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“Apocalypse Now” and Forever, Thanks to a Definitive New Blu-ray Edition

“Apocalypse Now” and Forever, Thanks to a Definitive New Blu-ray Edition (photo)

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Like a mega-mind Great American Novel or hundred-hour Wagnerian opera cycle, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” 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. It doesn’t hurt that there are multiple versions, from the Cannes rough cut to the two endings we had in 1979 to 2001’s “Redux” version to the five-plus-hour workprint of which you can still buy bootleg copies online. Add to the pile the new “Full Disclosure” Blu-Ray package, which completely obliterates the need for that tempting illegal workprint by way of hours of new supplements, coordinated and sometimes directed by Coppola, letting loose with piles of excised footage but also giving it all a dense dose of context.

Of course the Blu-Ray transfer is as lovely a presentation as the film has had since it emerged from the printer’s bath in 1979. You get both official versions, but “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.

Not for nothing does writer John Milius, in a new interview conducted by Coppola in his vineyard’s cask room, say that the biggest influence on the genesis of the film was “Dr. Strangelove” — a point even Coppola seems a little enlightened by. Once we could see the deliberate, outrageous humor of “Apocalypse Now,” leaked like gasoline into nearly every major set-piece, what once might’ve seemed like a grandiloquent acid-opera about Vietnam became more Voltairean than Conradian, an explosive, sardonic rip through American neo-colonialism, as it was indelibly infected with hippie excess and civil-rights-era rage and plopped down upon a huge and unconquerable swath of Southeast Asia.

10172010_DuvallApocalypseNow.jpgGranted, the Colonel Kilgore sequence was always bitterly farcical; now it’s high comedy, and for a second Martin Sheen’s PTS-poisoned assassin actually smiles. Dennis Hopper’s yackety-yack photojournalist suddenly makes complete sense within the film’s personality (instead of being just a brilliant blast of irony), and Marlon Brando’s lurching, enigmatic rogue-king isn’t the ballooning deity he thinks he is, but just a bizarre product of American military hubris, mutated into a homicidal wacko by the needs of jungle warfare. The load of literary allusions piled into the film (Conrad, Eliot, Robert Frazier, plus, as Milius points out, again to Coppola’s surprise, Homer — think of Kilgore as the Cyclops and the Playboy bunnies as the Sirens) are all about maturation, passage and corruption. They don’t pump up the stature of Kurtz so much as shadow-play the entire, soul-sick project of white American violence, going back centuries.

It’s certainly sweet to have Coppola, still a fecund and talkative cine-philosopher, control the disc’s supplements, going so far as to assemble a short himself, “The Hollow Men,” out of behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes from the Kurtz compound shoot, with Brando narrating Eliot and the Filipino natives tolerantly recruited as corpses, soldiers and body parts. Otherwise, the Milius interview is a pleasure, as always (Milius remains one of the most entertaining talkers in Hollywood, although it’s still something of a mystery as to how he could write “Apocalypse Now” and love “Dr. Strangelove” and still be such an unmitigated jingoist), coming with Coppola’s express agenda to reassert Milius’s role as the “author” of the film’s most famous sequences, and indeed most of its deep ideas.

Sit-downs with Martin Sheen, producer Fred Roos, editors and soundtrack laborers are fascinating (and supplemental themselves to 1991’s making-of doc “Hearts of Darkness,” also included), but the wealth of entire cut scenes (especially a Herzogian chiller known simply as the Monkey Sampan scene) is catnip for the unalloyed fan. Not that some scenes weren’t wise to have been lost — apparently, Scott Glenn’s Colby was once a much more active character, and the scene where he breaks down and kills Hopper’s harmless jester character with a shotgun is wince-worthy.

10172010_CoppolaHeartsofDarkness.jpg“Apocalypse Now” was already famous before it was released as being “about” Coppola’s journey through self-destruction, crazed ambition, madness and a kind of auteurist neo-colonialism just as much as it was about its narrative journey and primal themes. (As Milius puts it, Coppola’s high-wire, commit-everything, bankruptcy-causing megalomania redefined what it meant to “be a director.”) But there’s also here, in the sea of new docs and remembrances of the early Zoetrope days, an almost idealized notion of what young-ish filmmakers are supposed to do: band together and break the rules. Making Hollywood movies for these guys began a series of bullshit sessions and spontaneously proceeded as a tumble of crazy accidents.

Typically, Coppola tells how he came to the film’s famous opening — palm trees, The Doors, “ghost helicopters,” slo-mo napalm — by impulsively reaching into a garbage can full of discarded shots and saying, maybe this would work. Only Terrence Malick has gotten away with this kind of epic whimsicality recently (as in, the last 20 years), and on yet another huge, crazily poetic war film. But by all reports Malick didn’t suffer the agonies of his own creation (“The Thin Red Line,” also just out in a supplement-packed box, from Criterion) like Coppola did. It’s possible no director ever has since, and if “Apocalypse Now” still radiates the strange, massive aura of a terrestrial event, it’s probably because for Coppola it was genuinely do or die.

“Apocalypse Now: Full Disclosure” is now available on Blu-ray.

[Additional photo: “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” American Zoetrope, 1991]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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