Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse
Directed by: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola
Written by: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper
Starring: Francis Coppola, Eleanor Coppola, Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest
If you look at all the acclaimed masterpieces in the history of art, whether it is a book, painting, music piece or in this case a film, it is quite rare to witness an artist that was completely well-spirited and sane during the course of making it. That it was done in a happy atmosphere. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (that subhead is actually quite corny and unnecessary) perfectly depicts a state of mind that „little by little went insane“ in making what many would say is his greatest accomplishment, a little film called Apocalypse Now. And Francis Ford Coppola did direct The Godfather as well, if I may add.
I can think of Terry Gilliam as the other talented filmmaker that went through such travesty in making a picture (in his case, a couple of pictures). There were others in history – Orson Welles, mentioned quite a bit in this documentary, but never has a filmmaker's vulnerable and intimate side been shown as Coppola's in Hearts of Darkness, shot by his wife Eleanor, who narrates the film as well.
The documentary almost defies belief, sometimes leading the viewer to believe that it is indeed a work of fiction, although plenty of screenwriters working in Hollywood would never dream of making such a merciless screenplay where practically everything went wrong where it could have. Replacing the lead actor after two weeks of shooting? Check. A hurricane demolishing the set? Check. A possible civil war surfacing on location, on Philippines where the movie was filmed? Check. The director putting his own house on mortgage to finance the film? The lead actor having a bloody (no pun intended) heart attack on set, only after he suffered a mental breakdown while filming? A drugged out Dennis Hopper not being able to remember his lines? And finally, the main star, Marlon Brando, arriving to the set completely unprepared and fat, although his character, as depicted in Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness, on which the film is loosely based, should be as skinny as a skeleton? A sceptic would say that the documentary did dramatise all these events, but it looks as authentic as anything. Francis Coppola is not the nicest character you would meet, but he becomes more sympathetic as the film comes to a close, with a great final word about a „fat girl in Ohio who would make a beautiful film with her father's camcorder and finally destroy the so-called professionalism in movies, when the film would finally become an art form.“ If only.
I do wish I could have seen some Harvey Keitel footage, since he was the first choice to play Willard, the main character. Too bad Coppola changed his mind about the infamous French plantation scene, that is here depicted as a „waste of time“. Coppola did an extended version of Apocalypse Now called Redux a couple of years back that paled in comparison to the original version, and it did include the French plantation scenes, which did not fit the film's mood at all.
Hearts of Darkness offers more than a lot of those „moving“ Hollywood movies (in a very interesting segment in the film, Coppola talks about a very true assessment that there is a thin line between making a movie sincere and truthful, or making it pretentious, something that many Hollywood directors working today could consider under advisement). Sometimes it is terrifying, like watching a drunk as a skunk Martin Sheen in the middle of a near nervous breakdown, or hilarious, seeing a completely wasted Dennis Hopper rumbling on the set (the irony is – this is, along with Blue Velvet, my favorite role of his), but before anything else, it is a moving story about a hard journey that led to a truly amazing piece of art, that is probably my favorite movie of all time.