CHRISTMAS TV: film Hearts of Darkness

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The Independent Culture
Hearts of Darkness

29 December, 12.20am BBC2

It was wise of Francis Ford Coppola to put a camera in his wife's hands to film him filming Apocalypse Now, because the resulting footage has helped make a real rarity - a documentary about film-making that's actually a greater achievement than the film it's about. Whereas Apocalypse Now is, by design, a bloated, monstrous mess of a film, : a Film-maker's Apocalypse has all the detached coolness of a post-mortem. The cold, puffy body on the slab is Coppola's; the scalpels and high-intensity drills are wielded by his wife Eleanor and the film's director, George Hickenlooper.

Privately-recorded conversations between husband and wife reveal that Coppola was wracked with self-doubt. "This film is a $20 million disaster!" he implores. "Why won't anyone believe me?" Industry bystanders were confident that the director operated to his maximum potential under stress. But what he had to carry on his shoulders proved enough to give a head of grey hair to anyone who even brushed up against him.

As the US military declined to participate in a film about Vietnam, the resources of the Philippines army were summoned. Only Marcos was fighting the Communists at the time, and needed to reel his fleet of helicopters back in at the most inopportune moments. Props were the least of Coppola's worries. He replaced his first lead actor (Harvey Keitel) with Martin Sheen, who then suffered a heart attack. Add to that typhoons, nervous breakdowns and Marlon Brando (presiding over the chaos like Buddha) and it's easy to see how Apocalypse Now became Coppola's folie de grandeur.

But at least this crackling by-product came out of it. Sheen, Dennis Hopper (right) and screenwriter John Milius provide some high-octane reminiscences, and the editing (by Michael Greer and Jay Miracle) is some of the sharpest you'll find in any documentary. Coppola's film and Hickenlooper's should both serve as examples to future directors, in different ways.