Apocalypse Now is a legendary film, but, as many movie fans know, the production of Francis Ford Coppola's war epic was just as legendary in its own way. Fortunately, thanks in part to Coppola's wife Eleanor, folks can get a sense of what happened in the behind-the-scenes documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
By the time Francis got involved in the production of Apocalypse Now, he was a huge name, thanks to a couple of films about a mob family. Also, The Conversation. He was a man with big visions, and the willingness to throw his own money into the project if that let him make it the way he wanted to, which included taking his crew and holing up in the jungles of The Phillippines in the 1970s. The studio wanted a brief "making of the film" video, which is why Eleanor took up a camera to start filming things, as everything falls apart, including her husband's psyche. This footage is spliced together with interviews done before the documentary was released in 1991 with key folks from the production. Both Coppolas, actors such as Martin Sheen and Laurence Fishburne, screenwriter John Milius, and also George Lucas, who was involved with an early attempt to bring Milius' script to life. Take a moment to imagine Lucas' version of Apocalypse Now. Okay, you can continue now.
Part of the issue with the story behind the film being so well-known is that there is a good chance you probably already know about the problems that plagued the making of the movie. Much as with scripted films, spoilers can hinder a documentary. If there is no surprise, the movie is less enjoyable to watch, even if it is no less well crafted. If you don't know what happened, then this point is irrelevant to you, and if that is the case, Hearts of Darkness is certainly worth a watch if you are interested in filmmaking or Apocalypse Now. Conversely, if you are well-versed in the story, the movie still has things to offer you. It is a well-made documentary, and the interviews are still illuminating. The footage of Coppola making the film is consistently engaging, and the documentary includes footage from the movie, which helps tell the story as well. Plus, all this stuff is legendary for a reason, so there is still value in seeing it all play out. One of the first monologues we hear from Francis involves him saying he wants to shoot himself. That should give you a sense of things.
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse is far from a by-the-numbers, "making of" movie. It's an engaging documentary about a man with huge dreams and all the things that conspired to destroy them. You will learn how Apocalypse Now got made, and that's somewhat interesting enough as is, bu you will learn much more about one of the more unique movie ordeals every experienced by anybody. For anybody who has seen Apocalypse Now, this documentary is pretty much a necessary companion piece.