The Last Movie

Apocalypse Now Redux

Coppola publicly screened the film with at least four different endings. One version, taken from the Milius script, ended with Kurtz's compound in flames; in another, Willard considered assuming Kurtz's place. (Coppola's perceived inability to finish the film was held against him, an accusation that says more about critics who insist that there is a "right" way to make movies even as they indulge in historical amnesia. D.W. Griffith fiddled extensively with his films even after they had opened, cutting prints at the actual theaters and even incorporating newly shot footage—but then, Intolerance was a bust, too.) The new Apocalypse Now edit adds 49 minutes to the original, which, depending on whether it was shown in 35mm or 70mm, with or without credits, has been clocked as running from 139 to 153 minutes. (According to Miramax, which is releasing this version, the new cut comes in at a backbreaking 197.) Obscured by confusion and legend, the film was even said to exist in a five-and-a-half-hour version, a cut that one of the producers insists was more of an assembly, "not really the movie." In his entertaining if overly partisan account, The Apocalypse Now Book(2000), Peter Cowie describes much of this excised footage. Although Coppola and Murch have restored only 49 minutes, many of the crucial scenes described by Cowie seem to have made it into the new cut, the most important of which is a lengthy stopover at a French rubber plantation in Cambodia.

At once a stroke of genius and a missed opportunity, the interlude foreshadows Kurtz's own encampment and serves as a ghostly rebuke to the American presence in Southeast Asia. Willard and his fellow travelers—played by Fishburne, Albert Hall, Frederic Forrest and Sam Bottoms—come across the plantation after a surprise attack on their patrol boat. Flawlessly shot by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the scenes, with their gilded interiors and languid, narcotic pacing, look and feel as if they could have been taken from a period European art movie. Cigarettes and Resistance platitudes dangling from his mouth, Christian Marquand plays the head of the household, Hubert deMarais, like Jean Gabin, with pugilistic insouciance and a hard glint of madness. He explains that his family has been in Cambodia for 70 years and has no plan of leaving. Less politically motivated is Aurore ClĂ©ment's Roxanne, a young widow aflutter in chiffon and in urgent need of sexual ministration. As two of the family's youngest members, Coppola's own sons, Gian-Carlo and Roman, help round out the insanity by, in a wonderfully demented touch that seems pure Milius, reciting Baudelaire at the dinner table. "It's a very cruel poem," growls deMarais, "but they need it."

Milius invented the plantation scenes, but Coppola apparently wrote his share, including some ham-fisted politics—"The Viet Cong were invented by the Americans"—wisely absent in the rest of the film. (More effective is another newly restored scene in which Brando simply reads aloud some shameless flag-waving journalism courtesy of Time magazine.) DeMarais' diatribe on colonialism and the need for American resolve against the Viet Cong is less important (and persuasive) than Roxanne's subsequent opium-perfumed seduction of Willard, which, while almost undone by Carmine Coppola's synthesizer boudoir doodling, articulates the film's powerful dialectic and the reason for Willard's journey into the heart of darkness. "There are two of you," says Roxanne, slipping a pipe into his mouth, "one that kills and one that loves." That Willard gets back on the boat, choosing killing over loving, death over life, is the bitterly charged, unrelenting thrust of a film that time and again was accused of bad politics, racism and jingoism. Perhaps it's because 22 years have passed since the first release and 26 years have passed since Saigon fell, but now the film's politics—embodied by shimmying Playboy Bunnies and slaughtered Vietnamese innocents both, emblazoned by the really big show of the rockets' red glare—come off as obvious as hell.

At a recent screening of the film in Los Angeles, Kim Aubry, a co-producer on the re-cut, said that Coppola went back to Apocalypse Now because DVD made possible "a more complete version of what the filmmakers had in mind." So certain was Coppola that this would be the definitive—and final—version that he and Walter Murch cut the negative rather than a copy, as is the usual practice. The re-edit improves on the original on various counts, not just in fleshing out the narrative and making Willard and the crew's transformation more comprehensible, but, as significantly, in heightening the film's surreal beauty. Always a visually stunning film, Apocalypse Now is now among the most beautiful, with a lustrous Technicolor palette dominated by velvety blood reds and kaleidoscopic greens, from the translucent emerald of a palm frond to an olive-drab smudge of camouflage paint. (Storaro says he cried when he first saw the dye-transfer print.) Perhaps what's most remarkable about all this beauty is that it never stops serving the film, never becomes style for style's sake. In hindsight, particularly in light of American film's ongoing love affair with swooping, loop-the-loop cinematography, Coppola's camera seems restrained, more functional than virtuosic. Whether he's fast-tracking alongside Robert Duvall's Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore on the battlefield or simply waiting for a room to empty of people, he keeps the camera alert, not busy.

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