Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991) Poster

User Reviews

Add a Review
51 ReviewsOrdered By: Helpfulness
Travel deep inside the mind of Coppola & the craft of filmmaking
JawsOfJosh18 April 2001
How lucky can a master filmmaker get when the tide is against you smacking you & your new movie deliberately in the face? Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola certainly knows. This documentary, probably one of the most fascinating & insightful examinations into the craft of filmmaking and the creation of art, chronicles Coppola's three year odyssey filming the surreal Vietnam War epic "Apocalypse Now". Directed & narrated by his wife Eleanor, who accompanied her husband throughout the entire shooting of the film, this is THE most splendid "making-of" documentary I've ever seen. The finished version of "Apocalypse Now" that we've come to know is a strange, mystical journey - which probably evolved out of Coppola's own bizarre experiences while making the film.

Most of these strange occurrences on the set of "Apocalypse Now" served to hinder the completion of the film. The fact that such a brilliant film was even salvaged from the wreckage that was Coppola's life at the time is a miracle, but the film also serves as a testament to the genius of Coppola that was already established with the massive success of the first two "Godfather" films. Plagued by constant typhoons, a mercurial Marlon Brando, an unreliable Phillipine army, a cast of actors whacked out on drugs & alcohol (especially the maniacal Dennis Hopper), endless financial woes, and Coppola's own self-doubt & inner demons ("I don't have the movie yet!"), there is no surprise in the eventual photo shown of an exhausted Coppola standing on the set of his film in a damp raincoat, pointing a revolver at his own head. This may be an experience other directors have experienced (many David Lean films were logistical nightmares), but how many directors can testify to enduring these types of repeated misadventures for three years, and still manage to find the light at the end of the tunnel?

The entire cast is interviewed (years afterward) about the making of the film - except, of course, for Marlon Brando (Larry Fishburne doesn't get much screen time in the documentary, but his character was relatively small anyway). Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, and Frederic Forrest provide the most insight. Sheen & Hopper seem particularly direct at disclosing the grim nature of their excessive drinking at the time. Actors Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, co-screenwriter John Milius, and the Coppolas themselves also reflect back on the construction of the film. The film is loaded with deleted scenes, extended takes, and much behind-the-scenes footage (Coppola angrily berates a stoned Dennis Hopper for forgetting his lines). Eleanor Coppola must really love her husband, because it takes a strong person to document - on film, nonetheless - three years worth of strife & turmoil as you watch your spouse in their craft, fearful they are creating the genesis of their own demise as an artist. A powerful, absorbing documentary on the creation of one of the greatest films ever made.
30 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
fascinating stuff
General_Cromwell24 August 2002
Best documentary about the making of a film ever. This is fascinating stuff. Scary,funny,and always compelling, watching this you wonder how the film ever got finished. All the main actors contribute interviews for the film, (except Brando of course)and all are quite revealing. There's also contributions from George Lucas and John Milius. Some of Milius's anecdotes are highly amusing, and we get to hear excerpts from his original screenplay, a lot of which was never used, unfortunately. Some amazing footage shot by coppolla's wife include, Martin Sheen drunk and dangerous on set, Coppolla trying to get an obviously high Dennis Hopper to remember his lines, and poor Coppolla trying to shoot the ending with an uncooperative Brando selfishly wanting to do everything his way,and get paid millions for the privilege! If you are a fan of Apocalypse Now or even if you have an interest in cinema, this is a must see.
14 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Blew Me Away.
Rob24 April 2004
Never in my whole life have I ever watched a documentary that was so detailed down to every last thing and has been so influential and haunting at the same time. What Eleanor Coppola did was make a documentary that showed filmmakers not what to and how to solve the things that go wrong and also not to jump into something without realising it's outcome. What she also did was collect moments on the set and off of the greatest film ever made.

I have always made that known when reviewing a lot of films on IMDB how much this film means to me and when you watch Heart of Darkness without flickering an eyelid you kind of find out why. At the beginning of the documentary you see Francis ford Coppola talking about Apocalypse Now at a press conference and he says the famous line `The film wasn't about Vietnam, it was Vietnam' and after hearing it you are thinking what the hell is this guy on about and then you watch it and you think to yourself `Oh he was probably right bless him' because no one apart from the cast and crew knew what he really meant. Then you watch the documentary and you eat your words because we see how much pressure he was under and Brando and Martin Sheen's heart attack didn't help but he pulls through. It was like he made a pack with the devil for his film to be an absolute nightmare to make but for the final outcome to become a glorified Masterpiece which is what it is.

