Film Threat archive logo


By Admin | November 15, 2007

Someone told me about this movie years ago, and I’ve been hoping to see it ever since. I finally had my chance when I received this DVD to review, and I have to say it lived up to my expectations. As I noted in my review of “Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier,” this documentary should have been included in that set. I still think it would have made sense, but I think I know why that didn’t happen, for a reason I’ll get to later.

If you’re an “Apocalypse Now” fan, you’ve probably heard of this near-mythical documentary, which played theatrically in 1991 and was later released on VHS. While Francis Ford Coppola and his family were on location for the arduous shooting of the movie in the mid-1970s, he enlisted his wife, Eleanor, to scrounge up some documentary footage for the studio to use as promotional material. An artist herself, she didn’t simply wander around randomly aiming her camera; she understood the historical importance of what was happening around her and captured its raw intensity. She even secretly recorded conversations with her husband in which he talked about what a disaster the film was, and how it was going to ruin him.

My favorite documentaries, such as the ones Laurent Bouzereau has produced for many classic films, dig deep into their subjects and expose their ugly innards for all the world to see, as this one does. (Kudos to Francis Ford Coppola for allowing his dark side to be exposed.) Most of them, however, don’t include the kind of visceral on-set footage Eleanor Coppola captured. Here we see not only the stress and strain of a shoot that dragged on for nearly a year, but also the light-hearted moments. Some occasions, such as the celebrations of the 100th and 200th days of shooting, combine both.

Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper also deserve plenty of credit for the way they skillfully weaved Eleanor’s footage with interviews conducted in 1990, creating a narrative that takes us on the same roller coaster the Coppolas boarded. If “Apocalypse Now” is Vietnam, as Francis Ford Coppola says at the beginning of this documentary, then “Hearts of Darkness” is “Apocalypse Now.” The cast and crew was on a journey similar to the one Willard faced as his boat made its way down the river.

This DVD also includes a commentary track with Eleanor and Francis, although they were recorded separately. It’s an interesting discussion, but there’s more dead air than one would expect. The commentary also doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience, except for relating some of Eleanor’s anecdotes about the trials she faced trying to capture her footage. Maybe there should be a documentary about the making of the documentary.

As a bonus, Paramount included “Coda: Thirty Years Later,” a 62-minute documentary Eleanor made about Francis’ latest movie, “Youth Without Youth.” (And thus, the likely reason why “Hearts of Darkness” wasn’t included in “The Complete Dossier.”) Of course, one can never capture lightning in a bottle twice, and this work is more pedestrian than “Hearts of Darkness.” His latest movie is a self-financed effort made outside the clutches of studio executives, so the drama tends to revolve around topics like his frustration with the ballooning size of the crew.

If you’re curious how a legend works, however, “Coda” allows you to be a fly on the wall as Coppola directs his cast, which includes Tim Roth. The film’s premise sounds intriguing, but this is a guy who unfortunately began to fade from relevance years ago. Watching “Hearts of Darkness,” we see a man who, while tormented, was also fearless about going out on a limb for his art. He expresses a desire in “Coda” to return to that way of thinking, so I hold out hope that perhaps he had a bottle of lightning still lying around the Zoetrope offices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join our Film Threat Newsletter

Newsletter Icon