Cinerama: Apocalypse Now (Redux)

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Cinerama

Apocalypse Now (Redux)

By Mike Derderian

Special to the Star

Darkness, what is darkness? Is it the dark curtain that conceals all our surroundings, blending good and evil in one or is it just a state of mind? Questions that I won’t answer but instead I will take you to the darkest corner of the earth that happens to be found within the realms of Cinerama this week.

Before our journey commences, I would like to introduce you to Joseph Conrad, the British writer who created “Heart of Darkness,” the novel that inspired the darkest film in cinema history.

This short novel was based on Conrad’s voyages at Roi Des Belges, up the Congo in 1890; however, it wasn’t published until 1902, shocking the world with its savagery and cruelty or lets say reality. About his writings Conrad once said,  “One writes only half the book, the other half is with the reader,” a point of view that I agree with for it is up to you to envision what a writer wants to deliver.

Once a book or any piece of good literature is read, it automatically becomes a public property that helps in perplexing and stimulating the mind at the same time into productive thinking. Such is the case with this unfathomable film. Without further ado, I will take you to the world of “Apocalypse Now”, the new cut.

This 1979 masterpiece, directed by Francis Ford Coppola was re-released in 2001—a different version with the word “Redux” added to its original title, which means release from imprisonment.

The new version is filled with never-seen before footage that Coppola brought back into light after being omitted 24 years ago from the original work like stealing Kilgore’s surfboard, the playboy bunnies, the French plantation and the daylight Kurtz scene. Scenes that might help you understand Coppola’s chaotic interpretation of the novel taking it’s main theme and applying it to the Vietnam War.

Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Fredric Forrest, Albert Hall (1), Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper and Harrison Ford were all part of the cast that suffered a lot during the shooting of this film in the Philippines under the hot atmospheres.

202 minuets of complex dialogues, kaleidoscopic scenes, napalm explosion and most of all a chance to meet Kurtz are all part of the film that also had in its script direct quotations from the novel.

“You don’t talk to the man you listen to him.” This is how Kurtz was described by the Russian character in the novel and the Photo-Journalist in the film. The excellent analogy by Coppola helped in deepening the script’s fervor.

Even though it was miscast as a war film, “Apocalypse now” offer themes that revolve around false ideals, apathy, living in past glories and most of all trying to assume the role of God. All are themes that are related to man’s psyche that can transmit a grim and sadistic behavior with the right catalyst.

The opening intro scene is marvelous for it places us in an apocalyptic mood that gives us a glimpse of what is still to come ahead during our visual trip, if you dare to continue!

An echoing Huey helicopter’s sound surges through the silent scene of a palm tree jungle followed by the clatter of percussion instruments and the sound of a guitar playing an oriental-like tune, after which the poetic sound of Jim Morrison utters prophetic lyrics “This is the end, beautiful friend… This is the end, my only friend, the end…of our elaborate plans…of everything that stands, the end, no safety or surprise.”

After scenes of flying helicopters, napalm salvos, the camera interposes to another scene of a dirty unshaven man lying on his back gazing at a whirling fan, this man is Capt. Benjamin L. Willard (Sheen), who is the protagonist and the narrator of this film.

Willard is an army assassin who was on the brink of madness during the upheavals of war until he was assigned to a top-secret mission to liquidate a renegade Colonel called Kurtz played by Marlon Brando whose excellent performance managed to capture the very soul of Conrad’s Kurtz.

To Willard’s luck Kurtz is not found in Vietnam, he is in Cambodia with a group of loyal men who regard him as a god, so he has to travel up river with an army patrol boat led by Chief (Hall), Chef (Forrest), Lance (Bottoms) and Mr. Clean (Fishburne). A trip that will prove hellish, if they survive?

The film is hard to follow for the dialogue isn’t simple; especially the one’s between Willard and Kurtz when they finally meet. Kurtz says “I expected someone like you, what did you expect? Are you an assassin?” willard’s reply is “I’m a soldier.” Kurtz looks at him in disgust and says “you’re neither, you are an errand boy sent by crocery clerks to collect the bill.”

The film is packed with memorable moments, the echoing words of Kurtz’s horror and disturbing images at the finale, however, the scene that really bears all the insanity is the helicopter assault scene on the Vietnamese village when Kilgor orders his men to play Wagner’s “the Ride of the Valkyries” during the raid.

I could go on forever talking about “Apocalypse Now,” but I’ll have to stop here.

Here is a little clue that might help you understand this mad film from a poem related to the original novel. “This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper”—words from “Hollow men” by Thomas Stearns Eliot.

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