Credit: Unknown/Zoetrope

The letter Francis Ford Coppola sent to John Lennon asking him to contribute ‘Apocalypse Now’

We’re digging through the Far Out vaults to find one of our favourite crossovers of film and music. Back in March 1977, American film director, producer and screenwriter Francis Coppola wrote to one of the biggest musical artists in the world proposing that the pair work together on a film. That man was none other than The Beatles’ own John Lennon.

Coppola, who at the time was living out of a volcano in the Philippines while making the now iconic and epic war film Apocalypse Now, had proposed the idea to Lennon about contributing to the score of the film. Two greats of their field working with one another could’ve been magical. Alas, it was not to be but it was clear that the pressure of filming were getting to Coppola.

The film had run dramatically over budget and Coppola himself had put up $30 million of his own money. That included using his home and his winery as collateral and, officially he signed his house over to the bank. When filming began, Coppola’s loan was at 7% interest, by the end of filming it was 29%—things were getting tense. It meant Coppola was searching for some extra weight behind the project.

Apocalypse Now, a truly harrowing and frighteningly accurate depiction of war in South East Asia, eventually went on to win ‘Best Sound’ at the 52nd Academy Awards thanks to the work of Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nathan Boxer could have added Lennon’s name to the list had the former Beatle had a little more spare time.

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

So it may come as little surprise that Lennon passed on the opportunity to be involved, clearly employing some kind of benevolent foresight. Lennon negotiated his way out of what could have been a seriously debilitating moment for the artist.

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.”

Undeterred by the repeated setbacks Coppola, who said he would “love to cook dinner” for Lennon and “just talk, listen to music and talk about movies” hinted at the pair working together. Coppola was a known platonic-romancer of icons such as Lennon and was a dab hand at getting them on board—but Lennon was too tough a nut to crack.

His letter, dated March 24th, 1977, read:

“Dear John,

We’ve never met but, of course, I’ve always enjoyed your work.

I am presently in the Philippines making “APOCALYPSE NOW”. I’ve been here eight months, expect to be here another several months. I live inside a volcano, which is a jungle paradise, where there are beautiful mineral springs; and thought of ever you were in the Far East or if ever you would enjoy spending a little time talking about things in general and some distant future projects that I have in mind, please, I would love to cook dinner for you and just talk, listen to music and talk about movies.

If coming to the Far East is difficult, then someday in the future, either in Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York, I would like to meet you.

Sincerely,
Francis Coppola.

Despite his best efforts, Lennon unfortunately, declined the offer.

However, new correspondence surfaced citing a reply from Lennon to the director. It would seem that Coppola’s invitation to dinner was accepted by the Beatle and it is hinted that the pair discussed working on a new book having seen the Apocalypse Now project completed.

Whether or not they arranged to meet up in Coppola’s volcano remains to be seen, I’d like to think they did.

Here’s Lennon’s reply to Coppola:

“Dear Frank,

Having given a lot more thought to this idea, I realise that due to my work schedule I really don’t have the time for such a big new project.

I love the book but it would take to much energy etc.

Best wishes to you, it was nice meeting you

Love,
John Lennon

See the original letters, below.

Francis Ford Coppola:

The letter Francis Ford Coppola sent to John Lennon asking him to contribute 'Apocalypse Now'

John Lennon:

The letter Francis Ford Coppola sent to John Lennon asking him to contribute 'Apocalypse Now'
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