HEARTS OF DARKNESS (1991)
Subtitled “A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” the documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS intimately reveals the behind the scenes turmoil that was the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterwork APOCALYPSE NOW.
There have been many behind the scenes looks into troubled productions, but none so fascinating and riveting as how APOCALYPSE NOW almost never saw the light of day.
Fortunately, Eleanor Coppola (France’s wife) kept a film diary of the shoot as well as recording conversations with her husband as the film was constantly hitting hurdle after hurdle. These paint a riveting portrait of an artist who has lost faith in himself as well as his work. At one point, Coppola has convinced himself that the film will be a very public embarrassment for him and that it might be better to commit suicide than to deal with the fallout.
What’s even more fascinating about the production, beyond the fact that it went months and months over schedule and millions of dollars over budget, was how this malaise affected everyone on the set, trickling down to the actors, many of whom were using drugs and alcohol to get them through the filming.
The amount of problems that plagued the film would have made most productions pack it in, but Coppola refused to give up even when real life became stranger than the fiction they were documenting. This is especially true when Marlon Brando showed up for his 3 weeks of filming (at $1 mil a week) completely unprepared and wanting to use up valuable production time to philosophize about his role. Coppola’s solution to the problem was out of sheer frustration, but it wound up creating moments now ingrained in the cinematic zeitgeist.
HEARTS OF DARKNESS is more than just a companion piece to APOCALYPSE NOW. It’s a riveting look into how artists endure and create lasting works of art even when things look to be at their lowest.