Hearts of Darkness

This re-release of Hearts of Darkness (1991), a documentary on the making of Francis Coppola’s legendary Apocalypse Now (released in 1979), affords us unprecedented entry into the filmmaking experience. The boisterous Coppola and his charmingly mild wife, Eleanor, provide (for this new DVD) voice-over commentary on a movie (mostly shot by her) that itself comments on the production of another movie. And don’t forget the two books in the story: Conrad’s masterpiece lurking in the background and Eleanor’s own Notes, a superb and understated narrative about the wild 238-day shoot of Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. The project suffered numerous setbacks — a crucial last-second casting change; replacement Martin Sheen’s subsequent heart attack; and endless financing woes. Coppola plowed on, doubt-filled but determined, hampered as well by an ill-prepared Marlin Brando and a spaced-out Dennis Hopper. The documentary captures it wonderfully, with Eleanor’s meek voice imposing a calmness on all the chaos. Also included is Eleanor’s new documentary on her husband’s’s latest film, Youth Without Youth, which sheds further light on Coppola’s tumultuous career. The pampered auteur of the ’70s now exhibits the certainty and resignation of a seasoned pro who still risks pretentiousness. If it all seems ridiculously postmodern and meta-level, don’t worry: it’s riveting and revelatory in every respect.