Anyone in the know in cinema knows the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary Vietnam opus Apocalypse Now is just as legendary as the film itself. This is the topic of Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the documentary that covers the making of the film, the people involved, and the sheer magnitude of the task they took on. Most of all, it covers how the enormity of their effort slowly drove them all mad, and how every man on the set, from the director to the actors, ended up becoming their characters or their focal studies in their entirety. It is a fascinating documentary, not just on the making of a film, but on how the making of the film affected and transformed everyone in their own personal ways. Apocalypse Now was not just a film; it was an experience, and Hearts of Darkness makes you appreciate that experience like never before.
The film roughly follows the shooting schedule of the film, through diary entries written by Coppola’s wife Eleanor during the making of Apocalypse Now (which are narrated by her), coupled with reels and reels of documentary footage she shot in accordance with Coppola’s wishes that a making-of be made. The footage ended up sitting for a good decade before Eleanor turned it over to Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, who edited it into the documentary itself. Clips from Apocalypse Now are of course included, as are snippets of Orson Welles’ original radio broadcast telling of the original Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness, used to contrast the making of the film with Welles’ previous efforts to do so, which ended up foundering. Going into this expecting a film on the level of Apocalypse Now, with its 35mm footage and professional restorative work, is to go about it all wrong; this is a documentary, and it looks and feels like it. It just so happens to be about the making of a film, a process which I find quite fascinating, given how much of a cinema lover I am. In all honesty, there wasn’t much to the making of Hearts of Darkness; the real power lies in the making-of itself, which was so torn with difficulties like re-casting the lead one week into shooting, typhoons destroying sets, Martin Sheen’s heart attack, Brando showing up on set grossly overweight, and plenty others, that the entertainment value in watching it all happen is already there. It’s a hell of a story, and Hearts of Darkness knows to merely present it as-is, juxtaposed with current interviews with the filmmaking team, and set to the music of the film itself for that added effect.
Hearts of Darkness is a great flick, easily watchable by anyone who loves or even likes films. This isn’t the high-tech spotless productions of today; this was the nitty gritty, the hard-fought battle to get every single shot that was needed to complete the picture, and even somehow making it happen when you couldn’t get what you needed. Apocalypse Now easily could’ve gone the route that Michael Cimino took a few years later with Heaven’s Gate, and in many ways, it kinda did; the film’s success is the only thing that kept Francis Ford Coppola’s career (and life) alive. It’d be pretty difficult to make a film about Apocalypse Now that’s just as entertaining as Apocalypse Now, but Hearts of Darkness does nearly get there; just without the greatness that Apocalypse Now manages to achieve. It’s a really good watch, and it’s one that is worth doing.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10