APOCALYPSE THEN & NOW

I spent most of this weekend watching ‘Apocalypse Now’ on Blu-ray at the expense of a social life. It was worth it. In the UK, we’re frequently denied the good stuff on the Coppola side — what happened to a DVD of ‘The Outsiders’ (my favourite film ever)? In the US they’ve had the original film on a bare-bones DVD for over a decade, and a special edition for five years. We never seemed to get ‘Hearts of Darkness’ on DVD either. Then Optimum films took pity on us and gave us the entire ‘Full Disclosure’ 3-disc edition smartly repackaged, at a cheap RRP and they’re bringing out a Blu-ray of ‘The Outsiders’ on the 12th of September, 2011. I grew up with ‘Apocalypse Now’ but I overindulged.

As a small child I re-read the ‘Mad’ parody at my uncle’s house again and again, and was surprised that it bore little resemblance to the film when I got round to watching it – I was emotionally unequipped to appreciate the down-river journey, and I just liked the explosions and mirror punching. As a jumped-up teenager, I saw the parallels between Conrad’s text and the film.

‘Hearts of Darkness’ hipped me to the mythical plantation scene, just as various ‘The Exorcist’ documentaries told me about the ‘Spiderwalk’. Both excised scenes are effective, but I could live without them, but their eventual inclusion was appreciated. I love the idea that Coppola ditched the plantation because out of a temper tantrum in that relentless humidity above anything else — it obviously incorporated plenty of work but it was written out entirely, and that documentary does a fine job of showing just how much the trade and national press was quietly willing the film to fail, and the ruffled-looking Francis looks downright shell-shocked during the premiere scene at the end.

I loved ‘Apocalypse Now: Redux’ – restorations like the surfboard stealing and eerie Playboy prostitution for fuel makes for a deeper film, but what was startling was how elaborate some of the excised scenes were — they weren’t bland indoor excesses of dialogue, but vast set pieces. Coppola had evidently edited with extreme prejudice in the late 1970s. It wasn’t a Lucas-esque return-to-it-to-ruin-it affair, but something that felt like unfinished business.

As a barely related digression, FHM magazine had a ‘What’s Wrong With FHM?’ section years ago, where you could submit an error you’d spotted and win £20. I once read Phil Oakey in there saying that he had a real obsession with ‘Apocalypse Now’ in 1975, wrote in to point out that Phil was lying and got the money, which paid for a week’s food in those self-inflicted starving writer times. Alongside some kind of Q&A I had with ‘Front’ which I can barely recall, it’s one of two times a friend has seen my name in print and mentioned it to me. As a big Human League fan, I then felt remorse — envisioning someone showing Phil my smug little letter, and Phil calling me a “sad twat” beneath his breath.

Then I took it too far – I got my hands on the work print that ran at around five hours. Ponderous, bad quality, occasionally intelligible (Brando’s turn beneath extra fuzz was intolerable), it added layers of flab to the film in the two hours of unnecessary extras over the director’s cut. Out of some curious filmgoer’s duty I spent half the daytime watching it, occasionally drifting into a sleep that would be disturbed by a murky napalm blast. That put me off ‘Apocalype Now’ for a couple of years.

The sole exciting addition beyond ‘Redux’ — other than how much more of a dick Willard is in this version — was the resolution of the mystery of where Dennis Hopper’s Photojournalist went after Kurtz lost it with him and what happened to Scott Glenn’s Lieutenant Colby – a great actor left mute in previous versions – Colby shot the Photojournalist dead during his escape and Colby was killed by Willard’s special forces knife. It’s a sloppy scene in terms of editing and effects in its uncooked state — evoking that point in ‘Hearts of Darkness’ when the director feels he doesn’t know how to end the film once he’s at Kurtz’s compound — but it’s one of the meatiest deleted scenes in a long time. It even puts that excellent uncut Drexl hotel drug deal on the ‘True Romance’ DVD in the shade.

