Francis Ford Coppola
You really couldn’t ask for a better film to get this detailed treatment, as the drama and conflict behind the camera is the stuff of legend. The history of the project alone is epic, with everyone from Orson Welles to George Lucas trying to get it off the ground, but it was an emboldened Francis Ford Coppola, fresh off the success of the first two GODFATHER movies, who self-financed the film—and was met with near disaster at every turn. There were casting upheavals and Marlon Brando acting bizarre. Sets were destroyed by typhoons. Actors had heart attacks. Drugs and booze ran rampant. War broke out in the Philippines during filming. (Half the helicopters in the Ride of the Valkyries scene were called away in mid shot to fight rebel forces.) You couldn’t make this stuff up, even if you’re an Oscar winner.
But just as the making of the movie was compellingly unique, so was Coppola’s approach, which is thankfully captured unrelentingly in home movies and personal recordings. It’s amazing the director agreed to release this stuff, as the film doesn’t exactly sugarcoat his eccentric behavior and eventual breakdown; however, it does showcase a filmmaker-centric potential that pretty much defines “auteur theory.” While Coppola didn’t have a completed script to shoot, it seems like he struggled more in determining his “personal vision” for the film, a process so chaotic it paralleled Martin Sheen’s mental journey in the fictional movie. (Coppola goes from saying APOCALYPSE NOW will be the “first film to win a Nobel Prize” to telling reporters that it “will not be good.”) And as you slowly watch the director lose control of the production and his personal identity attached to it, HEARTS OF DARKNESS becomes more than just a movie about making a movie, but a fascinating, unadulterated look at artistic expression, even in the face of failure. It was a production that got away from Coppola and a movie that nearly bankrupted him, but HEARTS OF DARKNESS will show you exactly how APOCALYPSE NOW grew in to a filmic masterpiece, as well as amaze you that it did.
Coda: Thirty Years Later (1:06:10): HEARTS OF DARKNESS is to APOCALYPSE NOW, as CODA is to YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH. Shot in Romania in 2005, again by Coppola’s wife, CODA tracks the director’s first film in a decade. This is a fantastic addition to the DVD, as it lets you compare and contrast the filmmaker then and now. The man is still uses experimental tactics with a focus on the intellectual (this time tackling philosophy, religion and human consciousness), but here he comes off as more laid back and playful. The documentary also gives you a great first look at the movie, which sports promising performances by Tim Roth and Matt Damon. And you even get a few seconds of discarded footage from Coppola’s long in development feature, MEGALOPOLIS as a bonus.
Extra Tidbit: Be on the lookout for a 14 year old Laurence Fishburne and a 4 year old Sofia Coppola.