Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

And all the children are insane...

Today I got Heart of Darkness out of the library – the film of the book which Apocalypse Now was based on. Now before you accuse me of anything (not that chasing an actor’s full filmography down is anything to be ashamed of…), this was mainly motivated by a desire to write this post and not because of the presence of a Mr Tim Roth, whom I confess to have affection for in an honest-it's-more-meaningful-than-a-teen-crush sortofa way. I’ll admit he’s not traditionally handsome, something in the way he moves I personally find deeply attractive. And his voice is lovely. But anyway…*cold shower*

I had such fun doing the Departed-Infernal Affairs compare, I thought I’d do it again. Even if it seems something of a foregone conclusion.

Before I start...the basis of Heart of Darkness is that a trader on a remote African outpost (John Malkovitch!) has gone suspiciously silent (some say mad...) , and a sailor (named Marlowe, played by Tim Roth) is sent downriver to recover the ivory and return him metaphorically to the fold. Apocalpse Now takes the premise, and moves it to the Vietnam war - Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent downriver to find and kill a fellow soldier (Marlon Brando) who's gone batty in the jungle. The films are abbreviated to HoD and AN respectively; to save confusion, the two Kurtzes are referred to by their actor's names.

The following is vaguely spoilery - it won't significantly spoil your enjoyment of either film, but really really sensitive people might want to steer clear.

1. This is a bit auteurist but I’m going to say it all the same. Between them, Francis Ford Coppola and Marlon Brando generate more star power than the whole cast of HoD put together. Indeed, either of them individually would give their reputations a good beating. Just reading the cast and crew lists, you know which one is going to be better. It’s a foregone conclusion. Even without this knowedge, AN looks and feels 100% classic. Was I born knowing every line and inflection of that insanely quoteable script? I want to mouth the words of the script at the screen. You can see where all that over-run and over-budget went. In comparison, the production values on HoD are dead cheap. The script clunked and at times I couldn’t follow the words.

2 Hmmm, our hero-guy…see here I’m torn. Because though they occupied similar roles in the story, they were actually completely different. Marlowe starts off clean, and ends up broken (so he says, though I never really felt that. It just looked like an extended jaunt to me. And maybe it was the character’s tourist-y look, but I found myself thinking “oooh, I really fancy going on a river cruise”. Probably not the intended effect. It’s like Jaws inspiring you to go for a sea dip.) It’s a traditional arc, performed well enough; Willard’s is slightly more unusual – because he starts broken. He kills innocent puppy-harbouring Vietnamese ladies. And when he arrives at Kurtz’s compound the sense of terror and “oh my god!” is heightened because you literally have no idea what can happen next.

3 At the end of AN, Willard comments that he isn’t even in their f***ing army any more. I wanted to mention it, partially because it’s my favourite line, and partly because I got the sense Marlowe wasn’t really in their “army” to begin with. So his transformation wasn’t that staggering. It's not better, just different. And more unusual - so I think that gives Willard the edge.

4 The great Kurtz…John Malkovitch does a good job of escaping Brando’s influence, if not his shadow. He plays him as himself – the same dry, slightly distant performance he always puts in. that’s not necessarily a bad thing – I mean, it can’t be easy trying to follow such a Big Famous Performance ( though the same can be said of the whole film). But there was something missing…any depth. Yes Kurtz is mad – the problem is, in HoD, that’s it. He’s only a bit eccentric. Brando is so mad that things come full circle and he actually starts sounding sane again. You’re almost seduced by it. Now naturally, I don’t know what the book has to say about this, but I liked MB’s epic rendition. Like in the Godfather, you sense this is a guy worthy of respect – JM is just a poor fool. At the same time, he is basically an interesting character in both versions – slow delivery and cool scripting means you’ll be hanging on every syllabus and breath to hear what great mind-expanding proclamation he comes out with next.

5 As a pair: well, Brando just towers over the movie. You know Kurtz is coming – he’s at the end of the river. He’s the journey itself – JM is just the destination. You never feel the duality and connection between them the same way Willard does. Willard, the other assassin, the other soldier…Marlowe smiles like he’s been enlightened, but to be honest, I don’t really believe him. Whose life could be changed by such a small, uninspiring figure?

6 Are there any other similarities besides the basic premise? One other character who survived from the book was Dennis Hopper – the wacky, crazy Kurtz-worshipping loon. I liked him in both versions. You get a scrawled note saying words to the effect of “kill them all”
And it was probably a bad sigh when I beamed on “the horror…” but it just made me so happy, and instantly reminded me I could (and should...) have spent the evening watching Apocalypse Now instead.

