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Documentaries you MUST Watch: Hearts of Darkness

Written by: Ron Bricker

Image Think documentaries are boring? Think again. CC2K Documentary Maniac Russell Davidson continues his ongoing series by introducing you to yet another terrific movie you might never have seen before. Get to it.

Today’s entry – Hearts of Darkness: a Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, by Eleanor Coppola

Most of us have seen Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s mammoth war film based loosely on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. It’s quite a movie, as you know, full of odd performances (Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, etc.), hallucinatory images, sex, violence, and just about anything else you can think of. First time I saw it I was in a dorm room where everyone was doing gravity bongs, and my friend Vic kept showing it over and over and over. More than anything I remember the weirdness – Sheen’s head coming out of the water, the Doors’ music, etc. It was like the movie was a good/bad LSD trip. I always preferred The Deer Hunter, which had more of an actual story, but like all of the best drug-induced visions, Apocalypse Now is still seared into my brain to this day.

As it turns out, Coppola’s wife filmed a lot of what was going on as they were making Apocalypse, and what we have here is the documentary she made out of the footage, Hearts of Darkness. It’s an amazing film, featuring an intimate view into a great filmmaker at work and his process of making a movie. In addition to that, it’s also an inspiring story of a man risking everything for the honor of his craft.

Francis Ford Coppola himself, interviewed by his wife, is self-deprecating, hilarious and close to losing it as things get more and more out of his control. The footage of him alone is worth the price of admission. Asked about making Apocalypse Now, which he was then finishing up, he says “It’s not about Vietnam. It IS Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money. Too much equipment.  And little by little we went insane.”

Remember, FFC was riding the crest, having just cleaned up in every way imaginable with the Godfather movies. The fact that he chose something this difficult to make says something about him as an artist, that he’d be willing to stick his neck out.

And his wife is there to capture it all. Featured in Hearts of Darkness is all the stuff we’ve heard of, like Harvey Keitel being fired a week into shooting, sets being destroyed by a typhoon, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, and President Marcos (Philippines) taking back the helicopters Coppola needed to shoot a scene (there was a civil war going on). We also learn about the movie’s budget woes, its lack of an ending, the complete lack of preparedness by its luminous star, the fact that just about everyone involved was doing every drug available at the time during shooting, and on and on. It’s just dynamite footage, an epic tale of the filming of an epic tale.

It’s a window into creation. You leave really admiring Coppola. He says things like “I’m not David Lean here, making Lawrence. I’m more like Irwin Allen.” And what comes across is a guy willing to lay it all out there, to give it everything he has, to never give up. Talk about a tough shoot. And what Francis Coppola made is, indeed, a near-great film.

 His wife has made a great one. Anyone interested in movies has gotta check this out.