This image provided by Zoetrope Corp shows director Francis Ford Coppola on location directing a scene in "Apocalypse Now Final Cut." Photo: Zoetrope Corp via AP

Q&A: Francis Ford Coppola on 'Apocalypse Now' 40 years later


If filmmaking is a war, then "Apocalypse Now" was very nearly Francis Ford Coppola's Waterloo.

The battles Coppola fought while making his 1979 epic nearly destroyed him. A typhoon wrecked a major set. Harvey Keitel was replaced by Martin Sheen. Coppola searched desperately for an ending. He worked even harder to coax a few lines out of Marlon Brando.

But out of that tumult Coppola created a masterpiece. And 40 years later, "Apocalypse Now" has never looked so good.

Coppola has supervised a 4K restoration of the film and, for the second time, tweaked the cut. Having perhaps gone too far in his 2001 "Redux," which added 53 minutes, "Apocalypse Now Final Cut," which opens in theaters Friday and on home video Aug 27, splits the difference at 183 minutes.

In its present and restored form, the majesty and madness of "Apocalypse Now" is more vivid and hallucinatory than ever. Coppola considers it the definitive version. It completes a four decade journey turning what was almost a mess into the masterwork he envisioned from the start.

In a recent interview, Coppola, 80, spoke about "Apocalypse Now" then and now, why he was "terrified" after making it and why he has trouble letting go of his films.

AP: Did you consciously want to put your stamp on the war movie?

Coppola: The Vietnam War was different than other American wars. It was a West Coast sensibility rather than an East Coast sensibility. In war movies before "Apocalypse," there was always a sort of Brooklyn character, an East Coast and Midwest personality. In "Apocalypse Now," it was LA and it was surfing and it was drugs and it was rock 'n' roll so it was more of a West Coast ambiance to the war. In addition, there were many sort of odd contradictions that related to the morality involved. There was a line I was once read that's not in the film but to me it sums up the meaning of the movie. It was: "We teach the boys to drop fire on people yet we won't let them write the word 'f---' on their airplanes because it's obscene."

AP: Eleanor Coppola, your wife, wrote in her "Notes" that you took on some of Kurtz' megalomania while making "Apocalypse Now."

Coppola: Whenever I made a movie, I was always personally compared to the main character. When I was doing "The Godfather," I was Michael Corleone, Machiavellian and sly. When I made "Apocalypse Now," I was the megalomaniac. When I made "Tucker," I was the innovative entrepreneur. The truth of the matter is all my life if I have been anything I've been enthusiastic and imaginative. I don't have talent that I wish I had. My talent was more enthusiasm and imagination and a kind of prescient sense, a sense of knowing what's going to happens before it happens.

AP: Did you emerge from "Apocalypse Now" a different filmmaker?

Coppola: Yeah, but no more than I was after the extreme experience of the "Godfather" movie. Every film I have made has been a new sheet of paper. I rarely would repeat a style. Every movie I worked on, I came out of it being a different person.

AP: Is going back to your films to get them just right for you part of preserving your legacy? Do you think about how you want you and your work to be remembered?

Coppola: I'm not so crazy about my legacy. I want people to know that I liked little kids and I was a good camp counselor when I was a camp counselor in 1957, that I have a family with wonderful children that I find so fascinating and very talented. But ultimately, to me, the greatest legacy you can have is that someone somewhere saw one of the things you did and it inspired them to do something that goes and then inspired someone else in the future. In a way, it's a form of immortality.

AP: Today, most directors would only have the opportunity of "Apocalypse Now"-like scale in a superhero film. Do you sympathize for them?

Coppola: Absolutely. I feel now we have this bifurcated cinema in our country being of independent films where we have the most wonderful wealth of talent and then the industry films which are pretty much superhero films. One has too much money — the studio, Marvel comic-type movies. They're basically making the same movie over and over again, and seducing all of the talent. Everyone is hoping to get a small part in one of those movies because that's where the money is. And as opposed, the wonderful, unusual, exotic, interesting, provocative and beautiful independent films have no money. The budget for the craft service of one of those superhero films could more than be a budget for some of these brilliant young — and not only young — filmmakers. That is a tragedy.

AP: The long life your films have had can lead to strange places. Prosecutors wanted to show "The Godfather" during Roger Stone's trial. Donald Trump has cited "Godfather II" as one of his favorite films.

Coppola: The list of fans of the "Godfather" films not only includes of the gentleman you speak of but also Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi. Just go through all of the toughest dictators in the modern world and their favorite movie is "The Godfather."

AP: What do you make of that?

Coppola: Because "The Godfather" is an American story of an immigrant family that ultimately finds success in America. Success is not a bad thing but it depends on how you define it. If you define success as wealth, influence, power and fame, you have to know that does not bring happiness. We could go through the famous top 1% who have all the things we just mentioned and you'll find some of the most unhappy people on Earth. What brings happiness is friendship, learning, creativity. We know what brings happiness. But what are you going to do when every nation in the world is pointing its main objective toward something that does not add up?

