Wednesday, March 31, 2010

1979: Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)

1979: Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola)
Count me among the group that is in absolute awe of Coppola in the seventies.  Four films, four masterpieces in my book, and a run that has maybe never been matched in American cinema.  Best analogy I can make, Michael Jordan scoring over fifty points in four straight games.  
Apocalypse Now is a film that makes as great of an argument as any for the preservation of the theater experience.  You watch it at home, and it feels like it's about to overwhelm the television.  It's that grand.  
Walter Murch did the sound design, and it may very well have the most expressive, effective sound of any movie ever made.  Wow, that's a bold statement!  But Murch's work here is that mind-blowing.  And like a game of chicken, Vittorio Storaro is working at the same level as Murch.  The visuals here are staggering -- hallucinatory, brain-poppingly colorful, and heavy in grandeur and effect.  
I won't even mention the cast here.  Let's just say they're perfect, too. Just like in the two Godfather films and The Conversation.
Making movies is a risky business.  And whenever the risk gets me a little intimidated, I think about Coppola and all he went through to get this on screen.  He's a great filmmaker, a great dreamer, but most of all (and it's a quality that's often undervalued in our business), he had great courage.
Other contenders for 1979: I still have several titles to see from this year.  These include: Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni, Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, Terry Jones' Life of Brian, Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, John Huston's Wise Blood, David Cronenberg's The Brood, Catherine Breillat's Trouble at Night, Stephen Frears' Bloody Kids, Jean Eustache's La Rosiere de Pessac, Maurice Pialat's Graduate First, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine.  I need to revisit Steven Spielberg's 1941 and George Miller's Mad Max as it's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  But from this year I really like Carroll Ballard's The Black Stallion. I love Jeff Margolis' Richard Pryor: Live in Concert and Woody Allen's Manhattan.  And my closest runner-up is Ridley Scott's Alien.

6/27/11 I watched Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun.  Absurd, dark, and a little under the influence of Godard.   I'm still fairly new to the cinema of Fassbinder and am not totally sure what to make of it all. But this one has a good bit to say on monogamous love and the loss of humanity that can come at the price of wealth.  

8/12/11 I watched Shohei Imamura's Vengeance Is Mine.  Artful but incredibly disturbing tale of a serial killer.  Imamura proves quite the ambitious storyteller, balancing many tones and linear shifts.  But this one is cold as can be and ultimately didn't leave feeling much other than dirty.  

8/24/11 I watched Joseph Losey's Don Giovanni.  Perhaps one of the best examples ever of opera on film.  But in spite of its strong execution, I could not keep interest.  Simply not my thing.  

11/17/13 I watched Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career.  Armstrong demonstrates great poetry of feeling and image in this restrained, challenging story.  The chemistry that comes off the screen from Davis and Neill is intoxicating, and although Davis' decisions run counter to where we want the story to go, Armstrong delivers a wonderful statement on artistic sacrifice.  In fact, it must rank up there with the greatest of all filmed illustrations of the life one must lead at times to be true to one's self at the expense of all else including the longing for physical and emotional connection.  

1/9/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: American Cinema of the 70s.  Never as exciting as I want something to be about perhaps my favorite period of all in film.  But I did particularly like hearing Schrader talk about those elements that got lost as postmodern cinema took over - balance, harmony, beauty.

1/9/14 I watched Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: Movies to Change the World.  Of course I loved the section about Wenders.  And I enjoyed his treatment of Ken Russell, Performance, and Walkabout.  New names for me were Mambety, Gerima, and Goren. 

5/17/17 I watched William Richert's Winter Kills.  A New Hollywood film that I had heard about for years features interesting performances from Jeff Bridges and John Huston.  It pretty well sustains its tone of paranoia throughout and contains a couple of interesting scenes including the introduction of Sterling Hayden and the final set piece.  

5/21/17 I watched John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven.  Sayles has never really been my thing and from his first feature here his approach is already pretty well formed.  He has very little cinema style and his films are loose, soft, and even slackerish.  He is not that far from Linklater although Linklater has a better feel for music and a better sense of humor. 

10/28/18 I watched Jeff Stein's The Kids Are Alright.  A fascinating, loose doc on The Who that captures their talent, their members and most important their personality. 

1/16/20 I watched Paul Schrader's Hardcore.  Schrader is tough for me and this one I liked but didn't love.  I deeply admire his intelligence and really like a couple of films.  At this point I would have to say Affliction is my favorite.  His films are always personal and never feel compromised.  But maybe it is their complete lack of humor that I find a little off-putting or perhaps it is some of his stylistic choices that seem curious, like his choice of music here.  

7/26/20 I watched Albert Brooks' Real Life.  Maybe interesting in how prescient it is with regards to reality TV but otherwise I got weary pretty quickly watching it.

3/7/21 I watched Paul Vecchiali's Corps a Coeur.  The main actor Nicolas Silberg bears an uncanny resemblance to early Brando.  He is perfectly cast and dressed in wonderful clothes throughout.  This was my first Vecchiali film and it all feels like it has a bit of a fever.  It is keyed up and the logic often scattered like the way one thinks when one is suffering in bed with a high temperature.  The direction reminded me a bit of Pialat's hard-nosed naturalism - it is intimate and raw yet seen with the eye of a painter.   

10/31/21 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's First Case, Second Case.  From a standpoint of morals and ethics, it got me thinking about Rohmer.  But it is far more political than the type of films the French filmmaker tended to make.  The whole film is a metaphor for the state of Iran at the time.  I just wish I better understood the situation to fully appreciate Kiarostami's setup.  

12/12/21 I watched Robert Altman's A Perfect Couple.  Altman's effort at a new type of musical fell flat for me as the music was grating and never moved me.  

