Another day, another list for the Guardian's Film Season. This one's the "action and war 25," and topping it is Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, "a cult film for the ages, an imperfect classic whose force and stature have only grown with time," as Dennis Lim puts it in the Los Angeles Times. "Released in summer 1979, having premiered a few months earlier in an unfinished version at the Cannes Film Festival, it was a monumental work of momentous import: Hollywood's much-trumpeted attempt to close the book on the national nightmare of the Vietnam War and in retrospect, a tombstone that marked the end of American cinema's 1970s golden age."
And it happens to be just out on Blu-ray "in fittingly expansive two-disc and three-disc editions," adds Dennis Lim. "Both include the 153-minute 1979 cut and Apocalypse Now Redux, the 2001 re-edit that added about 50 minutes to the running time, and the film is being presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio for the first time on home video. There are also hours' worth of supplemental material, a mix of previously available featurettes and new interviews with Coppola and others, and the three-disc 'Full Disclosure' version also includes Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, Eleanor Coppola's valuable behind-the-scenes documentary."
For Michael Atkinson, writing at IFC.com, the film "remains larger than our concept or evaluation of it, larger than its director's quasi-cosmic ambitions, larger, really, than itself. Any brief history of movies' most astonishing follies — which translates to cinema's biggest badass landmarks, if not necessarily the 'greatest' by many measures — must include Coppola's Vietnamization of the American cultural experience." As for which version to revisit first, "Redux is imperative. Unlike most 'director's cuts,' the Walter Murch re-edit restored over 50 minutes to the film that weren't just fun or worthwhile, but all told reinvented the thrust of the film. In 1979, the pared-down cut had a baroque grandness that many critics took as top-heavy self-importance. But the restored scenes (the Kilgore surf board, the Playboy bunny interlude, the French plantation, etc.) revealed what Apocalypse Now was always at its core: a satire."
"It was John Milius who first came up with the idea of transposing Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to a Vietnam war setting," writes Anne Billson for the Guardian. "Milius wrote the first drafts of the screenplay; former war correspondent Michael Herr later added narration. George Lucas was down to direct, but it was Francis Ford Coppola who finally set out to make what was intended to be the ultimate statement about the madness of war. It turned out to be equally about the madness of movie making."
At Movieline, you can watch a short video of Coppola and Milius discussing the origin of the title. Update: Also at Movieline, Alonso Duralde interviews Coppola.
In the New York Times, Dave Kehr reminds us that "melodrama represents only a part of Sirk's work, and not necessarily the most personal. A new set sold exclusively through Turner Classic Movies, called Douglas Sirk: Filmmaker Collection, offers four titles not previously released on DVD in the United States, none of them weepies. Instead there's a religious-ethical drama set in a convent (Thunder on the Hill, 1951), a western (Taza, Son of Cochise, 1954), a swashbuckler (Captain Lightfoot, 1955) and an ambitious literary adaptation (The Tarnished Angels, 1958)." At his own site, he notes that this last one is "one of Sirk's most personal projects and an exercise in mise-en-scène as stunning as anything to come out of Hollywood."
Blogging for TCM itself, R Emmet Sweeney agrees that Angels is "one of Douglas Sirk’s greatest accomplishments... a downbeat study of a family of stunt-flyers in Depression-era New Orleans. Adapted from William Faulkner's novel Pylon, it was a treasured project of Sirk's. Screenwriter George Zuckerman recalled to Gary Morris of Bright Lights Film Journal... 'But after the success of Written on the Wind, in conversation with Sirk, I suggested Pylon. His face turned white. He said it was exactly the property he had in mind.'"
Assessing the tech specs at DVD Beaver, Gregory Meshman gives the set good — not excellent, but good — marks.
DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker, Mark Kermode (Observer), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT) and Slant.
Meantime, have you checked in on the Director Spotlight at PopMatters lately? If not, you have over a dozen essays on Akira Kurosawa to catch up with.
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