The horror, the horror…

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).

Now I'm keen to watch Full Metal Jacket (which Herr co-wrote)…

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