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The agony of making cinema

When it comes to "Making of" documentaries, I put one above all others. It is "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse" (1991), a full-length feature about the filming of Francis Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". Nothing quite illustrates its impact like Francois Truffaut's statement: "I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not interested in anything in between." That the pain it captures eventually translated into cinematic greatness only serves to make it more compelling.

May contain spoilers


Apocalypse Now: An audio-visual aid

The communal Parallax View film criticism blog, coordinated by Sean Axmaker, has resurrected Richard T. Jameson's provocative, penetrating "Apocalypse Now" review, originally published in the Seattle Weekly (then known only as The Weekly) October 17, 1979. I think it's the most lucid thing anyone's ever written about the movie, and should be required reading after every screening as a way of ensuring substantive discussion.

Jameson's piece illuminates essential truths about "Apocalypse" (and, I think, about Coppola's body of work), with a precision few critics have been willing or able to explore. You may want to argue with it (and by all means go ahead!), but if you read it closely I think it will show you things you may already have felt, even if you never quite noticed them before. That's true for me, anyway. I've just re-read it for the first time in almost 30 years, and I feel it's been there, under my skin, the whole time:

"Apocalypse Now" is a dumb movie that could have been made only by an intelligent and talented man. It pushes its egregiousness with such conviction and technical sophistication that, upon first viewing, I immediately resolved to withhold firm judgment until I'd seen the film again: perhaps I'd missed some crucial irony, some ingenious framework that, properly understood, would convert apparent asininity to audacity. I didn't find it. It isn't there. What is there is the evidence of a reasonably talented filmmaker having spectacularly overextended himself -- Francis Ford Coppola who, having had a toney pop epic widely accepted as great cinema, felt he was ready to make "Citizen Kurtz."