Thursday, 28 July 2011

Apocalypse Now

I'm in the one on the right.

I knew when I came out of the film theatre in Enfield some thirty-two years ago that I had just witnessed something really special. Since then I have watched the 1979 original and the 2000 Redux many times at home. Last night at the Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre I had the privilege to watch Francis Ford Coppola’s restored and remastered Apocalypse Now (1979) on the big screen again and after all these years it been confirmed: this is my all time favourite movie the one I hate to love!

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
The opening scene sets my adrenalin levels, we hear the helicopters reverberating against the Doors track The End; a section of the jungle is in flames, all shrouded in psychedelic smoke. We learn how a veteran officer who has been serving in Vietnam for three years and has had problems adjusting to life away from the war, Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is given a clandestine mission to terminate “with extreme prejudice” a Special Forces commander, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has turned renegade and is running unauthorised operations out of Cambodia. Kurtz is now feared by the US military and deemed to have passed beyond what is classed as acceptable human behaviour even at this time of bloody hostilities. Willard is assigned a navy petrol boat to get him up the Mekong River that is operated by Chef (Albert Hall) and three very young, tightly wired crewmembers (Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and Laurence Fishburne). As our team navigate the intricacies of war we witness Coppola’s tour de force, without doubt the greatest piece of filming ever. This is the section where crew rendezvous with Lieutenant Colonel William Kilgore (Robert Duvall) commander of the 1st Squadron 9th Air Cavalry Regiment. Kilgore, a keen surfer, discovers that one of Willard’s crewmembers is Lance B. Johnson (Bottoms); at present a Gunners Mate 3rd Class but was a professional Californian surfer. The best surf in Nam is held by the Viet Cong and the Stetson hatted Lieutenant Colonel wants to go surfing which results in the brilliantly filmed and extremely riveting gunship assault on the beach accompanied by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries played through the helicopters extremely loud speaker system “We use Wagner. My boys love it. It scares the hell outta' the slopes. This scene, which I have watched time and time again on DVD, ends with cinemas most famous quote “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” The petrol boat, is then dropped into the mouth of the Mekong and the journey continues, a journey that includes some really surreal moments. 

  • I'm an American! American civilian! Hi, Yanks!
    The further up the river they go and the nearer to Kurtz they get the darker the movie becomes including a bizarre concert which involves a group of Playboy Bunnies, put on by the United Service Organisation in front of a large group of sex starved soldiers, surrounded by inhospitable jungle and then there’s last outpost before Cambodia known as the “gates of hell”, a section of the film that resembles an acid trip! “You're in the asshole of the world, Captain!

    This is the End!!!
    The main reason this cinematic masterpiece is so significant is that Coppola manages to demonstrate equally both the horrors and the addiction of war which are recreated with stunning authenticity. It also recreates the madness that can be inflicted under such appalling conditions. Is Willard’s deteriorating sanity any better than Kurtz or even the petrol boats young crew? Its Coppola masterful direction that allows the viewer to question his or her own sanity Apocalypse Now is not a movie it’s an experience where you relish the fact you where not there or do you? “Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. Find someone else. Forget it! I'm never coming back. Forget it!

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