Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) ****
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Written by John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola. Narration by Michael Herr. Produced by:Francis Ford Coppola, Kim Aubry. Photography, Vittorio Storaro. Editing, Richard Marks, Walter Murch. Production design, Dean Tavoularis. Music, Carmine Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola. Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms,Dennis Hopper,Christian Marquand, et al. An American Zoetrope production release by Miramax. 196 minutes. R (violence, language,drugs, sex, etc.) At the New Art Theater.
The most anticipated event at the May 2001 Cannes Festival was Francis Ford Coppola's "APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX." "Apocalypse Now" had won a Golden Palm at Cannes 1979. Another went to Volker Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum." Twenty-two years later Coppola re-edited the film and added 53 minutes he had cut from his original footage, and from unused dailies chosen from one and a quarter million feet of film shot. In 1979 his reasoning was that since in those days very long movies were rare, and "Apocalypse" as then edited already ran two and a half hours, a film of almost three and half hours, and one that was not an orthodox war movie, would have been rejected both by festivals and the public.
Before the May 2001 film's projection date Coppola held a meeting moderated by Variety's former European editor, now senior advisor, the film polymath Peter Cowie. He had just published his third book about Coppola, "The Apocalypse Now Book" (2001) which is a marvel of information, research, analyses, commentaries, and so on, and an absolute must (It has also come out in French). Coppola's presentation was rich with explanations, mostly about the way the 1979 version had been edited, about the richness of the footage that had been shelved, the genesis of the new version, various technical aspects, plus anecdotes about his actors, especially Marlon Brando.
"Redux" means "brought back." The new version is entirely new. Says Coppola: "It doesn't say anything differently than the old one. It just says it better and with more complexity --and the themes emerge more clearly." Truer words were never spoken. and simply has to become a classic too, and an object of admiration and cult.
"Redux" is far richer than its predecessor which already has been a cult movie for decades. Extremely interesting and scope-expanding is that among other additions and changes "Redux" reinstates almost 30 minutes about the French in Vietnam (unseen in the 1979 film) with French actors playing colonials who even after the defeat of the French at Dien Ben Phu and the loss of French Indochina, are still stubbornly holding on to what "was theirs."
A new, major sequence deals with the Playboy playmates who had been evacuated by helicopter when their sexy show had caused near-riot conditions among the American soldiers. Now stranded in a riverside Medevac base, they get "traded" for two barrels of fuel. The girls have become mad like everyone else. They are pathetic.
The many aficionados who know the original by heart and can cite chapter and verse will immediately spot many more changes and variations. Among them: an expansion of Captain Willard's relationship his boat crew; Willard's practical joke (as bullets fly and people die) of stealing Col. Kilgore's surf board; Col. Kurtz's literary quotations and his exposing the lies (in Time magazine) of officials about the war, and so on. (Brando's role gets expanded in fascinating scenes.)
The film that enriched the common persons' vocabulary with expressions ("terminate with extreme prejudice"), quotations ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning"), with a bit of Wagner ("the Ride of the Walkyries"), with Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" which is at the heart of the movie.
When "Redux" was projected at Cannes it was greeted with unanimous applause, as well as tears in many eyes. There is no doubt that if the Festival's by-laws allowed the top prize to be given again to a past winner, "Redux" would have gotten it, hands down.
Is the movie perfect? Nothing is. I found the French sequence to be a much-needed, historical addition to the hitherto all-American story, but in the opium scenes between the immaculate, chic French widow and the undoubtedly smelly Willard, the sex part was unconvincing, and the lady's "There are two of you. One that kills and one that loves" jarring and corny. But this is just a fast flaw among so many cinematic treasures.
"Redux" is more clearly political and anti-war than its predecessor. A welcome development. Willard's journey is more than ever a Dantesque, hallucinatory descent into hell. I wonder however how much sense is made today to a younger, uninformed public, by Kurtz's private Army of Montagnards who deify him. How many viewers know that those hill people of Southeast Asia were rather like pariahs in the eyes of the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and others --so that their becoming Kurtz's followers is within the parameters of logic?
For that matter, how many today know anything about the French Army's conclusive - albeit heroic -- defeat at Dien Bien Phu?
Then there's a detail, but a striking one, at the movie's finale. In 1979 there were two versions. The original prints were in 70mm film. Audiences were handed a program with the credits. Then in the wider, 35mm release, the credits went on the screen, with a huge background of explosions. (These were of the destruction of Kurt's compound. In reality it was the destruction of the movie's sets, which were contractually to be dismantled in the Philippines --where "Apocalypse" was shot). This gave two endings, one more war-like than the other. Coppola wanted the less brutal one and re-did all the prints. But I suspect that the fans preferred to explosive version, which is absent from "Redux."
What Coppola, or no one else on this planet could foresee, is that the release of "Redux" would coincide tragically with the Apocalypse of the World Trade Center. But there's a huge, unplanned warning in today's new movie. America's huge military machine was defeated in Vietnam because of the un-traditional guerrilla nature of that war. The war against terrorism has to be won. But it won't be easy.