Well, it's taken me years, but I finally got round to watching Apocalypse Now (the Redux cut – I still haven't seen the original). I'm glad I read Heart of Darkness recently – and watched the 'making of' doco of (almost) the same name – because both added layers of meaning and resonance to the film.
It's trippier than I expected, which is a good thing. And it's remarkable that the Vietnamese have virtually no presence in the story (and what presence they have is unconvincing); it's all about America and Americans (plus a little interlude with the French). It's a story about America at war with itself, devouring itself and its people (along with the Vietnamese and anyone else who gets in their way). I suppose it's a very personal exploration of Coppola's own internal experience of the Vietnam war, as an American back home – all tinged with John Milius's dark proto-fascist violent fantasies.
And it's chock full of powerful visceral images and moments: the Playboy bunnies fleeing by helicopter from a riot of lust-crazed GIs (echoing the final American evacuation from the roof of the embassy in Saigon); burning helicopters stuck (along with bodies) in the branches of trees, like some crazy modern Goya etching; Lance's gradual descent into madness; men firing into the jungle – at the jungle, at Vietnam, at otherness, shadows, nature itself; and finally Kurtz – a bloated, brooding, slow-moving Marlon Brando, submerged in darkness, reading aloud from T S Eliot one moment and Time magazine the next. Blood and severed heads, half-naked bodies, LSD and madness, madness, madness. It was the closest thing to Michael Herr's Dispatches I've seen on film (Herr, as it happens, wrote Willard's narration).