Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

“First of all, I call this whole movie the Idiodyssey. None of my tools, none of my tricks, none of my ways of doing things works for this ending. I have tried so many times that I know I can’t do it. It might be a big victory to know that I can’t do it. I can’t write the ending to this movie.”

‘Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse’, directed by Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper and Eleanor Coppola in 1991, is a documentary telling the story of the filming of the 1979 Vietnam war movie ‘Apocalypse Now’. The making of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war movie was fraught with financial, physical and emotional trauma: Coppola sank a vast amount of his own money into the project, the end of the movie hadn’t been written when the film began shooting, actors were replaced, fell ill or were unreliable, sets were destroyed by severe weather and Coppola himself suffered from doubts and depression. The documentary follows the long production and includes interviews with Coppola by his wife – these really give an insight not only into the trials of filmmaking but also into Coppola’s relationship with his crew, his family and his occasionally tenuous relationship with reality. Coppola’s style of direction, semi-improvisational and relying on ‘happy accidents’ is reminiscent of Werner Herzog and the documentary has close links with ‘Burden of Dreams’, a similar film following the making of ‘Fitzcarraldo’. In both, the ways the directors approach the difficulties of filming in the jungle, their uncomfortable ruthlessness with dealing with the locals and their single-minded drive to put real drama on the screen is front and centre. For Coppola and Herzog, there is an undefinable quality they are looking for in their films that goes beyond reality and authenticity and attempts to access a mythic quality. Bits of this documentary are difficult to watch, particularly the scenes of locals sacrificing animals – I watched this the day after seeing ‘Le Sang des Bêtes’ and I still haven’t entirely recovered.

Would I recommend it? Yes, in a double bill with ‘Burden of Dreams’ to watch two directors walking the tightrope between artistry and insanity.

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