DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola (documentary footage)
Writing Credits:
Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper

The magic and madness of making Apocalypse Now.

By day, blind attorney Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) toils for justice in Hell's Kitchen. By night, he's Daredevil, The Man Without Fear - a powerful, masked vigilante stalking the dark streets with an uncanny radar sense that allows him to "see" with superhuman capabilities. But when the love of his life, fiery Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner), is targeted by New York City's ruthless kingpin of crime (Michael Clarke Duncan) and his deadly assassin Bullseye (Colin Farrell), Daredevil may be about to meet his match.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$1.318 million.

Rated R

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 11/20/2007

• Audio Commentary with Filmmaker Francis Coppola and Documentarian Eleanor Coppola
Coda: Thirty Years Later Documentary


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2007)

When Paramount released Apocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier in 2006, most fans praised it but still thought it wasn’t quite… complete. That’s because the “Dossier” – like all prior Apocalypse Now DVDs – omitted Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, a 1991 documentary about the creation of the 1979 classic.

Regarded as arguably the greatest “making of” documentary ever, Darkness examines the lengthy production of Now, mostly via footage shot by director Francis Coppola’s wife Eleanor. We learn that the production started in February 1976 and covered 238 days of principal photography. In addition to the footage from the set, we hear from Eleanor’s private conversations with Francis; she recorded these without his knowledge and intended to use them as a diary reference.

Narrated by Eleanor, the film tells us about Orson Welles’ intentions to make his own adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and why it didn’t happen. From there we learn about the development of Now, a loose adaptation of the Conrad work. We hear about original plans for it under George Lucas, how Coppola took over the directorial reigns, and the move into production. We find out the financial risks Coppola took, working with the Philippines government, political complications there, ditching Harvey Keitel as the lead actor and hiring Martin Sheen, and about a million other complications that I’ll skip to leave some surprises.

In addition the Eleanor’s narration and Francis’s comments, we get interviews with other participants. This roster includes co-screenwriter John Milius, originally intended director George Lucas, co-producers Fred Roos and Tom Sternberg, production designer Dean Tavoularis, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, special assistant to the producers Doug Claybourne, and actors Larry Fishburne, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms, Fred Forrest, Albert Hall, and Dennis Hopper.

For an indication of Coppola’s whacked-out mindset in the second half of the 1970s, take a look at the statement that introduces Hearts. At Cannes in 1979, he boasts that “my film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. My film is Vietnam.” Hey, Now is a terrific film, but c’mon Francis!

The wild-eyed fanaticism in his eyes shows that Coppola wasn’t quite in his right mind at the time, and Hearts demonstrates what drove him to become so nutty. And all the others as well, for Coppola wasn’t the only one sent around the bend during the shoot. This is a flick during which we see a drunk, naked Martin Sheen cut himself but keep going so we see him covered in blood and crying.

There’s something you don’t find everyday, and Hearts comes with more than a few “what the hell’s wrong with these people?” moments. Heck, when Sheen has a heart attack, you half expect the production to keep going anyway. Even if he died, you get the feeling Coppola would just prop up Sheen’s corpse with some strings and shoot around his demise.

I don’t want to paint Coppola as some sort of monster, though he can come across as maniacal and obsessive. It’s obvious that the complications of the production simply pushed him to his limits and left him mentally vulnerable. Hearts paints a good picture of these issues and shows Coppola’s descent into semi-madness. (And semi-fatness. The scariest parts of Hearts come from the shots of a shirtless Coppola. The horror, the horror!)

If I wanted to find a problem with Hearts, I’d focus on the length. 96 minutes is pretty long for a “making of” documentary, but it doesn’t feel like nearly enough to capture such a messed up production. While the film clearly doesn’t avoid controversial subjects, it still breezes through them a little too quickly and feels too much like a quick snapshot instead of a deep examination. A longer version of Hearts would prove very welcome, as it could better explore the intricacies.

On the other hand, I won’t complain that Hearts doesn’t attempt to provide a step-by-step view of the production. A more traditional “making of” documentary would lead us through pre-production, production and post-production with stops to look at each facet of those steps. Hearts throws in a little about the project’s genesis as well as casting and gives us a denouement related to the flick’s release, but shooting on the set fills the vast majority of its space.

And that’s fine with me. That’s the tale it wants to tell, and it doesn’t pretend to be a complete, nuts and bolts view of the flick’s creation. Someone else can relate the details of editing, set design, score and whatnot; Hearts doesn’t care about those elements, and it doesn’t need to worry about them. It wants to get inside Coppola’s head, and in that regard, it succeeds.

I think the plethora of behind the scenes documentaries we’ve seen since 1991 also dims the impact of Hearts to a minor degree. 16 years ago, something like this was practically unique, but with the explosion of DVDs, extensive “making of” programs have become much more common. Yes, it’s rare to find one this long or this willing to embrace sordid details, too many movie-centered documentaries are filled with fluff. Nonetheless, Hearts isn’t quite as unusual anymore, and the fact that we’ve gotten so many other programs of this sort slightly diminishes its impact.

But not by a lot, and Hearts of Darkness remains a fascinating look at an extremely troubled production. Rarely do we find “making of” documentaries that examine their subjects in such an unflinching way, and that access makes the program quite absorbing.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I can’t say I expected stellar visuals from a documentary of this sort, and the transfer seemed about as good – or bad – as I anticipated.

Most of the distractions came from source flaws. Except for clips from Apocalypse Now - which looked generally clean – all of the interview and behind the scenes footage suffered from a range of defects. I wasn’t surprised to see these in the Seventies shots from the set, but I didn’t anticipate so many specks, marks and blemishes for the then-contemporary interview footage. I have no idea why those clips looked so messy, but they displayed quite a few problems.

