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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…