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Decadence and Disturbance in 1970s Filmmaking: Coppola's Apocalypse Now

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Derek Gladwin

on 11 March 2016

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Transcript of Decadence and Disturbance in 1970s Filmmaking: Coppola's Apocalypse Now

Derek Gladwin
University of British Columbia
Lecture for Arts One 001B

Decadence and Disturbance in 1970s Film-making: Coppola's
Apocalypse Now

Heart of Darkness
Film History
Orson Wells: radio play on Aug. 6, 1938; 1939 wrote a screenplay with John Houseman
CBS Television
Playhouse 90
made a loose adaptation (with Boris Karloff) in 1958
In 1969, the screenwriter John Milius wrote a script called the
Psychedelic Soldier
but stopped before shooting due to cost
In 1975, Coppola decided to draw on the Milius script to make
Apocalypse Now,
which finally came out in 1979
In 1993, a film titled
Heart of Darkness
was made starring Tim Roth and John Malkovich
Francis Ford Coppola
Decadence and Disturbance
Apocalypse Now
: Remake or not?
Conrad never receives screen credits in Coppola's film
Significantly distorts the plot of Conrad's novella
Heart of Darkness
Many critics have criticized Coppola's version for its inaccuracy; John Pym particularly criticizes the ending as lacking any ethical impulse*
Contains a different title
Changes many of the character names
Is set in Vietnam in the 1960s, not the Congo Free State in the late 19th C.
*Pym, John. "
Apocalypse Now
: An Errand Boy's Journey."
Sight and Sound
49 (1979-80): 9-10.
New Hollywood //
American New Wave of Filmmakers
Emerged from the
French New Wave
of the 1950s and 1960s, which began the journal
Cahiers du Cinéma
(founded and edited by
André Bazin,
among others, in 1951)
French New Wave directors included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, etc.
Directors (called filmmakers) sought artistic rather than commercial appreciation
Directors are the
primary creative force
who wrote, directed, produced, (and sometimes acted in) their own films
Stylistic features:
Excessive or "pretentious" and erratic
(visual arrangement // visual storytelling)
Opposed characters (not stars), innovative camera angles, lighting, and editing, master shots, etc.
Adaptations to literary works rather than film scripts; many cultural references
author + subject = work

Based upon a style where the film remains divorced from its formal structure -- i.e., smooth transitions between time and space or
"invisible style"

were considered employees and not artists;
(actors) were the major focus, not form and technique
(writing) superseded formal innovation
All films were
to look similar in style and formal structure
Major 8 studios
controlled Hollywood: MGM, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, RKO, Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists
Classical Era of Hollywood
1927-1963 ("Golden Age")
Auteurism (Auteur Theory)
New Wave Hollywood (Post-Classical Era)
Ranges between
late 1960s to early 1980s (1967-1982?)
Responds to two decades (1950s-60s) dominated by television, and draws from the French New Wave
Includes directors who were often educated in
film school
, and supportive of
, such as Stephen Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Terrence Malick, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese
Auteur theory
, where the director contains most of the creative license (writing, directing, and production), not the film studios executives
Range between classical Hollywood and European and Asian art films
Use of
extravagant or self-indulgent
styles that affect the narrative (story) of the film; e.g., making of the film is a story as much as the narrative in the film
Use of unconventional narratives without resolution or typical plot arcs (rise and fall of action)
Discomfort or
viewers (use of long-takes, realism, and method acting)
Challenges narrative linearity and emphasizes chaos and fragmentation

Andres Sarris, "Notes on the
Theory in 1962"
1) An auteur has technical expertise

2) An auteur's personality permeates the film style and becomes a signature

3) An auteur's film exhibits tension between the auteur's personality and the material
Born in Detroit in
Writer, director, and producer, and significant figure in the
New Wave of Hollywood
Enrolled in graduate film school in 1960 at
1969 attempted to start his own production company titled
5 Academy Awards
[1], and
Godfather II
The Godfather
The Great Gatsby
The Conversation
The Godfather II
Apocalypse Now
The Outsiders
The Godfather III
(1990), and
Bram Stoker's Dracula

Historical and Cultural Context
Vietnam War (1964-1973)
USA Interventionism / "domino effect"
Absurd war that was fought not only between the US and Northern Vietnamese, and Viet Cong, but also culturally through media and counter-culture
No formal rules; first war to receive such media coverage, as though it were a film with actors
(Culture that resists the mores and customs of the mainstream culture)
1960s protests
Civil Rights
Woman's Rights
Renaissance of the Arts
Revolution for artists, participants, music, politics, education, etc.
Drugs and psychedelics
Escape from reality
Form of enlightenment
Acid Apocalypse
Filmmaking and Production
Cultural and Literary References
The Doors
60s and 70s Rock Band (psychedelic, experimental, improvisational)
Known for decadence
Late 60s and 70s music broke formal rules of song writing/making
This music parallels filmmaking of this period

T.S. Eliot
Modernist poet know for formal experimentation and lack of structural integrity
Wrote about the banal existence of life in poems such as "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), "The Wasteland" (1922), and
"The Hollow Men" (1925)
Poetry mirrored the syncopation of Jazz
Problems with production
Heart Attack
Philippine Civil War
"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. 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
Time, and
Film Form
Defies typical narrative film (formal plot structure of rise and fall)
Constantly changing of the script
No sense of resolution (slow burn)
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I'll never look into your eyes, again

Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free
Desperately in need, of some, stranger's hand
In a, desperate land

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane, all the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
There's danger on the edge of town
Ride the King's highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles

Ride the snake, he's old, and his skin is cold
The west is the best, the west is the best
Get here, and we'll do the rest
The blue bus is callin' us, the blue bus is callin' us
Driver, where you taken us

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived, and, then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door, and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
Mother, I want to, murder you

C'mon baby, take a chance with us
C'mon baby, take a chance with us
C'mon baby, take a chance with us

And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin' a blue rock, on a blue bus
Doin' a blue rock, c'mon, yeah
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
This is the end, beautiful friend

This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end
"The End"
Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

"The Hollow Men"

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

"The End" (1967)
Full transcript