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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.