Friday, September 16, 2011

Quote of the Day (Francis Coppola’s Wife on the Madness of Filming “Apocalypse Now”)

September 16, 1976, Pamsanjan [The Philippines]. Last night Francis climbed up a scaffolding onto a lightning platform and just lay there. It was raining lightly, and when I climbed up, it was wet with standing puddles on top. He was about as miserable as I have ever seen him. It was his ultimate nightmare. He was on this huge set of this huge production with every asset mortgaged against the outcome. He kept saying, ‘Let me out of here, let me just quit and go home. I can’t do it. I can’t see it. If I can’t see it, I can’t do anything. This is like the opening night; the curtain goes up and there is no show.'”—Eleanor Coppola, “Print the Legend,” in Little White Lies, Issue 35 (The “Apocalypse Now” Issue)

The article from which this quote is taken includes juicy extracts from Notes: On the Making of Apocalypse Now, Eleanor Coppola’s diary of production of that troubled, flawed masterpiece by husband Francis Ford Coppola.

Don't let the accompanying photo fool you. The director was barely in control of this film, let alone his mind, throughout production and afterward, as he struggled to piece it together.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness might have inspired this cinematic fever dream of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, but Conrad’s title could just as easily have applied to the director, cast and crew as they shot for months in the jungles of the Philippines.
By the time of this particular diary entry, the director had:

* sacked his original Willard, Harvey Keitel, after only two weeks of filming;

* watched Keitel’s replacement, Martin Sheen, play a drunken, nervous-breakdown scene that came all too close to reality;

* blinked in horror at the theft of the payroll one day;

* worked to get the production going again after a typhoon wrecked all the sets and caused a two-month delay;

* puzzled over how to film Marlon Brando when the handsome matinee idol of the 1950s showed up the first day massively overweight;

* overseen a production in which drug use was so rampant that a memo was circulated warning that “we have no influence whatsoever” on Filipino enforcement of local laws; and

*agonized over how to keep the project from falling further behind schedule and continuing to shoot over budget.

Ahead of the director was Sheen’s severe heart attack, Brando’s threat to walk out of the picture, the near-breakup of the Coppolas’ marriage because of Francis’s affair, thoughts of suicide, and frantic last-minute attempts to fit an incoherent ending into the rest of the film.

Francis admitted later, “Little by little we went crazy.” Who wouldn’t?

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