To see what had happened when filming stopped in the jungle with the tribe and the footage of the cow's and pigs being slaughtered to death was extraordinary and disturbing that this really happens. In the scene where the cow or bull (I don't know) gets hacked into pieces is well known for being real but it was well constructed before Francis said `action' but on the documentary you see a number of men just go up to the animal and do what they have to do. It' really sinks in when looking at that part what kind of film Apocalypse Now is. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Brando but I think it's good that we don't because it just like the film in that respect that even in a documentary he continues to be secluded from the rest and kept in the dark. Francis Ford Coppola was wasted after making Apocalypse now. Never will Hollywood not even Peter Jackson ever see a director like Francis because films like Apocalypse Now will probably never be made again because of the financial side of the business but Coppola was beyond a director, he was a master that had no hold on itself and without his belief and madness we wouldn't be blessed with this outstanding film. It's not a point that I am making it's a fact and it destroys me to think there is nobody challenging the ways he did anymore, but in a way I like it like that.
30 out of 37 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Maybe the best behind-the-scenes documentary ever made.
AnonII14 October 1999
I agree with the most positive reviews of this film. It's probably THE best documentary about the making of a movie, about the emotions and tensions behind the scenes, about the psychic terror of a director/creator trying desperately to not merely hold on to his artistic dream, but to survive! A must-see for any cinemaphile, and every Coppola enthusiast.
11 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
"We had access to too much money… too much equipment. And, little by little, we went insane."
ackstasis17 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It's what it was really like. It was crazy. And the way we made it was very much like the way the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money… too much equipment. And, little by little, we went insane."

Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' is one of the all-time great triumphs, a film so mind-blowingly spectacular that we are immediately aware that this is about as good as any film can get. However, behind this epic piece of cinema lies a production story that is riddled with as much drama and uncertainty as the plot of the movie it created.

Originally slated as a 16 week production, 'Apocalypse Now' took more than double that to film, and Coppola invested millions of his own dollars to ensure that the picture was completed. Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis, was asked to produce a video production diary of the film's completion, and her footage – intercut with more recent interviews with the cast and crew – became 'Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.'

Throughout her narration, Eleanor Coppola frequently compares the plight of Captain Benjamin L. Willard (played by Martin Sheen in 'Apocalypse Now') with that of her own husband. Just like Willard is simply unable to turn back down the river, as is Francis Ford Coppola. Having invested so much into this big-budget war movie, he feels that he must pursue it to the end. When asked if he ever considered quitting, Coppola replies with, "How am I gonna quit from myself? Am I gonna say "Francis, I quit?" I was financing the movie. How could I quit?"

The production period was certainly a tumultuous one. Just one week into filming, Coppola made the difficult (and very costly) decision to replace his main actor, discarding Harvey Keitel in favour of Martin Sheen. During the filming of the opening scene in a Saigon hotel room, Sheen got into character by drinking himself into oblivion, unintentionally smashing a mirror and threatening, at any moment, to attack the crew members or Coppola himself. When Sheen suffered a very serious heart attack, and almost lost his life, the following weeks were restricted to filming distant pick-up shots, with Willard's back to the camera while Sheen recovered.

Marlon Brando's somewhat uncooperative actions did not help production, either. Having demanded $1 million a week for three weeks (including a $1 million advance), Brando arrived on the set overweight and unprepared, having completely neglected to read John Conrad's novel 'Hearts Of Darkness,' the distant source for the script. At one point prior to this, Brando had reputedly even threatened to walk away from the film (taking the $1 million dollar advance with him), if production was delayed any further.

Even after watching this film, which documents the events of the production in a detailed and compelling manner, I can still only imagine the pressure that Francis Ford Coppola must have been under. In several instances, during conversations that Eleanor Coppola secretly recorded for future reference, Coppola contemplates suicide, absolutely convinced that his film is going to be terrible.

This is documentary film-making at its most gripping. If you don't emerge from this film with a newfound respect for Francis Ford Coppola and 'Apocalypse Now,' or even just for filmmakers in general, then I seriously doubt that you were even paying attention. For fans of the film, or of film-making itself, this is a must-see.
7 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Fantastic...a must-see 'making of'.
sydtech18 July 2003
This is a fantastic documentary on the making of 'Apocalypse Now'. Essential viewing for fans of that motion picture, or just film students in general. It's a real shame that (as of July 2003) this still hasn't been released on DVD; the VHS release is long out of print and getting increasingly difficult to find...
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
Legends Have Blossomed
jzappa30 January 2009
The making of a movie has never been documented with more power to discern the true nature of what is happening behind the scenes than in this account of the torment and the passion of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. That is because no other behind-the- scenes piece has ever had entrée of materials that are usually prohibited like shots that were never used, abandoned scenes, suppressed conflicts between the director and his actors, divulging of disheartenment and misery, including even arguments between Coppola and his secretly, patiently ambitious wife that she secretly recorded. I've always wondered how he felt about that.

