The Making of Apocalypse Now Remixed/Revisited

In an inter­view aired on San Fran­cis­co radio last week, Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la acknowl­edged that he could no longer com­pete with him­self — that he could­n’t make the kind of films that made him famous dur­ing the 1970s. The God­fa­ther (1972), The God­fa­ther II (1974), and Apoc­a­lypse Now (1979) — they were big, sprawl­ing, mas­ter­ful films. And they some­times pushed a young Cop­po­la to the phys­i­cal and finan­cial brink.

The mak­ing of Apoc­a­lypse Now is a leg­endary tale. Shot in the Philip­pines in 1976, the pro­duc­tion ran into imme­di­ate prob­lems. After only two weeks, Cop­po­la fired Har­vey Kei­t­el, the lead actor, and replaced him with Mar­tin Sheen, who stum­bled into chaos upon his arrival. As biog­ra­ph­er Robert Sell­ers not­ed in The Inde­pen­dent, “Cop­po­la was writ­ing the movie as he went along and fir­ing per­son­nel, peo­ple were com­ing down with var­i­ous­trop­i­cal dis­eases and the heli­copters used in the com­bat sequences were con­stant­ly recalled by Pres­i­dent Mar­cos to fight his own war against anti-gov­ern­ment rebels.” And things only got worse from there. Mar­lon Bran­do showed up enor­mous­ly over­weight and not know­ing his lines. Then, dur­ing the dif­fi­cult film­ing, Sheen suf­fered a heart attack, and Cop­po­la him­self had a seizure and even­tu­al­ly a ner­vous break­down, appar­ent­ly threat­en­ing to com­mit sui­cide on sev­er­al occa­sions. Speak­ing about the whole expe­ri­ence years lat­er, Cop­po­la’s wife, Eleanor, said:

It was a jour­ney for him up the riv­er I always felt. He went deep­er and deep­er into him­self and deep­er and deep­er and deep­er into the pro­duc­tion. It just got out of con­trol.… The script was evolv­ing and the scenes were chang­ing — it just got larg­er and more com­plex. And lit­tle by lit­tle he got out there as far as his char­ac­ters. That was­n’t the inten­tion at all at the begin­ning.

Yes, it’s no won­der that Cop­po­la, now 73 years old, might not have anoth­er epic film in him.

Apoc­a­lypse Now hit the­aters exact­ly 33 years ago this week. And to com­mem­o­rate that occa­sion, we’re serv­ing up a short remix film, Heart of Cop­po­la, that weaves togeth­er scenes from the film, footage from behind the scenes, and audio of the great Orson Welles read­ing from Heart of Dark­ness, the Joseph Con­rad novel­la upon which Apoc­a­lypse Now was loose­ly based. (Find it in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.)

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Comments (4)
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  • Michael Rowand says:

    This is def­i­nite­ly the best remix of the film I’ve seen. Thank you for it. Does any­one know the song that’s used at the begin­ning?
    What a mad, strange, genius film it was! The pro­duc­tion was, by all accounts, con­fus­ing, taxing,and har­row­ing. But the result will last cen­turies.

  • Jonathan Rouse says:

    Michael, that’s When the Lev­ee Breaks by Led Zep­pelin.

  • Victoria Neifert says:

    The song used in the begin­ning and the end of the film is called The End by the Doors. It’s not Led Zep­pelin.

  • Victoria Neifert says:

    Ter­ri­bly sor­ry, I thought you were ask­ing about the song in the actu­al film. The song in the video above is Led Zep­pelin.

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