31 maio 2010

Moments in Film, a Guardian series

Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, US, 1979)
Apocalypse NowDawn helicopter attack
Apocalypse Now was method filmmaking: the film that was as insane as the war itself. And never more so than during the making of the film's showpiece: the scene where insanely gung-ho Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his Air Calvary helicopters swarm out of the dawn light to flatten a Vietcong village, speakers blasting out Wagner's 'Ride Of The Valkyries' as they go (the great film critic Pauline Kael bizarrely tried to dissuade Coppola from using the music on the grounds that it had already been used in a European arthouse movie).
Having already set up the hugely expensive scene, Coppola tried to bully the US secretary of defence into providing a lifting helicopter for the scene. The helicopters they did have were borrowed from Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and were called away in the middle of the shooting of the scene to be used in a real war against Communist guerrillas. "We just heard they're taking away five of our helicopters," Coppola rages in the documentary Hearts Of Darkness, clearly no longer able to realise he was only making a film about a war. When he did have the choppers, all he could do was complain about the incompetence of the Filipino pilots.
But the result is stunning, the craziness and the appeal of war brought together. "Men play strange games to break up the boredom of being in the war," Duvall once said, explaining Kilgore, the man who insists on having his troops surf in the middle of battle. But the real genius of the scene comes not from the grandiose explosions, or even the strange beauty of the attack helicopters, but from some subtle acting: the incredulous expression on Martin Sheen's face as he watches Kilgore in action.


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