#20 – Apocalypse Now
The Plot in Brief: Lt. Willard (Martin Sheen) is given a mission by Army Special Ops in Saigon. He is to go up river and find rogue Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brandon). Kurtz’s methods have become unsound, and Willard is given the job of terminating him “with extreme prejudice.” On his way up river, Willard will take several side trips and have many adventures involving the madness of war.
Oh, and Marlon Brando showed up overweight and not knowing his lines.
Any director could have faced these problems; only Coppola could have emerged with the film that he did. Apocalypse Now is a legitimate American masterpiece. The ambition and imagination of this film cannot be easily summarized in a few sentences. We see the canvas on which Coppola is painting, we sense the ideas in his head, we are exposed to the sheer ambition of his method and it makes all modern movies look like television commercials for whoopee cushions.
American Graffiti. After the commercial success of both Godfather films and the critical success of The Conversation, Coppola decided to make the script, now titled Apocalypse Now, his next film.
French filmmaker Francois Truffaut once famously said, ”it is impossible to make an anti-war film.” That is, that the minute the filmmaker puts war on the big screen, the violence and bloodshed will be very exciting to certain viewers, acting as more of an attractant than deterrent. Coppola here has done the seemingly impossible: he has made a film that will cause not one human to say, “I wanna go there, send me to Vietnam.” Coppola makes war seem so blood-soaked and senseless, so sudden and surreal—and I sense that this gets closer to the truth of the matter than any jingoistic wartime propaganda Hollywood had produced before.
The Robert Duvall/Colonel Kilgore sequence is justifiably famous and almost comprises a short film unto itself. Willard comments that the Duvall character would exit the war without a scratch, and the audience gleefully witnesses him ignoring artillery bursts and the other dangers so that his men can surf. The Duvall character likes to play Wagner through enormous speakers whenever he is storming a beach because he says the music “… scares the hell out of them.” It’s surreal and hilarious and nauseating, just like war. This sequence is also notable because it inspired the terrific Clash song “Charlie Don’t Surf.”
“In nomine Coppola, et Brando, y spiritu McNamara… Amen”
I would like to thank my first period College Composition class for their assistance in writing this column: Katherine Benjamin, Kelly Blend, Austin Brown, Ryan Casey, Mary Cronin, Louis DiPietro, Kiara Esparza, Dino Frentzas, Cecilia Garduno-Espinoza, Ryan Hedman, Susana Hernandez, Julianna Lappano, Joe Leone, Dan Mejia, Sabra Morton, Amy Pietruszynski, Dan “Pow!” Powell, Tasia Schmidt, Kiera Shorey, Ivan Smilkov, Victor Soberanis, Rich Sprecher, Pete Tsiampis, Juliana Vercillo, and Tiffany Waldrom. You guys are the bestius.