Director: Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Larry Fishburne, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, Aurore Clément, Christian Marquand, Scott Glenn, Cynthia Wood, Colleen Camp. Screenplay: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola (based on the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad).

I saw Apocalypse Now for the first time when I was a junior English major in college, and I was at that time—and probably for that reason—appalled that a reputed adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness had botched such major axioms of the novella. Didn't Coppola understand that starting the river journey at such a high pitch of delirium as he achieves in the Kilgore sequence—and achieves is certainly the word for that astonishing interval—is bound nonetheless to mute the impact of what comes after? It abraded my sense of How Things Should Be that the climactic sequence at Kurtz's compound felt so disconnected, not just from the movie but, in so many much-discussed ways, even disconnected from itself. It boggled my mind that the actual heart of darkness was no darker than what preceded it. The movie reached me as an ambitious failure, an aggregate of jaw-dropping images that finally had no answers to its own questions and no definable source for its palpable grief and outrage.

The vagaries of my grasp of Conrad are hardly the issue here; as a reader of this site alerted me in an e-mail in 1998, with great truculence but valuable perception, one does not watch movies because they are like books. During the years while the implications of that fact sunk in, I haven't seen Apocalypse Now again; those years, of course, have also profited me a great deal in reformulating the goals of art, the role played by "structure" and "order," and the problems with a critical viewpoint that mostly favors neatly packaged texts over their sprawling, unruly counterparts. So I hardly think that the extra 45 minutes that Coppola has inserted for what is now touted as Apocalypse Now Redux are the reason for the massive about-face in my response to the film. I hope I'm a little wiser and a little more clued-in about what I'm doing as a moviegoer. Even if that isn't the reason, I am now among the converted: Apocalypse Now seems to me a stunning work of art, not a picture flailing for a point of view but a picture whose point of view belongs to a flailing man, a flailing era. And the experience which contains him is so much bigger than he is, so defiant of easy comprehension (his or ours), that Apocalypse Now practically seems to inscribe in its own images a wholly new and different code for watching war movies. These are large claims, which will perhaps seem as immature to me later as my initial pass on Apocalypse Now does to me now, but it feels true to contend that Apocalypse Now is one of the few American movies that can rightly credit itself with reinventing a genre.

More to follow soon.... Grade: A

Academy Award Nominations and *Winners (1979):
Best Picture
Best Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Best Supporting Actor: Robert Duvall
Best Adapted Screenplay: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola
*Best Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Best Art Direction: Dean Tavoularis and Angelo Graham
Best Film Editing: Richard Marks, Walter Murch, Gerald B. Greenberg, and Lisa Fruchtman
*Best Sound
Golden Globe Nominations and *Winners (1979):
Best Picture (Drama)
*Best Director: Francis Ford Coppola
*Best Supporting Actor: Robert Duvall
*Best Original Score: Carmine Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola
Other Awards (1979):
Cannes Film Festival—Palme d'Or (Best Picture; tied with The Tin Drum)
National Society of Film Critics—Frederick Forrest (also cited for The Rose)
British Academy Awards—Best Director: Francis Ford Coppola; Best Supporting Actor: Robert Duvall

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