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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Hearts of Darkness': A Harrowing Documentation of the Filming of Landmark Film 'Apocalypse Now'

Movie poster for the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse from Francis Ford Coppola's wife Eleanor

“Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse” (1991) is a stunningly insightful and often harrowing documentary film, recounting the filming of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” in The Philippines between 1976 and 1977—a production beset by cost overruns, lengthy delays, perilous health concerns and a myriad of logistical nightmares.

Utilizing footage shot by Coppola’s wife Eleanor while on set, directors Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper explore the complicated and often hazardous conditions the cast and crew were forced to endure, all at the behest of the increasingly megalomaniacal Coppola. On the heels of his enormous duel successes of “The Godfather” and "The Godfather Part II”, Coppola set his sights on adapting Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness” as a surrealistic Vietnam-era odyssey, little realizing the enormity of his aspirations nor the toll they would take on himself, his family and many of his collaborators.

Including first-hand accounts by key participants, including star Martin Sheen (who famously suffered a heart attack on set), “Hearts of Darkness” paints a vivid portrait of creative aspiration taken to the extreme and beyond. Coppola increasingly embodies the film’s antagonist Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in his immense egotism and unbridled self-regard, even as his worst fears and insecurities are often divulged by way of Eleanor’s recordings. It’s an extraordinary glimpse behind the curtain that provides a fascinating peek into one celebrated auteur’s remarkable genius—and serves as a strikingly antithetical testament to the creation of what is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.


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