“My film is not a movie; it’s not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” — Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola’s epic 1979 film Apocalypse Now is regarded by many as a Hollywood masterpiece.

The screenplay, which was co-written by Coppola and John Milius, received an Oscar nomination and the production of the film was so chaotic that it warranted its own documentary and a full-length study.

Dennis Hopper, playing the role of a photojournalist, once describing working on the set as “hell on earth,” and added that he “felt like I had fought in the war,” after it had finished. According to many reports, multiple actors and crew members battled alcoholism, heavy drug binges and tropical diseases.

Apocalypse Now synopsis

In Vietnam in 1970, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) takes a perilous and increasingly hallucinatory journey upriver to find and terminate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a once-promising officer who has reportedly gone completely mad. In the company of a Navy patrol boat filled with street-smart kids, a surfing-obsessed Air Cavalry officer (Robert Duvall), and a crazed freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper), Willard travels further and further into the heart of darkness.

On top of all that, the tropical weather caused havoc. Typhoon Olga destroyed the set May 26, 1976, and production was closed down. According to Dean Tavoularis, it “started raining harder and harder until finally, it was literally white outside, and all the trees were bent at forty-five degrees.”

With everything going against the film, Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, confirmed that he had remortgaged his house and offered the profits made from his previous film The Godfather as security. At this stage, it is believed that Apocalypse Now was six weeks behind schedule and $2million over budget.

It was at this point, the director told his wife: “I’m thinking of shooting myself.”

Despite the challenges, Apocalypse Now made it over the line and honoured with the Palme d’Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Upon its premiere screening at Cannes, Coppola told the press: “My film is not a movie,” before added: “My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy…And little by little we went insane.”

How insane? This insane:

(Images via Film Goblin)

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