List Of Shame: Apocalypse Now (Redux, 1979)

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.





8 responses to “List Of Shame: Apocalypse Now (Redux, 1979)

  1. I much prefer the Redux version since the pacing is better and there’s some gaps that are filled. I think you should’ve seen the original first since there is more ambiguity and it’s shorter.

  2. stevekimes

    I prefer the Redux version, but only after having seen the theatrical version a couple times. And I needed those couple times, and a reading of the original story, “Hearts of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad to really get a grasp of the film. Only then was I ready to see the Redux, which perhaps was excessive, but it was masterfully excessive. A brilliant dive in an ocean of madness.

    I would recommend, Bill, that you see the documentary, Hearts of Darkness, about the making of Apocalypse Now, which agrees with your take. Coppola, it seems to indicate, was a man out of control, drunk with filmmaking power. But Apocalypse Now was also his personal journey, almost a journal of madness, which he was writing as he filmed. And somehow, Coppola was both Sheen and Brando.

    I think that Apocalypse Now, whether theatrical or Redux, is the perfect example of a messterpiece. It is certainly excessive. It goes too far in length and the conclusion never did make much sense to me. However, I wouldn’t take out a frame. Not even of the Redux. Because it took a long time and a lot of viewings, but this is a film which the overall appreciation was hard won. And it is worth every minute.

  3. Mark Middlemas

    I have seen this movie at least ten times, but never in one sitting. It is so self-indulgent and the redux made it that much worse. That said, there are images and scenes that I can’t shake and that have rightly gone down in film history as essential. Like Blade Runner, I have a deep respect for this film despite the fact that I find it hard to remain conscious while watching it.

  4. Steve (Void): Maybe it would have helped to see the original first, but what’s doe is done. I will visit with the original at some point in the future though, just not right now, I need to allow for some space in between the two versions.

    Steve (oldkid): I wonder, does it say something about the quality of the film that you had to work so hard to get it? Or, is that just a process that you use to gain a better grasp on certain movies?

    Mark: I agree with everything you posted Mark. I plan on giving Blade Runner another go sometime in the future as well, the version I saw (I believe the theatrical cut) didn’t do much for me.

  5. stevekimes

    For me, some films need the extra work. The question for me is: Is there something in the film that compels me to do that extra work? It would have to be a special film with a hidden “spark” that would make me watch it more than once, let alone seek out different versions. Without anyone telling me, I could see that “spark” in AN from the first time I saw it. And it took some time for me to really capture it. The film, for me, was worth the work and I’m glad to have done it. However, I wouldn’t do this for most films, no matter how obscure. I’d never go through the work required to appreciate Eraserhead, for example.

  6. @stevekimes I really agree with you about some films needing work. Apocalypse Now was not one of those films for me. I saw it and it was instantly #1 on my All Time list. But there are other films, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, where it took many viewings before I fully appreciated them. In the case of 2001, I always had a kind of respect for it, and every time I watched it my respect grew. Then, last December, I saw it screened in 70mm. I sat up close and just soaked in the experience of it, and suddenly it all just clicked. Because 2001, while containing a bit of narrative work, a lot of thematic elements, and some amazing effects, is first and foremost a film reliant upon the “experience” of watching it. That experience informs the way the film comes across. The same could be said of AN, which I have not seen on the big screen, but when I first watched it I was alone, at night, with not a single distraction, and I was completely pulled into the world, the madness, the experience of the film. And I think that much like 2001, Apocalypse Now is a film that is easy to appreciate for all the skill on display, but the biggest appreciation comes from something more experiential, which, again, very much informs what the film is doing and what it’s about.

  7. I’m with you if we’re talking about the Redux. However, I think the theatrical film is fantastically paced and one of the finest films ever made.

  8. Steve – I’m no sure if this films needs the extra work, but even if it did it’s not a film I think is worthy of that extra work.

    Corey – I don’t think Apocalypse Now is as much of an experience as you’re making it out to be.

    James – I’ll get to it some day, maybe, but I’m not exactly in a rush after the redux version left me so unimpressed.

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