#30 - Apocalypse Now (1979)
I've never seen the theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now and was debating on whether I should watch that version or the Redux yet again. Fortunately, I watched this installment of the AFI top 100 with my roommate and he made the decision for me. Maybe I'll watch the theatrical cut soon just to see the difference, but I tend to want to watch Director's Cuts to see how the film was intended before other forces step in.
I tend to reference Apocalypse Now at least once a semester while teaching. I have an episode of a podcast I like in which a guy tells a story about when he was a kid and found his elderly neighbor dead on Thanksgiving. The man was naked, looked horrified, and his dogs had eaten most of his flesh, which also killed his dogs. It's a horrific image, but his love of horror movies as a kid made him so desensitized to violence that the first thing he thought upon seeing the neighbor was that it wasn't very convincing. He claimed that no self-respecting horror director would ever let this flimsy effect out of the editing room. This reminds me of the climax of Apocalypse Now in which an indigenous Vietnamese tribe slaughter a bull with a machete while Martin Sheen's character finally carries out his mission and kills Marlon Brando's. A big criticism when the film came out was that the bull's sacrifice looked fake and ridiculous, but it wasn't fake. The tribe that occupied the place where they were filming performed a ritual sacrifice of several animals before having a huge feast, so they caught it on camera and decided to use it in the film. It always looked pretty real to me anyway.
I also know that Francis Ford Coppola had no idea how to end the film for most of its filming. I like the ending, but wish the ritual of the bull's death had been explored a bit more in the exposition. This could have given the parallel between the death of the animal and the death of Brando's colonel a bit more weight. There's a lot there already: the brutality of it, the blood and blades, but I think elevating it to a religious experience could have been an interesting choice.
It's also interesting to see what might have been. Originally, George Lucas was going to direct the film with a series of hand-held 16mm cameras. They began filming with Harvey Keitel playing Martin Sheen's character, and if Marlon Brando didn't work out, they were going to offer that role to Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino. Another fun fact is that they intended to film the movie in a month in the Philippines, but that country was still at war, and other terrible conditions pushed the production to well over 200 days.
It's amazing to me that the documentary genre is completely ignored by the AFI's Top 100 Films. Maybe this is because they've only recently started to draw the same appeal as other genres, but I would argue that Hearts of Darkness should be on there even if it meant leaving Apocalypse Now off.
Next Film: Double Indemnity