Thursday, July 23, 2009

The desolation of life and art.

Last week I finally looked at
 Apocalypse Now; Francis Ford Coppola's greatest movie (and yes that's even taking his earlier The Godfather and The Godfather II into consideration). It is viewed as making a definitive statement on the turmoil of war, showing the undiluted difference between good and evil, the desolation and darkness that ensues when morals are taxed and the impact of hierarchical American decisions on the rest of the world.
To do this, the producers formed a bond with Ferdinand Marcos to use his military equipment and enable accessibility to the remote shooting sites in the Philippines. Along with all the 'trappings' of shooting in the jungle, they also endured a typhoon which blew their sets and set them back in time and money, Martin Sheen suffered a nervous breakdown (the opening scenes of him in the hotel room were unscripted and quite real; in fact he really broke the mirror and even attacked Mr. Coppola in a fit of drunken stupor). Later on, he would also suffer a heart attack and struggle to reach help. Marlon Brando demanded too much money for too little work, eventually turned up 80lbs overweight (his character was a lithe, thin man) and with no idea of his lines having not read the script. This weight gain also effectively eliminated Mr. Coppola's scripted ending because as he said Mr. Brando was 'too fat'.  

In meeting the demands he had set for himself, Mr. Coppola mortgaged himself thin and was well known during the time as the suicidal director proclaiming it as his intention many times. In short, the production was way over budget, very behind time and extremely punishing on all involved; and that's not counting the two years it took for post production to be completed!

All of this makes me admire Mr. Coppola and the film's cast and crew tremendously, including Dennis Hopper, Robert Duval and a very young Lawrence Fishburne (he was actually 14 at the time of filming but gave his age as 17). However this admiration is tempered by one of the final scenes; that of an oxen being butchered to death. 

On seeing it (and cringing painfully) I had thought that it was a simulated scene using an animal stand-in. Just a couple days ago however I found out that it was indeed a real animal that was brutally murdered with no thought or value for its life. I have read conflicting reports; that it was an actual ritual in progress and Mrs. Coppola saw it and alerted her husband and they started shooting. But knowing a tiny bit about shooting film and remembering the shots (I don't think I will be able to look at them again) I am more inclined to believe the latter report which is much the same; that Mr. Coppola was alerted to the fact by his wife however to facilitate shooting, he recreated it with another oxen for his much needed ending.

To me it is a strong case of life imitating art, imitating life as the very thing which Mr. Coppola sought to document; the twisted minds that blur the line between good and evil,the desolation and darkness, the cold hearted taking of lives and the effects of the American will at any costs are more clearly illustrated than the scene of US soldiers lead by Mr. Duval's character wiping out a seaside village so that they could surf its waters.

And no; I am not anti-American.

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