Review of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Review of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse written and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper
Rating *** 1/2

This is a making of documentary of the film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola with most of the footage being shot by his wife Eleanor.

The film was shot over several months in 1976, a time before making of documentaries were common place. The footage shot by Eleanor was never released before because Francis wasn't happy with the way he was portrayed. He changed his mind when he was approached by the filmmakers.

The filmmakers use a combination of Eleanor's footage along with interviews of many of the people behind the film. Eleanor serves as a narrator. It makes for an interesting documentary.

The film Apocalypse Now was a spectacle film on par with Jaws and Star Wars. It was one of the few films where I had to stand in line to get in. I remember the film as being cinematically great. The story and characters were only so so. The weakest link in the film was Marlon Brando.

The access that Eleanor had to Francis gives this film an edge over similar making of films. You get to see and hear Francis as he struggles with the many obstacles facing him: finances, politics, logistics, etc. I didn't know, for example, that Francis had his own assets at risk should the film flop.

Any fan of the film or even of the film making process would appreciate this documentary. In fact, I plan to watch the movie again soon.

The DVD had an audio commentary by Francis and Eleanor. But it is a completely blown opportunity. I honestly think Francis was either asleep or he left after the first hour, because his comments are few and far between. The only insight he gave was that he was in over his head. He also had a few things to say in defense of his handling of Martin Sheen's heart attack. He says nothing about having to replace Harvey Keitel. He doesn't have anything to say about working with Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando, though Eleanor points out how difficult Brando was to work with on the film. And he says nothing about the two and half years from the end of shooting to the film's release. Are you telling me that he couldn't sit down for an hour and a half and find something interesting to say about a film which was such a big part of his life? I'm still ticked off about the audio commentary, but I'll recommend the documentary.

Update: Okay I just finished watching the film. Blockbuster had Apocalypse Now Redux which is a re-edited, extended version of the film. It's been nearly thirty years since I first saw the film and I don't know how this compares to the theatrical release, but it was fantastic. I was totally wrong about the story and characters being only so so. For this film to hold up so well after thirty year is a testament to the quality of this movie. Watching the film after watching the documentary only added to my enjoyment. This is definitely a classic.

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