From the vault: 1991

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Directors: Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola

The film: When the Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier DVD package was released at the end of 2006, reviewers were all but unanimous in pointing out the misnomer. How could this otherwise exemplary presentation of Francis Ford Coppola's ground-breaking Vietnam war movie be considered complete without the inclusion of Hearts of Darkness? Suggestions arose at the time that his wife's much sought-after documentary might then never be released, due, it was supposed, to Coppola's extreme embarrassment at its depiction of his personal and professional near-meltdown. So it was to the great surprise and delight of many that, with surprisingly little fanfare, it was finally released on DVD a couple of months ago.

Following the 283 days of filming Apocalypse Now that took place in the Philippines in 1976, Hearts of Darkness chronicles the relentless string of disasters that threatened to close down its production, and bankrupt its director. A typhoon destroyed all the outdoor sets, the Philippine Air Force frequently withdrew its helicopters during key aerial shoots, and leading man Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack while Eleanor Coppola filmed the devastation and secretly recorded on audio tape her husband's descent into the depths of despair. Even for viewers who've never seen Apocalypse Now, it's a thoroughly engaging 90 minutes and a rare glimpse of real filmmaking, putting to shame the studio-produced promotional puff that usually pass for 'making-of' documentaries.

Made for a one-off television broadcast in 1990, but eventually given theatrical release due to popular demand (it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival), Hearts of Darkness was never meant to be seen by cinema and home-video audiences, which is why Coppola agreed to it being made with his participation in the first place. That it has taken so long for him to approve its DVD release is not surprising, given its unflattering portrayal, but hats off to the man for not only finally doing so, but also providing us with an audio commentary to boot.

The extras: Both Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola give a solid audio commentary, recorded - perhaps wisely, considering the potential for bickering - in separate recording sessions. The former discusses the problems of being a first-time filmmaker on a busy film set, while her husband spends most of his time apologising for his behaviour and attempting to set the record straight on a number of the film's more controversial outings of his dictatorial character. Advertised as a second feature entitled Coda: Thirty Years Later, the only other extra is, ironically, little more than a promo film detailing the making of his latest feature Youth Without Youth and its inclusion appears to be a pay-off for its director for the long-overdue DVD release of Hearts of Darkness.