People have written books about this film, and even made documentary films about it. The behind-the-scenes events have become the stuff of legend, including the difficult behaviour of its star, Marlon Brando. This updating of the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ has inspired academic articles, and decades of debate and discussion.
But this is just my own opinion of it as a film, and my memory of seeing it at the cinema when it was released.
Forty years ago. Can you believe that? I have never seen the film since, and yet I can recall most of it from memory, and play certain scenes out in my head with no effort whatsoever.
As far as I am concerned, that is the mark of a film that exceeded all expectations, and can well deserve to be called a cinematic masterpiece.
This was also the first time I can remember hearing a soundtrack in ‘Surround-Sound’, at a Central London cinema. The opening scene of the sound of helicopters over the view of a spinning ceiling fan was so effective, most of us turned around in our seats, and looked around the cinema. It really did feel as if a helicopter was circling above our heads.
The film had hardly started, and I was already overwhelmed.
In case you have never seen the film, I won’t just keep writing about scenes, and will add no plot spoilers. And if you have never seen it, I suggest you rectify that at the earliest opportunity.
You will know the names of many of the cast members. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Frederick Forrest, Robert Duvall, (in a memorable role) Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, Lawrence Fishburne, and Dennis Hopper. This is a film about the Vietnam War that goes far beyond that conflict, examining what war does to ordinary men, and how far they can sink into the abyss.
The cinematography is superb. Direction by Francis Ford Coppola is just right, and the casting near-perfect too. It is an experience that transcends a normal evening at the cinema. It gets inside you, and makes you think. And your conclusions are often far from comfortable.
Much has been said about this film. It was attacked on release by some critics, claiming that it was an indulgence by Coppola, a film-maker well-known for such indulgence. It famously ran well over budget, and some of the stars gave interviews about the difficulties they encountered during its making. You can read all that, and you can watch the documentaries. If you want to.
Or you could just watch this amazing film.
Because it is absolutely fantastic.