Reviews

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse

Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now

The openness and honesty with which Eleanor Coppola portrays her husband is by far the greatest asset of Hearts of Darkness.


Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Display Artist: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper
Price: $19.99
Director: George Hickenlooper
Cast: Eleanor Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Charlie Sheen, Marlon Brando, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Albert Hall, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Robert Duvall, George Lucas
Length: 96 minutes
Studio: American Zoetrope
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2007-11-20
UK DVD Release Date: Available as import

Hearts of Darkness is among the best documentaries of the making of a motion picture. Few come close to what's achieved, here, and it’s arguable whether any future documentaries of the type can come close. This documentary stands on its own and is in many ways more profound than Apocalypse Now itself.

The story is now Hollywood legend. Francis Ford Coppola takes his fortune from The Godfather movies, stakes everything he has on a movie about Vietnam, disappears into the Philippine jungle and emerges with a blockbuster. As Captain Willard says of Colonel Kurtz, “He just up and did it. What balls!” When Eleanor and their children join Francis in the Philippines, he hands her some equipment and asks her to make a documentary. Perplexed as to whether she had been given a real job, or only been given something to keep her busy and out of the way, she keeps a journal, starts shooting her camera, and makes history.

The openness and honesty with which Eleanor portrays her husband is by far the greatest asset of Hearts of Darkness. She is showing the man she loves as he truly was during the most stressful time of his life. She hides nothing because in her mind there is nothing to hide. She even taped him voicing his deepest fears. I doubt if any filmmaker ever had such trust in her subject, and this enables her to film, and reveal, a stark naked truth.

It is this truth that spills over and allows her to capture the atmosphere of the production. Throughout the documentary it's clear that nobody on the set of Apocalypse Now really knows what they are doing or how it will all end. The cast and crew are attempting the impossible and somehow keep succeeding. Yet at the same time, they are constantly on the verge of disaster. One may think, as I did, that Hearts of Darkness would be worth watching simply because of the epic nature of Apocalypse Now, but the documentary is a masterpiece of its own.

Hearts of Darkness shows the truth but never spells it out. Eleanor isn’t leading the viewer by the hand or clubbing him over the head. Everything is shown clearly and this documentary is a joy because of what one discovers. For instance, the behavior of Marlon Brando is so egregiously horrible that words cannot describe it. I spent a full day looking through Shakespeare and Gibbon trying to find the adequate words before concluding that such things can only be shown.

A chilling aspect of Hearts of Darkness is how unconsciously true it is to Joseph Conrad’s original story in one vital aspect. The Filipinos have no voice. They are natives. This is a real loss because you really wonder what they made of it all. I expect that their observations would have been well worth listening to. You see them, but only as a tapestry upon which this American art piece is made. It gets downright scary when you see them used as props. The natives are flying helicopters and still they have no voice. Nobody is treated too badly, and you hear cast and crew voice admiration or concern for their hosts, but the voices are all American. It’s a profound statement.

There are some incredible stories in Hearts of Darkness. Martin Sheen is simply amazing. The role of Captain Willard is literally killing him, but Sheen gives it his all even after he has a heart attack during production. Six weeks later, he’s fit enough to run from a tiger with Frederic Forrest (Chef) and hack Brando (Colonel Kurtz). The scene in which a scarred and well-chewed tiger handler is prepping a tiger to leap at Sheen and Forrest and the chaos that ensues is worth the price of the DVD. The filming of an air cavalry assault keeps getting interrupted because there’s an actual guerrilla war going on not too far from the movie set, and the helicopters are needed to evacuate the wounded. They try to shoot a scene in a deadly typhoon that wrecks the set. This is not a walk in the park.

A central story of Hearts of Darkness is Francis’ quest for an ending to the film. He wants an ending with answers. He doesn’t want a jazzed-up version of The Green Berets, he’s looking to make a statement. The great argument about Apocalypse Now is whether any such statement is actually made and the question is still open by the end of the documentary. The scenes of Francis trying to elicit something profound out of Brando are a fascinating glimpse of two masters of improvisation at work. In the end, Francis spends two and a half years editing and releases a blockbuster that makes $150 million dollars. What a trip!

It is to Francis' credit that, although he had editorial control over Hearts of Darkness, he never used it. There are moments where he doesn’t come off that well, but Francis is too much of an artist to deface a masterpiece. And what Eleanor has made is indeed a masterpiece.

The DVD has a bonus feature in which Eleanor and Francis discuss the documentary and the making of Apocalypse Now. Incredibly, their voices are dubbed over Hearts of Darkness for most of its 96 minutes. There’s not much information and it’s more than a little self-serving. It’s cute in that it reminds me of a sweet old couple trying to explain the nude film they made of themselves in the ‘70s. If you listen closely the rustle of fig leaves being hastily deployed is clearly audible. They shouldn’t have worried. They were magnificent.

The second documentary on this DVD, CODA: Thirty Years Later is disappointing in that it is far more conventional, albeit well done. The Coppola’s are 30 years older and keeping their clothes on this time, so to speak. This documentary depicts the filming of Youth Without Youth, which looks like a fascinating movie. A professor suddenly becomes 35 years younger after a mysterious accident. It’s a little self-conscious, but then Francis was the unintentional star of Hearts of Darkness and he’s understandably avoiding embarrassment.

CODA: Thirty Years Later concentrates mostly on Francis explaining his philosophy of filmmaking. There are some excellent scenes in which he is really getting the most out of actors. One suspects that working with Francis would be an actors dream especially when there are no tigers about. The discussion that Francis has with himself about consciousness is more annoying than illuminating but the almost boyish happiness that he shows in making the film is endearing. Unfortunately, unlike Hearts of Darkness, this documentary could have been made by any competent documentarian.

Hearts of Darkness is a remarkable piece of work that was made in unique circumstances. The commentary tries to de-fang the documentary and is superfluous. CODA: Thirty Years Later, while a perfectly respectable “making of “ documentary, is nowhere near the subject or the caliber of Hearts of Darkness. This DVD is an excellent demonstration of how more can be less. In this case less would certainly be more enjoyable.

10

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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