At this year’s Tribeca film festival, Francis Ford Coppola used the 40th anniversary of his Vietnam masterpiece to unveil a new version
Everyone in the house at the Beacon Theatre last night already knew the legend of Apocalypse Now. The troubled production of Francis Ford Coppola’s psychedelic Vietnam war epic has already calcified into the stuff of industry myth: leading man Martin Sheen was nearly felled by a heart attack, second lead Marlon Brando showed up to set too overweight to believably portray a Green Beret, a monsoon seemingly sent by God destroyed thousands of dollars in equipment. The behind-the-scenes documentary Hearts of Darkness tracks Coppola’s descent towards madness during the unending shoot in the Filipino jungle, the money and pressure and humid South Pacific air all getting to him. (The film-maker joked: “It could’ve easily been called Watch Francis Suffer.”)
For Coppola, however, last night’s Tribeca film festival premiere of the new and definitive Final Cut – commemorating the 40th anniversary of the original release – offered him a chance to rewrite his own history. He’s gone back in to edit the film once before, assembling the 202-minute Redux version in 2001 using scenes excised from the theatrical cut at the behest of the studio and other higher-ups. The just-right Final Cut splits the difference between the creative concessions of the original and the unwieldy sprawl of the Redux, a massive feat of film craft reined in to the general neighborhood of perfection.
Curious parties will be relieved to know that only the choicest Redux additions have earned the spruced-up picture and audio of the Final restoration. An extended tangent bringing Sheen’s unstable Captain Willard to a French plantation made the cut, perhaps due to Coppola’s affection for his late son Gian-Carlo, who appears as a nobleman’s boy at dinner. A comic interlude involving Willard’s men purloining the surf board of the gruff Lieutenant Kilgore (Robert Duvall) also remains in place. The same cannot be said for the scene in which the squadron encounters a downed helicopter containing the Playboy bunnies from an earlier USO show, and trades them two tanks of fuel for two hours with the girls.