For the most part, sharpness was decent. Wide shots tended to display mild softness, and I can’t say any of the shots ever came across as especially crisp and concise. However, they never looked too ill-defined either, so I thought delineation was acceptable. Shimmering wasn’t an issue, but jagged edges cropped up pretty frequently, especially in the clips from Now; without anamorphic enhancement, those letterboxed shots could be a little rough. Edge haloes were also a minor issue.

As with the sharpness, colors were neither good nor bad; they just were. The film mostly featured the brown/greens of the Philippine environment, and they tended to look muddy but decent. I thought the tones lacked much life but didn’t seem poor. Blacks were a little inky, while shadows tended to seem a bit dense and murky.

To be honest, if I gave Hearts an “objective” picture grade, it’d probably get a “D”. The movie suffered from lots of flaws and never looked good. However, I had to consider the source material, and that’s why it ended up with a “C-“. It showed too many problems to get a grade higher than that, and I believe that the transfer could be improved with some work; frankly, I’d be surprised to learn that anyone did anything more with this than just resurrect the original product from the early Nineties. Nonetheless, for a program of this sort, the visuals were acceptable enough to warrant a “C-“. It’s ugly but not in a truly problematic manner.

Though Hearts offered a Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack, don’t expect much from it. For the most part, the audio gave us “broad mono” material. Some music showed passable stereo spread to the sides, and those elements also cropped up in the surrounds – to a very minor degree, at least. Almost everything else seemed centered, as this was a track without a lot of breadth. It didn’t need it, though, so the essentially monaural nature of the mix didn’t bother me.

One glitch appeared along the way, though. Around the 17-minute mark, an excerpt from an Orson Welles radio broadcast demonstrated some “faux stereo” glitches. I didn’t think these resulted from mix concerns; I got the impression they came from flawed source material. The wobbly audio ceased quickly, at least, and never occurred again.

Sound quality was perfectly acceptable. Speech always seemed natural and concise, as the interviews and narration showed nice delineation. Music was subdued but appropriate, with decent range as warranted. Effects tended to come from the action on the set, though we found some elements in the Now clips. They were reasonably clean and accurate but didn’t bring much to the table. Overall, the soundtrack was average.

A few extras show up on this DVD. We start with an audio commentary from filmmaker Francis Coppola and wife/documentarian Eleanor Coppola. Both sit separately for this piece. Eleanor discusses how she became the film’s documentarian, some technical aspects of her work, her experiences on the shoot, aspects of creating the documentary, and why it took so long for the material to come together. Francis tells us a little about the decisions he made on the film as he attempts to convey his mindset at the time. He also lets us know what parts of the documentary bother him.

I really looked forward to this track, since I figured Francis would finally give us his side of the story. Everyone knows that parts of Hearts upset him, so this was his chance to provide his interpretation and clarification. And he blows it. Francis doesn’t say a lot here, and while he tells us some scenes come out of context, he doesn’t often spell out what the original context was. We get some minor insights into his personality as he discusses how the ease with which he becomes embarrassed affected him, but Francis doesn’t tell us much. At least he does throw out a cool alternate title for Hearts: he views it as Watch Francis Suffer.

Eleanor proves considerably more informative, though she doesn’t give us quite enough to make this a good commentary. Still, her moments prove much more useful than Francis’s, especially since she essentially covers all the same territory about his tendency to get embarrassed easily. It can be fascinating to hear how Francis would grant her and the other documentarians freedom to show what they wanted – and would inevitably regret it.

While Eleanor offers some nice notes, a lot of dead air can slow this track to a crawl. Occasionally the commentary went so long without remarks that it startled me to hear Eleanor or Francis speak. I think the track has some very good info, but a 15-minute interview featurette probably could have summed up everything we learn hear. To stretch these details across a more than 90 minute movie makes this one a bit of an endurance test and a disappointment.

In addition, we find a new program called Coda: 30 Years Later. Directed by Eleanor Coppola, this 66-minute and 10-second documentary looks at the making of Francis’s new flick Youth Without Youth. We visit the production in Bucharest. In addition to both Coppolas, we hear from actors Tim Roth, Alexandra Maria Lara, Matt Damon and Bruno Ganz. We find some info about the film, why Francis chose to do it, and aspects of the production. We also see a lot of shots from the various sets and other behind the scenes spots.

As I watched “Coda”, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was watching “Coda”. Why is this documentary on the Hearts DVD? Shouldn’t they have saved it for the Youth DVD? Perhaps Francis would only agree to the DVD release of Hearts if it also promoted Youth, though “Coda” doesn’t work well at all as an advertisement. It doesn’t do a lot to sell the new movie, and it’s much longer than the traditional promotional featurette.

On its own, “Coda” provides a decent glimpse of the Youth production, especially since Eleanor has such close access to Francis. Unfortunately, in addition to some good insights, we get stuck with Kurtz-like ruminations such as his chat about what aliens would think of human consciousness. Still, it usually includes decent information, and we get the occasional Francis tantrum; those are always entertaining.

Unfortunately, I think the lack of context makes the documentary less interesting than it should be. Since none of us have seen Youth, we can’t relate much to the material depicted here. This is a decent documentary that simply doesn’t make sense in this setting.

An unusually provocative “making of” documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse provides a ringside view of a troubled and difficult production. With greater access than expected, we get to see the good, the bad, and the really ugly. It remains a fascinating piece. The DVD offers average picture and audio plus a couple of extras that give us decent information but disappoint overall. Despite that drawback, this documentary is too interesting to ignore. It definitely deserves your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1666 Stars Number of Votes: 6
1 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main