The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray includes that scene (plus the monkeys on a boat, with the tribal Doors cover) on a disc in a complete carry-over of the ‘Full Disclosure’ DVD set, but it’s the quality of the Blu-ray transfer for both official versions of the film that finally put bad memories of that muggy afternoon squinting at that screen away for good. Given the film’s lack of opening or end credits, it’s nice to get a copy of Coppola’s theatre-style programme for the film too — that theatrical idea echoes throughout his later films, whether it’s ‘Rumble Fish’s stagey feel or ‘Tetro’s operatic, overblown finale. And yes, I have to concede it — ‘Hearts of Darkness’ is an even better behind-the-scenes supplement than ‘If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of ‘Predator’. I love ‘Apocalypse Now’ all over again.





I also revisited Michael Gross’s ‘Genuine Authentic’ again in light of recent movements with the Ralph Lauren brands. For those who don’t know – the book was meant to be an authorised biography of Lauren, but Gross’s insistence on revealing a mid 1990’s indiscretion put the two at loggerheads, and the outcome certainly feels significantly cattier throughout as a result. But if you can get beyond the notion of Lauren as a narcissist (and I’d be disappointed if he wasn’t), the idea that he’s playing at high society, despite his humble origins, or the cowboy stuff as a grown-up form of playing fancy dress – which was always evident – then the book still aids in appreciation of what Ralph built.

‘Genuine Authentic’ indicates that Polo Sport was the brand’s reaction to Hilfiger and the “urban” dollar it chased (and the use of Tyson Beckford as the brand’s face was a shrewd one), but it’s denim that’s depicted as Ralph’s white whale and the thing he pursues to perfect, but constantly fails with – RRL is periodically lampooned as one of Ralph’s whims. As the book ends, on mentioning the RRL store opening in Soho in late 2000, “Vintage jeans can run into the thousands — and some of the salespeople in the store, who collect rare jeans themselves, will tell you why. They have the time. The store is often empty.”

I wonder if a revision would include the RRL line’s ascent in recent years? Still, like the excellent ‘Swoosh’, despite an agenda (‘Swoosh’ was partly penned by J.B. Strasser, the widow of Rob Strasser who helped Nike conquer with his marketing genius), it’s an absorbing read that’s unsullied by any official company line.

‘PORT’ #2 is pretty good. Even if the promo video talk of a revolution on paper never fully materialised, it reads like a faintly more accessible ‘Monocle’ (it’s all about the briefings these days) and the features on Harry Gasner and David Remnick are excellent. Martin Amis on teen hitmen in Columbia is an alarming read, but the Remnick piece justifiably takes cover space — if you’ve ever had a tight editing deadline on anything and felt that pressure, consider the content that Remnick and the ‘New Yorker’ crew have to put out weekly to the terrifyingly thorough standards that the likes of E.B. White laid down all those years ago. If a great writer like Remnick claims he feels like a “pretender” in his role there, then how fraudulent are the majority elsewhere, pumping out ad-led crap on a bi monthly or quarterly basis?

This week I had to buy another grown-up watch, because I’m too old for digital. But no Rolex or Omega can compete with my love for the Three 6 Mafia ALIFE G-Shock that my friend, Mr. BJ Betts got me a few years back. I’m way too old to be wearing this, but it reminds me of a happier time, plus my fondness for the music of Juicy J and Three 6 — who I think get better and better — in the present day. This must be one of the most lazy/restrained collaborations ever – for all the skull tees and lean consumption, they just put ‘666’ on the strap and ‘MAFIA EDITION’ down the sides. I kind of respect that, but I hate the fact I’m ancient and can’t wear this stuff any more. Having said that, age won’t stop me from enjoying that new Gunplay mixtape.

‘Crack & Shine International’ looks very smart in the flesh. Shouts to Topsafe for this one. The silver on black reminds me of the ‘Unexplained’ book of mysteries I grew up with that left me emotionally scarred for life with an array of pictures of spontaneous combustion victims and ghosts in churches. Of course, this is a graffiti book rather than a ghost book, but I hope it affects a generation of potential weirdos in the same way.

0 thoughts on “APOCALYPSE THEN & NOW

  1. thank you…you have now added some more films to a very long list which i must revisit as i feel i (hopefully) have matured since i saw them the first time and a new book. (the aim is to die less ignorant…fingers crossed).

    1. There are so many films I’ve really started to see in a different light as I’ve aged (in a good way) – I’m still catching up on viewings!