You can find a fuller version of this story here:

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Big fan of the Redux, didn't think I would, being so used to the theatre cut but it's fascinating.

If you like this film, read Michael Herr's book, Dispatches. This was an influence on Coppola's masterpiece and Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I'd love to see this recut in the theater. If the opportunity comes up I will for sure. It's a powerful movie.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A man's film. No women in it at all

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

A man's film. No women in it at all

Have you forgotten the Playboy bunnies and the French plantation owner’s wife?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

A man's film. No women in it at all

Yes, it’s misogynistic rubbish made by a dead white European male.

Throw it in the rubbish along with any other film which reflected the standards of the time. I read one critic looking back at alien, released around the same time, which claimed Ripley negatively reflected gender stereotypes.

Coppola and Scott, sexist dinosaurs.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

a dead white European male.

Someone should let Coppola know he's dead, and the wrong nationality to boot, so that he doesn't waste any more time making Megalopolis.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I like what Coppola says in this interview, particularly the response to the question about about his legacy. He sounds like a pretty level-headed, modest, intelligent guy, and "level-headed" certainly wasn't the first word used about Coppola by people I've read talking about the movie. The doco about the making of the movie, Hearts of Darkness, is almost as good as the movie itself. An article about the dramas in the making of the movie:

I've never been a fan of the Godfather movies but I'd always put Apocalypse Now in any list of my favourite movies of all time. It's a genuine tour de force.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Someone should let Coppola know he's dead, and the wrong nationality to boot, so that he doesn't waste any more time making Megalopolis.

Humour not your thing?

I just find the whole thing tiresome. A movie made 40 years ago about a war where the vast majority of combatants were male, and male actors were cast, gets dismissed as a “man’s movie”.

Why the need for the divisive comments?

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Humour not your thing?

Sure, when something is funny.

gets dismissed as a “man’s movie”.

Why the need for the divisive comments?

I don't find calling something 'a man's movie' dismissive or divisive. It's not an insult, is it, and more than calling a film a women's movie is an insult (though there are those who think it is).

It is a fact that Apocalypse Now is based on a book by a man, adapted and directed by a man, the main cast are all men, the music was written by a man... The women in the cast are generally nameless, voiceless characters.

Perhaps, as you say, the vast majority of combatants in the Vietman War were men, but "... nearly 11,000 Vietnamese women and over 5,000 American women fought..." there [Wiki]

Calling it a man's movie doesn't necessarily mean it's for men, but it's certainly by them.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Tsk. Error:

"...any more than calling a film a women's movie is an insult..."

0 ( +3 / -3 )

A man's film. 

Is there something wrong with that?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Should The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants have been re-written to be more male friendly?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Harvey as willard:

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A man's film. No women in it at all

There is nothing at all from stopping women from making a movie with all women, and nothing at all stopping half the world's population from enjoying it. Stop complaining and make the movies you think people want. Or do you want men to make the women's movies for you?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@commanteer et al:

Stop complaining 

Why do you see Lamilly's post as a complaint?

A man's film. No women in it at all

It's not entirely accurate, because women do appear in it, but none of them has significant billing, few of them have lines or a character name, and barely one was involved in the making of the film.

But, again, where has the poster complained? Why has this simple comment triggered the menfolk?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

A man's film.

I never really saw it as a movie about the Vietnam war so much. It was more about the general nature of men - much like the book it was based on. Women should perhaps watch it as a warning. (Men should probably watch it as a warning too.)

3 ( +4 / -1 )

But, again, where has the poster complained? Why has this simple comment triggered the menfolk?

I’m still waiting for the original poster to tell us if there is a problem with either this movie being a mans movie, or if there is a problem with movies for men existing at all. Or maybe the poster was just pointing out that it’s all men and doesn’t think that’s a problem at all. It would be strange to even make the comment in that case though.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A genius adaptation of the original novel Heart of Darkness. Timothy Findlay also wrote an excellent book called Headhunter which touches on both. Anyway, I got to see this on the big screen a year ago as they replayed it, something they have been doing in theaters in the morning with old flicks, and I greatly appreciated it. Blues Brothers was the most recent one I saw, last month.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The women in the cast are generally nameless, voiceless characters.

True, dat. There's no doubt it is a flawed film but it's still, in my opinion, a masterpiece.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Why the need for the divisive comments?

You should learn to end your posts with LOL or (sarcasm) because computer text does not come with the necessary tone we normally use to figure that out. There are a ton of people who would have said what you did in complete earnest. Such are the times we live in where the gender debate is jam packed with utter blind or calculated insanity.

Someone should do an all female remake or reimagining of this movie like they did Ghost Busters so we can watch it belly flop at the box office.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

why trying to extract brilliance from a 1979,s masterpiece with a 2019,s politicallycorrect kind of speech. i,m all for women, but this is about the horrors of war and the effect it has on men. men fought in Vietnam War, men died there. this movie is all set in Vietnam (not back home in the USA) so there was very little room for strong female characters. we should just enjoy this amazing movie just the way it is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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