The film may not be as mind-blowing as I expected, but it bares Coppola of all resistance or argument and still exposes him as a bold and daring filmmaker. It also exposes the chaos through which he put his cast and crew on location in the Philippines, and likewise what he suffered by them. Coppola, outraged that Martin Sheen's heart attack made its way to the media and the news could kill the production: "Even if he dies, I don't want to hear anything but good news until it comes from me." Dennis Hopper, his mind adrift on drugs, is unable to remember his lines and yet somehow improvises well what we see in the film. I love seeing authentic drug scenes in movies. Marlon Brando, at a cool million a week, finally shows up, yet unprepared and unexpectedly fat, and endlessly argues with Coppola about a character in a half-existent script he's barely read. Brando begins one scene and then walks away while the camera is still rolling. And Apocalypse Now premiered years after production had begun, shared the Palme d'Or, and went on to become one of the great mythic productions in film history.

Legends have blossomed from it. Coppola confessed he did not think the ending worked. Now we see what he was talking about. Originally set to be directed by the comparatively anemic George Lucas and scripted by Conan the Barbarian writer John Milius, the project went through so many changes that finally Coppola was writing it as he shot it, and actors were improvising. The production is harassed, plagued and badgered by rainstorms, morbidly obese budget overruns, health scares, and logistical horrors, as when the Philippine government rents Coppola the same helicopters it's using to fight rebels ten miles away.

Coppola shouted in despair to his wife, Eleanor: "I tell you from the bottom of my heart that I am making a bad film." And again, "We are all lost. I have no idea where to go with this." Yet Coppola's vision somehow remained secure. Milius, flown to the Philippines by a desperate studio to bring sanity back to the script, remembers that he walked in prepared to convince Coppola that the war was lost and they had to salvage what they could. When he left, Coppola had him convinced it would be the first film to win the Nobel Prize. That is what Francis Ford Coppola is made of, and why the film is so sad. It's like a dirge in that his glory days are long, long gone. Did he only have a handful of remarkable cinematic achievements in him? What has happened?

In the 1970s, he made the first two Godfathers and Apocalypse Now, assaulted with grave personal, political, and creative resistance that, as is evidenced here, almost dismantled him. The Conversation was made straight from his two bare hands. These films are masterstrokes. After Apocalypse Now, his work took a serious nosedive---The Outsiders? New York Stories? ---and even now, as he has returned to the helm with Youth Without Youth, he cannot seem to repossess his course. He had to fight for those masterpieces and that agony and ecstasy is what made them so unsurpassable. Though he at one point denies it in this documentary, Coppola must run on hectic despair and obstruction to make a great film. And that's what we see him do here. It's a curse.

Hearts of Darkness is based on footage that Eleanor Coppola shot at the time, and on recent interviews with both Coppolas, plus Milius, Lucas and the cast, including Larry Fishburne, whose appearance is fascinating because we see him as a naive, restless 14-year-old on a gigantic multi-million-dollar movie shoot and at the present, where he has changed and learned so much. We feel for once we are witnessing the true story of how a movie got made rather than a series of interviews about how brilliant person A is and what a beautiful soul person B is.
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
A Fascinating Descant into Madness
padi198413 June 2004
Hurricanes, Bickering Egos, heart ailments, and even war were all obstacles that Mr. Coppola had to overcome in making one of the most pivotal movies of the 1970's, and possibly the best film about the war, no, the experience in Vietnam, Apocalypse Now. Hearts of Darkness details the emotional distress and utter insanity of Francis Ford Coppola as he worked for three years to put the massive project on screen. Along the way, budgets spiraled, heat insued, and rumors of failure were abound, as Francis Ford Coppola tried to finish the nightmare that was Apocalypse Now. As the story begins, we see that Orsen Welles attempted the Heart of Darkness Story, and did not succeed, and how 30 years later, it turned into Apocalypse Now. The ambition of Francis turns to dread and near suicidal tendencies as the first film of his movie studio, American Zoetrope, is plagues with problems: typhoons wreck most of the sets, Martin Sheen has a Heart Attack, The film goes 15 million overbudget, Marlon Brando is unprepared, and a Phillilpino war against communism causes many shots to be ruined. Interviews and retrospectives give shed light on the hectic shoot that lasted 238 days.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
this is the end ... all the children are insane
rogierr5 June 2002
'Are my methods unsound?' - 'I don't see a method at all, sir.'