12/12/22 I watched Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack.  Reminds me of other films that play more as two halves than one whole - films like The Passenger, Tropical Melody and Mulholland Drive.  While the first half does a good enough job setting our world and the cast of characters surrounding Jack, it is the second part where Bogdanovich really impresses.  He uses silence and several inspired set pieces - the scheme to take down the senator, William's death, the kidnapping of Jack - to masterfully stretch time and remind us he could in moments rise to the level of the great filmmakers of his generation. 


  1. My #1 Film of 1979:

    Don Giovanni (Losey; UK)


    Being There (Ashby; USA)
    Apocalypse Now (Coppola; USA)
    The Marriage of Maria Braun (Fassbinder; Germany)
    Manhatten (Allen; USA)
    Best Boy (Wohl)
    Christ Stopped at Eboli (Rosi; Italy)
    Vengeance is Mine (Imamura; Japan)
    The Tin Drum (Schlondorf; Germany)
    Breaking Away (Yates; USA)
    Quadrophenia (Roddam, UK)
    Alien (Scott; USA)
    The Black Stallion (Ballard; USA)
    Woyzeck (Herzog; Germany)
    All That Jazz (Fosse; USA)

    Jeffrey, I cannot the least bit blame you for going with APOCALYPSE NOW. Storaro's cinematography, the haunting use of The Doors's THE END, the performance by Robert Duvall ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning") are components that are unforgettable, as is the demented Kurtz, in yet another legendary Brando performance. And it's based on one of the greatest novellas in literature. God Jeffrey, you couldn't have hit the nail on the head more than you did when you contended that this was "ultimate theatre experience" and your broaching here of the film's spectacular sound design by Walter Murch (and the stunning visuals) are again dead-on:

    "Walter Murch did the sound design, and it may very well have the most expressive, effective sound of any movie ever made. Wow, that's a bold statement! But Murch's work here is that mind-blowing. And like a game of chicken, Vittorio Storaro is working at the same level as Murch. The visuals here are staggering -- hallucinatory, brain-poppingly colorful, and heavy in grandeur and effect."

    So you may ask? Why not #1. It's close between three films I'll grant you that. I went with what may well be the best or second best opera film of all-time, with both BEING THERE and the film you annoint here very close.

  2. This is one of those rare cases where the story behind making the film is almost as good if not more so than the actual film itself. Talk about living your art! This is such a great film and every time I see that opening shot of the jungle burning up scored to "The End" by The Doors, I get goosebumps. Altho, not a good film to fall asleep too - I had some really weird nightmares as a result.

  3. Sam, thanks so much for the incredibly kind words! It means a lot.

    I still need to see your top pick. And BEING THERE is one I need to revisit at some point. For some reason, I struggled a little with it the one time I saw it.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great having you here!

  4. Yes, JD, at some point, we might have to put together a list of movies not to fall asleep to. I can't imagine this one would provide a very peaceful dreamscape.

    Thanks for the words. I completely agree; this is living your art at the highest level!

  5. Here's a question I put to you an your readers: APOCALYPSE NOW or APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX?

    They are so different in tone, but both deserve equal consideration.

  6. Jeffrey, I am on board with Coppola’s magnificent epic. I previous have mentioned on other sites (Dave’s Goodfellas) that when I was stationed in Vietnam, The Doors were one of the groups that literary were the soundtrack to the war, subsequently it is impossible for me to separate their music from Vietnam, specifically the first album. In 1979, when I saw this film at the Zeigfield theater in NYC, which was state of the art at that time, The Door song, “The End” came on the soundtrack was a shattering unforgettable moment. The documentary, “Hearts of Darkness” is a must see for anyone interest in filmmaking

    #1 Apocalypse Now

    Best of the Rest

    Being There
    The Tin Drum
    Life of Brian
    Kramer vs. Kramer

  7. Tony, that's an interesting question. I personally much prefer the original, but I'll be curious to hear what others think.

    Thanks, Tony. Always great to have you here!

  8. John, that's really fascinating to hear about The Doors. I never knew that. Wow, that only makes Coppola's use of "The End" that much more incredible.

    I totally agree that HEARTS OF DARKNESS is also a must-see.

    Great stuff, John. Thanks so much!

  9. I would definitely go with the original version. It's much tighter as I find the Redux version meanders a little too much for my tastes. That being said, the workprint that has been circulating for some time is fascinating to watch if only to see the film scored almost entirely to Doors music. Very cool.

  10. Your pick is the correct one, sir! (LOL) As you rightly point out, it caps off an unbelievable decade for Coppola. I am always more likely to put on The Godfather or Part II if I'm going to sit down to watch a movie, but Apocalypse Now might be his best film. Your spot on in discussing just what an "experience" it is... it really is overwhelming at times. Such a great movie and one that would likely make an All Time Top 20 list for me.

    As for a runner up, I also love the Woodman's MANHATTAN.

  11. I think I'll go with the original version, but my colleague Allan Fish prefers the redux.

  12. Dave, completely on the same page with this one! Very well put above.

    Thanks, Dave, always a treat to have you here!

  13. Just watched boardwalk from this year featuring lee Strasberg as lead with ruth Gordon and Janet leigh providing support.

    A very interesting film exploring tension between older Jews and gangs in Coney island. Quite a bleak film with honest portrayals by strasberg and co. Hints of racism, class and culture struggles.

    Not a perfect film it has its flaws but the strengths outweigh the negatives imo.

    Worth checking out.

    1. Thanks so much for the heads up on BOARDWALK. I have to admit, it's not one I have ever heard of before. I'll definitely seek it and report back when I have a chance to run it down.