7 Obviously, these are important symbolistic works about the nature of man; but another connection is that both films have a cute fluffy animal. AN has a golden retriever puppy – I don’t like dogs in general, but it’s positively the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen. Yet HoD has a monkey, and it’s a pretty cool monkey at that. My sister tells me that, in general, monkeys are cooler than puppies. I’m not sure…

8 Biggest complaint for HoD - where was the atmosphere? Ok, so AN had a lot more fog than HoD, but please. The difference illustrates what good direction actually is. When you write, people will tell you to show not tell. The same applies to filmmaking. 2001:A Space Odyssey makes space feel big, and cold, and empty – in Star Wars it could just be a dark room next door. HoD tells us that people keep coming back insane and changed, that Kurtz is a guy to be feared, that the river is a scary place. But it isn’t, really. By the end of AN you really feel a bit crazy yourself - the music, the words, the shots, whatever. In terms of the language of film, it’s the difference between T.S. Eliot and a grocery list.

Perhaps it’s hard to get a grip on AN because of the many many versions, and never quite knowing what ending you’re going to get when you switch on the dvd player. As for HoD, the atmosphere is never sustained – there are many eerie touches - but I’m sure that most people will find the hokiness all a bit silly. You get the feeling something nasty might be about to happen, but it doesn’t compare with the terror of Willard arriving.

Let me try and explain what I mean. The traditional Hollywood structure builds to a climax, and then rolls back down towards the finale. Like a hill. That’s what HoD does. AN takes you to the climax and then the track stops. You’re left…hanging, with no idea where things could possibly go. I’ve seen very few films which take me to that point, but it’s wonderful. Perhaps it’s because the atmosphere is more satisfying, or Kurtz has been built up more, or because Willard is already pretty damn twisted. There’s no significance in the moment whatsoever…

9 Ok, perhaps this is just me, but has anybody ever wondered what the randomly tribal people are actually doing in AN’s universe? Why are there random tribal natives in Vietnam?! I don’t know! The presence of a local, pagan force makes much more sense in HoD - finally, one big point in its favour!

10 Other little things for HoD: one of the characters gets a cool pair of arm warmers. It contains one of the grossest and messy deaths to one of the nicest characters I’ve seen since…well, you probably know when. Not that that’s necessarily a good-good thing, but it was certainly unexpected, and unexpectedly nasty at that. And Marlowe’s interpretation of some final words were wonderfully chilly.

Verdict: 5-3 to Apocalypse Now. That exercise was pretty much a waste of my time and yours. It was a foregone conclusion, and actually pretty unfair to compare them. I could have written this before seeing it. HoD wasn’t a terrible film, but it was very average despite a few nice touches here and there. Love it or hate it, AN is all masterpiece - the comparison just makes it more staggering.

And I can't really say I've learnt anything profound from it, save that:
a) AN is even more wonderful than I thought it was
b) JM is far better than TR at actng wth a monkey on his head. It’s a taent all respectable actors should learn.
c) And TR looks great in pajamas…

100% droolfest.

This was all inspired by watching AN two days previous (I wanted to see how our redux version compared with the PG Singaporean import I'd seen in New Zealand. The answer is, no explosions at the end but more naked women) and, as I'd suddenly noticed it was a 15 and not an 18 as I'd thought, I put it in with my sister in the room. She loved it. Well, she loved the start - she got bored half way through, which 'tis a pity because without Kurtz...well, that's that isn't it? I interviewed and got her comments down verbatim:

A: “I enjoyed it, I thought it was very pretty. I wanted to spend the whole time taking pictures of it. I didn’t like it when they hacked up the cow, that was yucky.”
E: “Anything else?”
A: “Erm, not really. I liked the puppy, and I liked Lance, and I liked it when they went surfing And I loved the smell of napalm in the morning…”

So nothing to add about man’s mental decline or the theme of dehumanisation in war. But she did like the puppy.

Final note, still on the subject of AN – today I worked out something cataclysmic and cool. Follow very, very closely because this is confusing.

At the end of AN, Kurtz reads a poem called “The Hollow Men”, which quotes the book HoD. The significance being that Apocalypse Now is actually based on that same book Heart of Darkness. Which means, if the Hollow Men exists in the world of AN, so must HoD. The characters exist in the same space as their source material. Willard could actually have read the novel before setting out. Or Kurtz, he could be sitting in his compound thinking “this is weird I’m reading abut a guy with my name, who’s just like me. And there’s that guy from the river just like the other chap in the book (but not quite, he has a different character arc, and they have less chemistry than we do, in a non-slashy way…) isn’t that funny! Let’s check what happens at the end…”

What a mind-warp is that!


Anonymous said...

You make me sound like such an air-head my dear... when really I got skillZ lolZ!

But I mean... they killed the cow and they lost the dog!!! What do you expect me to say?

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