Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

One of the greatest documentaries about the making of a movie ever—and of ‘Apocalypse Now‘ no less.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper & Eleanor Coppola
1991 | USA | Documentary | 96 mins | 1.37:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be at least NC16 for coarse language and some disturbing scenes 

Plot: Featuring Eleanor Coppola’s footage of the Philippines production of Apocalypse Now, the film details the director’s self-financed, chaotic creation, teetering on the brink of complete collapse.
Awards: Official Selection (Cannes & Toronto)
Distributor: Lionsgate

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Filmmaking Process
Narrative Style:  Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Like Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams (1982) which chronicled the chaotic production of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse is also one of the greatest documentaries about the making of a movie ever—and of Apocalypse Now (1979) no less. 

Francis Ford Coppola’s infamous film, a descent into the hell of the Vietnam War by way of Joseph Conrad, had one of the most troubled productions in the history of cinema. 

The fact that the film got made remains a miracle, and till this day, it is regarded as one of the medium’s great masterpieces. 

Hearts of Darkness is similarly a trip to hell and back as Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, captured footage from the sets for much of its tumultuous shoot, which lasted more than six months in harsh conditions in the Philippines. 

“My movie is not about Vietnam… my movie is Vietnam.”

From destructive typhoons to a life-threatening heart attack suffered by lead actor Martin Sheen to a nonchalant Marlon Brando who asked to be paid US$1 million a week for a cameo, Coppola had to withstand an unprecedented amount of physical and psychological torture, not to mention having financed most of the ballooning budget on his own. 

Hearts of Darkness should also fascinate viewers interested in the wild ambitions and insanities of filmmakers and their cast and crew.

Coppola himself is stripped bare as we witness how a filmmaker can go from the confident high of making the earlier ‘Godfather’ pictures to the absolute low of not being able to figure out the ending for his new film amid the extremely trying circumstances. 

Hearts of Darkness is a reminder to everyone to persevere even when you find yourself in a pitch-black pit with seemingly no hope or the prospect of divine intervention. 

Grade: A-


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