Hearts of darkness: a filmmaker's apocalypse has become the mother of all making-of documentaries. At least that's what Coppola had in mind. I guess every making-of ever made wanted to be something like Hearts has accomplished. Problems in production, actors, story, editing, financing and directing are revealed. However, not much attention is paid to the actual adaptation of the original story and the difference in vision that was obviously there. The trouble surrounding Apocalypse Now as presented in this documentary makes you wonder how on earth Apocalypse Now was actually released at all. On the other hand that might just be exploitation of a supposedly disastrous production, like the trouble with 'The African Queen' (Huston, 1951). In that case, it would mean Coppola created a legend out of some futile problems to emphasize that you HAVE to see the final product.

Nevertheless his film IS spectacular. The helicopter action in Black Hawk Down can't top the impact of the lauded Huey-attack. And Apo features one of the greatest scores and (awardwinning) sound designs in history of cinema. With the emphasis on lunacy and despair in the form of surrealist cacophony. I would have liked to hear some more in this docu about the sound design that was as revolutionary as that of 'the Right Stuff' and 'Star Wars'. I really couldn't say that we were all tricked into pretensions and reputation-building (which IS the case with Vertigo if you ask me) for commercial purposes.

Almost forty years after Orson Welles wanted to make his first film out of Joseph Conrad's book 'Heart of Darkness' (yes, that's 3 years before Citizen Kane), Coppola started to create his own loose adaptation of the book. In this documentary is even an excerpt of Welles' 1938-radio adaptation of Heart of Darkness. I hope it will come with the docu when it is released on dvd (will it ever?).

Apo was supposed to be a sort of journey of a man into the past (hence the newly restored scene on the french plantage), almost maybe like Bergman's Wild Strawberries, but only the form and the surrealism, not the content of course. But if we may believe this docu, the production resembled just as much turmoil as the lunacy in the story itself. The French plantage (with french actress Aurore Clément ('Paris, Texas')) illustrates the fifties: the idea of the French still being in the forest and representing the fifties politics. Coppola elucidates why he initially shot and later cut out the scene. Fortunately it would later be presented to the world in the 'Redux' version. The story of Apo was supposed to take us back in time, to re-live Kurtz' adventure. Maybe even like the extraordinary 'Paris, Texas' (Wenders, 1984) that in content is also a journey into the past of a man.

For most people, this docu will be a delight just to see behind the scenes footage, because they don't see they're being manipulated by the actual SELECTION of footage and mutilation of interviews. It's very entertaining, but ultimately some points do not convince. How can the director of 'the Godfather 1+2' and 'the Conversation' let a production get out of hand like the way it's presented in 'Hearts'? And, the real heart of the concept isn't really touched by any of the interviewees. But, as an admirer of Apo, I say it's a must see, not only for the background stories (Welles), the problems created by actors (Sheen's attack, Brando's corpulence) and the lunacy on the set itself (idiodyssey?), but also to hear Francis Ford Coppola say that the film will not be good and a 20 million dollar disaster, while it was becoming the greatest warmovie ever made (right behind Catch-22 ;-). And for that, mr and mrs Coppola, I salute you. 9/10
23 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
jungle fever
Michael Neumann26 November 2010
Francis Ford Coppola was fond of saying 'Apocalypse Now' was "not about the Vietnam War; it was the Vietnam War", and this long overdue chronicle of the film's troubled production certainly proves his point. Using behind-the-scenes 16mm footage shot by Coppola's wife, Eleanor, and borrowing several passages from her published diaries, the documentary traces how what began as a modest wartime action movie (with nods to Joseph Conrad) would emerge, after several years, several tens of millions of dollars, and more than one physical and mental breakdown, as a brilliant, bloated, visionary epic. The production itself was often a living illustration of Murphy's Law: what could go wrong did go wrong, including a civil war, a devastating typhoon, a near-fatal heart attack suffered by actor Martin Sheen, and the appearance on the set of an unprepared, overweight Marlon Brando to play the emaciated Colonel Kurtz. Among the many revealing moments is Martin Sheen's drunken breakdown on camera (included in Coppola's finished film), and snippets of the fascinating, discreet audiotapes showing the director near the end of his wits. Invaluable hindsight is provided by cast and crew, including Coppola himself, who was never quite able to recover professionally from the experience.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
loading
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews