Movies : Off-Centerpiece : Hold On! How’d We Get All the Way From Cannes to Col. Kurtz’s Place?


Sam Bottoms was actually on amphetamines when his character was on LSD in “Apocalypse Now.” Martin Sheen was so drunk and agitated during his big scene in the movie that the crew thought he might attack the camera. And Marlon Brando not only showed up grotesquely overweight, but he hadn’t even read the book on which the film was based and knew nothing about the character he was to play.

These are among the revelations in “Hearts of Darkness,” a documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam epic, one of the most troubled productions in movie history.

The recently completed documentary, written and directed by young filmmakers Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, was financed by Showtime for airing this fall and was shown for the first time last week at the Cannes Film Festival.


“Hearts of Darkness” was culled from 140 hours of raw film and audiotapes collected and brought back from the two-year shoot in Manila by Eleanor Coppola, the filmmaker’s wife. The materials had been in Zoetrope storage for more than 11 years. They were released now, Bahr and Hickenlooper say, because “Apocalypse Now” is still unfinished business for the director.

Zoetrope will also benefit from foreign sales, which could be large, based on the reception the film got in Cannes. “Apocalypse Now” premiered as a work in progress at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and shared the Golden Palm award.

“Hearts of Darkness” obviously benefited from Eleanor Coppola’s relationship with the director. In addition to the usual overview of a film in production--the building of sets, interviews with actors during breaks, shots of scenes being shot--her cameras and audiotape recorders caught her husband in private conversations with lawyers, agents and studio executives as the film spiraled through a series of crises.

Among the crises: the firing of actor Harvey Keitel after one week of production and the hiring of Martin Sheen (Eleanor Coppola, who narrates the film, says only that it was clear from looking at dailies that a change was needed); the typhoons that twice destroyed the sets; Sheen’s heart attack, and a rebel uprising that caused the Philippine government to recall the helicopters it was renting to the movie company.

There is plenty of humor in the film, under the heading “Sure, it’s funny now”:

In one of those frenzied telephone calls, Coppola is screaming--presumably at someone at United Artists--not to let word of Sheen’s heart attack get around in Hollywood. “Even if he dies, he’s not dead until I say so,” Coppola says.

In another telephone call, Coppola is dumbfounded to learn that Brando, who got a $1-million advance on his $3-million-for-three-weeks’-work deal, was going to back out because his scenes had been postponed, and he wasn’t going to return the advance.

A conversation between Coppola and Dennis Hopper becomes almost surreal as the director starts screaming at the obviously stoned actor to remember his lines, and Hopper yells back that he has no lines to remember.

Hopper, who was in Cannes for two other movies, said after the “Hearts of Darkness” screening that when Coppola offered him the role of the crazed American photojournalist in “Apocalypse,” “I told him I would have to have one ounce of cocaine a week.” Hopper, off drugs now for several years, admitted that it was hard seeing himself in the state he was in during production of “Apocalypse” but said that “I love my performance in it.”

The documentary includes recent interviews with Coppola and most of the actors, plus screenwriter John Milius and George Lucas, Coppola’s original choice as “Apocalypse’s” director. Among those conspicuously absent are Brando, who declined to be interviewed, and Keitel, who would not allow the filmmakers to use footage from his week’s worth of work. There is also no mention of the temporary estrangement of the Coppolas during the arduous shoot.

Executive producers Fred Roos and Doug Claybourne said the film started out as a standard behind-the-scenes, making-of-a-movie promo film. “Eleanor, being naive, just shot it all,” Roos said. “Fourteen years later, it’s not a promo film at all. It’s a very intimate portrait of the tortures of a director.”

“There are a few of those films people never stop talking about,” said Claybourne, who was an assistant director on “Apocalypse.” “Part of the interest in this film was putting some of it to rest.”

Said Roos, a longtime Coppola associate: “I can’t speak for Francis, but he very well might prefer that this film doesn’t exist. But he wasn’t about to stop it.”