys him many times over but he perseveres all the same.
  • Driven to Suicide: Coppola was playing with the thought of suicide several times when the production was at its most stressful, and even attempted it once.
  • Development Hell: It's mentioned that Orson Welles planned to adapt Heart of Darkness in 1939, but it was abandoned in pre-production (Welles made Citizen Kane instead). Coppola started planning Apocalypse Now in 1969, the idea being to film it in Vietnam. Unsurprisingly, the studio thought it was too dangerous, what with The Vietnam War still going on at the time. The plans were revived in 1975 following Coppola's successes The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. The movie was released in 1979, ten years after Coppola conceived of it and forty years after Welles' initial plans to adapt the novel. invoked
  • Dramatic Irony: On the first day of production, Coppola insists on a ritual that he says will bring the production luck. The audience already knows that luck will decidedly not be on the cast and crew's side.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite the utterly hellish production and the agony everyone involved endures, particularly Coppola, the film is a critical and commercial hit, earning eight Oscar nominations and two wins, and is now revered as Coppola's masterpiece and one of the greatest films ever made.
  • Fatal Method Acting: invoked Almost. Due to the stress of the production (and probably other issues with alcohol and drugs, which would be related) Martin Sheen had a heart attack while near the set, and it took far longer than it should have to get him medical attention. For what that's worth, the slowed production while he was getting treatment helped them get back on track and he came back to set feeling healthy and invigorated.
  • How We Got Here: The documentary opens with director Francis Ford Coppola presenting Apocalypse Now at Cannes. After that, we get the story of the movie's production.
  • I Am the Noun: Says Coppola when presenting Apocalypse Now at Cannes:
    "My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam."
  • Life Imitates Art: The documentary points out several parallels between the events of Apocalypse Now and its production, including the Descent Into Madness. invoked
  • Narrator: Eleanor Coppola narrates by reading excerpts from her diary in voiceover.
  • Newspaper Backstory: Headlines from when Apocalypse Now was in production are used to show public perception of the Troubled Production. Two of them read "Apocalypse When?" and "Apocalypse Forever", respectively, referring to the constant delays.
  • The Other Marty: Harvey Keitel was initially cast as Willard, but was soon replaced by Martin Sheen. Considering how the production turned out, Keitel really dodged a bullet. invoked
  • Scenery Gorn: The documentary shows some of the movie sets that had been destroyed by a typhoon.
  • Self-Deprecation: Francis Ford Coppola was not optimistic about the quality of the finished product; when his wife Eleanor compared it to getting a B when you were hoping for an A+, he replied he was going to get an F. He also referred to the movie as The Idiodyssey.
  • Shout-Out: Twice to The Odyssey:
    • Screenwriter John Milius explicitly compares Apocalypse Now to The Odyssey (noting that it is not only a loose adaptation of Heart of Darkness), likening Kilgore to the Cyclops and the playboy bunnies to the Sirens.
    • Coppola, frustrated with the Troubled Production of Apocalypse Now, refers to the film as The Idiodyssey. invoked
  • Stock Footage: Well, stock audio excerpts from Orson Welles' radio broadcast of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (on which Apocalypse Now was based and from where the documentary obviously takes its title) are used to provide context.
  • Stunt Double: Martin Sheen needed a double to do all his shots for a few weeks after he had a heart attack. Rather than shut down production until he recovered, the crew elected to film as much as possible with a double standing in for Sheen (the double having his back turned to the camera) and then doing the close-ups after Sheen was well enough to return. invoked In fact, they wound up using his own brother, Joe Estevez.
  • Talking Heads: The making-of footage is intercut with interviews from the cast and crew, shot years later.
  • Throw It In: invoked The scene of the water buffalo being ritualistically sacrificed by the natives was inspired by what the actual native extras were doing in between filming. That water buffalo was NOT a prop.
  • Troubled Production: Apocalypse Now's is the subject of the documentary. invoked
  • Writing by the Seat of Your Pants: Coppola started shooting the film without being satisfied with the ending in the script, and throughout the production tried to come up with one to replace it—which he eventually did, though not with much time to spare. He is shown in his office using sheets of paper with scenes and sequences he was conceiving of while filming and putting them in a particular order wondering if it would work. The massacre of the people on the boat Chef searches was also something the actors came up with during production. invoked

Alternative Title(s): Hearts Of Darkness