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Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Later: Authorized Alternates of Coppola's 1979 Film for Alternate Contexts

Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Later: Authorized Alternates of Coppola's 1979 Film for Alternate Contexts

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Published by rogerlb
There have been no fewer than 4 "official" releases of "Apocalypse Now," all curated and approved by Francis Coppola at different times and in different cultural contexts. Rather than positioning one version as the original, most authentic, or the directorial preference, each addresses different audiences and receptive expectations of the film and its troubled history, the status of the filmmaker in a continuum of a long-lived and variegated career, and the resonance of the Vietnam War as treated in popular cultural texts and as a narrative text that continues to be revised.
There have been no fewer than 4 "official" releases of "Apocalypse Now," all curated and approved by Francis Coppola at different times and in different cultural contexts. Rather than positioning one version as the original, most authentic, or the directorial preference, each addresses different audiences and receptive expectations of the film and its troubled history, the status of the filmmaker in a continuum of a long-lived and variegated career, and the resonance of the Vietnam War as treated in popular cultural texts and as a narrative text that continues to be revised.

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Published by: rogerlb on Apr 01, 2010
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 “Apocalypse Now” and Apocalypse Later:Authorized Alternates of Coppola’s 1979 Film for Alternate ContextsBy Roger Leatherwood BrownINTRODUCTIONAbout 40 minutes into Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, a television crew filmsWillard and his men as they land on the beach that Lt. Colonel Kilgore is holding againstthe Vietcong. The TV director, a khaki-clad man with a beard, yells “Don’t look at thecamera! Just go through like you’re fighting!”This “documentary” filmmaker, concerned with the verisimilitude of his footage, is played by Francis Coppola himself. The cameo was unplanned – the original actor wasunavailable the day of shooting
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- but the moment goes beyond being a mereHitchcockian cameo. By the time of the release of “Apocalypse Now” in 1979 he wasone of the most recognizable filmmakers of the new Movie Brat era,
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which includedGeorge Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and others. His very public struggles to film, edit, fund,and ultimately finish “Apocalypse Now” had become common fodder for gossipcolumns, show business magazines, and news outlets for the past 4 years.Coppola originally considered Apocalypse Now a fairly straightforward follow-up to TheGodfather II and The Conversation (both 1973) that had won him critical and financialacclaim. But the production of Apocalypse Now would turn into his “own personaVietnam,”
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a 5-year endurance test for Coppola, involving cataclysmic weather, ongoing
 
Brown/Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Later 
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 script and actor issues, and major financial and personal crises that would put hislivelihood and family at risk.The production of the film has been well documented, and the purpose of this paper isn’tto reiterate what others have done in depth.
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The amount of ink devoted to its production both during and after its release has contributed to its status as a troubled work that wasover-budget, misguided, unfilmable and even unfinishable. Instead, I seek to explore howthe nature of the production created a shifting identity for the film as an elusive “original”that has continued to change as Coppola has gone back and “remade” it.Over the course of the last 25 years, the film we know as Apocalypse Now has beenembodied in numerous incarnations, with 3 distinct (and official) theatrical releases, atleast 2 additional home-video versions, all of which were authored and authorized byCoppola himself, and a rumored 5 1/2 hour cut that has circulated unofficially. The filmhas never escaped its status as troubled and unfinished, a perpetual “work in progress”that never achieved a final state.Yet this “unfinished” film has entered the canon as one of the most important films in thelast 30 years dealing with the Vietnam War, and was chosen in 2000 by the NationalRegistry by the Library of Congress for special preservation.This paper explores the difficulty of a film to achieve the state of a “preferred” version ina troubled production and post-production history, using the unique example of Apocalypse Now
 
, particularly illustrative because the director was responsible for alliterations of the film.
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It will also consider the changing concept of and concern for an
 
Brown/Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Later 
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 ”original” version in shifting cultural contexts, a concept that is increasingly less critical,as multiple versions can be “authorized.”ART IMITATES LIFEThe ambiguity as to Apocalypse Now’s true shape and specific narrative reflects our ownshifting relationship to the film, as an audience, and its role as a cultural and historical barometer.The myth of AN
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began before it was released – its troubled production became a matter of public record as reports of bad weather, firings and health problems of the actors, aswell as Coppola’s budgetary woes and apparent increasing megalomania and profligacyfilled newspapers and gossip columns worldwide.The root of the problem may be found in Coppola’s attempt to have his film embrace allthe contradictions of war, imperialism, and morality. During his press conference atCannes, Coppola tried to defend why the film got away from him:My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It
is
Vietnam. It’s what itwas really like. It was crazy… and the way we made it was very much like theway the Americans were in Vietnam. We were in the jungle, we had access to toomuch money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.
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 Coppola submitted the first public version after last-minute editing and much publicspeculation to the 1977 Cannes Film Festival, as a “work in progress.”
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This was the firsttime a film had ever been shown that was unfinished. Although winning the Palme d’Or in that form, Coppola would further tinker with it (and test screen it) before opening adeluxe version in 70mm for initial release, then adjusting it again for the wider 35mm

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