My first entry in the List Of Shame, a project meant to cleanse my soul, but in a good way!
Written By: Frances Ford Coppola & John Milius
Directed By: Francis Ford Coppola
We all have gaps in our film watching, genres that we need to see more of, years that we have never explored, and so on. I’m no different than everyone else in that regard, there are countless areas of the cinematic experience that I am shamefully ignorant of. The main reason why I decided to participate in this project, the List Of Shame, is that it will provide me with an avenue to explore movies that have remained out of my viewing spectrum for one reason or another. The first film that was dictated to me for The List Of Shame was none other than Apocalypse Now. My dictator, a rodent named Corey, did not specify which version of Apocalypse Now he wanted me to watch. Being aware that he considers the redux version of the film to possibly be the best movie of all time, it was only natural that I went with that version of the film. My only goal in the List Of Shame is to experience, whether I like a film or not does not matter as much as the experience does (just to clarify, that is true of all my movie watching). With that in mind, how did my experience with the redux version of Apocalypse Now fare?
The answer to the last question is, well, I’m not sure. I was taken by many aspects of the film, but I could never get past the excessive nature of the picture. It was like going to a gourmet buffet provided by the best chef in the world. There’s a lot of great food to eat, as I bite into each piece I savor every last morsel. At the same time there’s too much food, the buffet is far too large for one man to consume. When I have eaten four different steaks, each glazed with a different sauce, I know that I have had too much and that no matter how fancily dressed I am eating a steak all four times. That was my experience with Apocalypse Now, no matter how fancily Francis Ford Coppola, the director, tried to spruce up the picture I was getting the same thing over and over again. That was downright excessive and Mr. Coppola never knew when to let up. He filled the buffet table to the max and when the buffet table broke due to the excessive amount of food on display he simply threw more food on top of the food now decorating the carpet.
The best parts of the buffet- the framing of the shots, the time spent with Robert Duvall, and the beautiful cinematography- are magnificent. To get to those parts I had to trudge through far too much- the unneeded narration of Martin Sheen, the plantation scene, everything once Marlon Brando is first seen- and that trudging is not worth the payoff. Apocalypse Now is the ultimate buffet, it pleases plenty, but it left me feeling engorged and stuffed from too much food. But, all that extra food could have easily been sliced away if Mr. Coppola hadn’t of been so willing to indulge the excesses of his own mind. There is brilliance to be found in Apocalypse Now, but it’s really hard to find.
When I was finished with Apocalypse Now I didn’t ruminate on the Vietnam War, the horrendous nature of humanity, or any of the themes the film wanted to express. Instead I found myself telling my fiancee that Apocalypse Now was emblematic of the excess found in certain 1970s film making. It may have started with Mr. Coppola’s The Godfather, but that movie never felt excessive and manufactured in the way that Apocalypse Now does. I can tell that Mr. Coppola made sure each and every frame of Apocalypse Now was meticulously crafted to his liking. Say what you want about the excessive nature of other 1970s films, like the aforementioned The Godfather or another film like The Deer Hunter, but at least they felt natural. I don’t know enough about the financial aspect of movie history to make any claims about the box office success of Apocalypse Now. What I do know is that I personally felt that Apocalypse Now signaled the death knell of the era of the freedom so many directors experienced in 1970s Hollywood. Maybe I’m wrong, but the landscape of Hollywood cinema that I know changed after Apocalypse Now. In my opinion the change brought about by Apocalypse Now was a good thing. The calculated excess of Apocalypse Now drowned out most of the other brilliant film making on display in the picture and if other movies that came after it decided to not follow suit I can only view that as a blessing.
Apocalypse Now has to be the poster child for film making excess, a warning to directors of when and where to edit your vision. Or, it’s a beloved film that receives consistent praise from the critical and the causal subsets. I can see the praise in some areas of the film, but in others I am at a loss for what is being praised on screen. There’s also a part of me that wants to believe the redux version of Apocalypse Now is excessive because it is a redux version. I want to believe that the original theatrical version is much tighter and less meandering in getting its point across. Maybe that part of me is correct, or maybe that part of me is dead wrong. Only time will where I fall on the theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now. For now I am left speaking on the redux version of the film, and that version is a lesson in excess. The excessive nature of Apocalypse Now was too much for me, way too much. Maybe that’s not the case for most people, but it was for me. Apocalypse Now is a buffet that offered far too much.