The Last Movie

Apocalypse Now Redux

The re-edit also repairs a few narrative glitches in the original, such as the mysterious disappearance of the body of one of the slain crew members, but it doesn't fundamentally change Apocalypse Now. It was brilliant then; it's brilliant now—just longer. What has changed in the years since it was released, of course, are the movies themselves. One of the biggest and most frequently repeated laugh lines at Cannes this past May was that the best movie at the festival was Apocalypse Now Redux (even jury member Terry Gilliam was said to agree); it was a joke that became progressively less funny the more new films were screened. What now seems unequivocally true about Coppola's epic isn't its perceived failure to make it all pay off at the end, but how in its reach and monumental scale, in its story and its moviemaking, it pushes film to its very limits. The production was a logistical feat of astounding proportions, from the newly created lenses and Storaro's Italian camera crew (who dined on pasta imported weekly from home) to production designer Dean Tavoularis' extrapolation of Angkor Wat as Kurtz's encampment—a fantastical set studded with extras buried up to their necks to simulate decapitated heads and numerous actual corpses rotting in the sun and eaten through by maggots.

It was the stuff of legend, but it was also logistics; the movies have always had their madmen, though not all of them were also geniuses. "He had a very clear vision in the largest possible sense of where he was going," Murch once said of the young Coppola. As with Orson Welles before him—another visionary whose oversized talent and appetites were continually under scrutiny and siege—Coppola has never just made movies; he has dreamed them. This has been his great virtue as a filmmaker, and it's also what's made him such an easy target—that, and his own penchant (again, like Welles) for undercutting himself and his talent at the most inopportune moments. Coppola made a poor Odysseus: desperate for funds to finish Apocalypse Now, he sent Lucas a telegram when American Graffiti hit ("Send money. Francis"), yet when he was in the Philippines, he thought nothing of shipping in prints of his favorite movies or of spending eight grand importing food for his birthday party. Is it any wonder that so few could forgive him, even when he delivered not simply a movie but a vision of what the movies could be at their finest? Critics build up heroes, and all too eagerly they tear them down—sometimes, it seems, just for dreaming too loftily about their art and their own promise. These days, we look at digital smears and call them films. To look at Apocalypse Nowis to realize that most of us are fast forgetting what a movie looks like—a real movie, the last movie, an American masterpiece.

Apocalypse Now Redux was directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola; written by John Milius and Coppola, with narration by Michael Herr; and stars Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen. Now playing at Loews Century Plaza, Century City.

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