Shot on location in the Philippines, the production for 1979’s Apocalypse Now was a torturous experience for all involved. From Harvey Keitel’s firing, to Martin Sheen‘s heart-attack and Brando arriving onset over-weight and underprepared, it looked like the film wold be the end of Coppola’s career. It’s hard to believe that George Lucas wanted to shoot it documentary-style with a small crew in Vietnam. Only his desire to make American Graffiti dissuaded him. However, against all odds, he managed to finish the film and turn it into a bonafide hit. However, despite the film’s success, alongside Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate in 1980, it was one of the final nails in the coffin of the excess of the 1970s auteur period.
A loose retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now is set in 1969 as the Vietnam War still rages. It follows Martin Sheen’s Willard on his mission into Cambodia to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). It’s a perilous journey for Willard, as he not only has to beware the dangers of the jungle, but also the dangers within himself.
This image shows Francis Ford Coppola directing the great Marlon Brando during the film’s last act on Kurtz’s compound.
Apocalypse Now has its premier at The Cannes Film Festival in June 1979 – and Coppola has released three different versions of he film – The Theatrical Cut, Redux and Final Cut. All versions are excellent – but the French Plantation sequence in the latter versions stops the movie dead in its tracks.
Since its release in 1979, Apocalypse Now has grossed $83.4 million at the US box office. it won academy awaits for Best Cinematography for Vittorio Storaro and Best Sound for Walter Murch.