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

Directed by: Fax Bahr, Gearge Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola

Starring: Francis Ford Coopla, Cast & Crew of Apocalypse Now

Awards: Won Emmy’s for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming – Directing and Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming – Picture Editing (1992)

After a bit of a hiatus due to life stepping in, I’m back. I won’t bore you with the details, but to make up for my absence here is a three part look (other two reviews to follow) at how, just like life, the making of movies can get complicated.

First off, let’s take a look at the making of a classic. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmaker’s Apocalypse is a documentary about the behind the scenes for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Having worked on a few movie sets myself, I’ve seen first hand some of the trials and tribulations involved with having a lot of people working under stressful conditions in tight quarters with clashing personalities. Nothing I’ve witnessed can compare to what the cast and crew for Apocalypse Now had to deal with in the Philippine jungles. Shot by Eleanor Coppola, the Director’s wife, Hearts of Darkness was meant to be a way to keep her busy while on set and also as a way to document the making of the film. What they got instead was a very personal look at human nature.

Apocalypse Now was a movie that defied the odds. Taped in a conversation with his wife unknowingly, Francis Ford Coppola confides that he thinks the film will be disastrous. He doesn’t like the ending and is shown to be clearly giving in to the pressure. At the verge of a nervous breakdown, one can see why after seeing the obstacles he has to face in telling his tale. One example is a Philippine military who loan him helicopters only to take them away at the spur of the moment to combat rebels. Another is having to replace main actor Harvey Keitel with Martin Sheen a week into shooting. Martin Sheen ends up having a complete breakdown while drunk in a scene as the audience gets to bare witness to a man battling his own personal demons.

The biggest confrontation in the film besides the Director being his own worse enemy is when he has to confront the main villain in his picture, Marlon Brando. Showing up on set exceeding the weight that the role called for, Francis is forced to shoot around him. Marlon Brando also proves to be a very difficult personality who forgets his lines, is impatient with direction, and overbearing. Despite all these problems and more that are shown by the documentary, Francis Ford Coppola overcomes his adversity and manages to create a film that is still highly regarded today as one of the best representations of the Vietnam War.

Here is the opening scene:


Blue Velvet (1986)

Directed by David Lynch

Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern

Today I was reading about a man who designed his coffin to look like a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can, and naturally, I though of Blue Velvet. Widely claimed to be Lynch’s best film, Velvet was also one of his more controversial given his on-screen treatment of Isabella Rossellini and the sadistic nature of Hopper’s character Frank Booth. What came from the film was a genre-bending take on the psychological thriller and one of the most memorable villains to ever utter the words, “Heineken? Fuck that shit!” You know the rest.

The film is largely is based on a song (Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet), a feeling (the film’s time period), and an image, namely captured in the film’s opening sequence, when young college student, Jeffrey Beaumont, discovers a severed human ear in a vacant lot. The ear, represents a hole into another world, in this case, the underworld. A world that sucks Beaumont in with its dark temptations of violence and sex.

Befriending the sheriff’s daughter, Beaumont starts to investigate the case, which leads him to the Slow Club, where he encounters lounge singer Dorothy Vallens. Jeffrey finds her apartment, sneaks in while he thinks she’s at the club, only to be caught by her…and fellated at knifepoint! Enter jealous sadomaschist Frank Booth and Jeffrey is shoved into a closet and forced to watch Vallens get violently ravaged. Fascinated, Jeffrey follows Frank and is introduced to a seedy world of drugs and violent crime.

Hopper completely commits himself to his role as Frank and the character shines in horrific splendor because of it. Some of the most insane lines you’ll ever hear a human being utter come out of Frank Booth’s mouth and it’ll leave you wide-eyed and 100% entertained. Arguably his best role.

Scenes to note are the symbolic editing during the rape scene, cutting back and forth from fire and layered alien sound, and Booth’s amyl trip in the car, best depiction of drug-induced psychosis I’ve ever seen. Next to A Straight Story, Dune, or the Elephant Man, this is probably Lynch’s most accessible film for the mainstream audience, but it still has those elements of his personality pervasively through and through that earned him the nickname, “Jimmy Stewart from Mars.”

Other Notable Films by this Director: Eraserhead (1977), Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Drive (2001)