the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier

I write film and TV reviews at Here are synopsis' and links to those reviews.

Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is one of my favorite novels. The story of a man sent into the wilds of Africa to bring back a rogue trader who has set himself up as a god among the native tribes is an undisputed literary classic. That writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Trilogy) thought to adapt the book into a Vietnam setting that allowed him a canvas broad and deep enough to comment on war, the human condition and everything in between was no less a stroke of artistic brilliance.

If there is a film that better exemplifies the tug-of-war between art and commerce than Apocalypse Now, I haven’t seen it. So devastating was this conflict that Coppola admits to having gone slowly mad during it’s production and blames both the quality and quantity of his work since then on his apocalyptic meltdown.

As a gung-ho war film, Apocalypse Now very nearly fails. As an odyssey into the subterranean abyss of man’s primal nature, it is impenetrable. And yet, when these two elements are merged, a coherent, if inscrutable, masterwork is born.

Which isn’t to say that it is flawless. While the film has some of the greatest moments ever committed to celluloid and wraps up one of America’s most prolific and artistic decades in film, it also has some of the most pretentious and confusing. The first two thirds of the film, in which we follow Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his boatmates down river to kill a renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is a gripping descent into madness. The latter part of the film, in which Kurtz takes center stage and madness is all there is, degenerates into a psychedelic, surreal exploration of man’s interior madness.

Perhaps the reason it works so well, despite its incomprehensibility, is that the war it was representing was incomprehensible. No other movie about this country’s devastating part in Southeast Asia more perfectly captures the dysfunction, moral drift and hollow madness of what is still this nation’s deepest and most festering psychic wound. Grimly nihilistic in tone, Apocalypse Now retains the power to captivate and disturb some three decades later.

To read the full review, click here.


Anonymous Nate said...

Oh, good. Your full review says that both Redux and the original release are on here. I was worried for a moment. I may just get this one.

It seems stupid, but I actually did not know that the movie was based on Heart of Darkness...I just thought they had always been compared for their similarities. I probably heard it somewhere and just never retained it.

And what, pray tell, do you think of Redux, anyway?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

I guess it depends on my mood--am I wanting a good war film or a philosophy class. There are elements I enjoy about Redux--are indispensable even (the French plantation--but most of the added scenes, while illuminating, do add unnecessary weight.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Hey Brandon -- I want to understand McCarthyism with particular regard to Hollywood and her films. Any good recommendations?

9:03 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Start with "Good Night and Good Luck" and we'll talk when I get to NY.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I asked a guy I know who is an editor at First Things. He has a Blog called Click Luther at the Movies. Nice guy.

He suggested 4 films, which are on my Netflicks queue.

>>>Four titles off the top of my head:
>>>The Front, starring Woody Allen
>>>Guilty by Suspicion, starring Robert De Niro The House on Carroll
>>>Street, starring Mandy Patinkin and, most recently, Good Night and
>>>Good Luck, starring George

8:15 PM  

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