”Are my methods unsound?“
”I don‘t see . . . any . . . method . . . at all, sir.“
If Apocalypse Now Redux — perhaps the most anticipated film re-release of all time — took 20 years to see the light of day, you’d never know it from the DVD, which Paramount unceremoniously dumped on the market without so much as an audio commentary. (Though even this is an improvement on the video release, which is strictly pan-and-scan.) With any luck, that November release merely paves the way for a definitive ”Redux Deluxe“ version that will once and for all collect the whole range of ephemera demanded by a discerning public.
What might such a DVD reissue include? If anyone would know, it would be Walter Murch — Oscar winner for the 1979 original‘s sound design and supervisor of the Redux re-release — who appears mystified why he wasn’t consulted. ”Nobody has talked to me about this DVD at all,“ says Murch. ”So I don‘t know. I’m surprised, frankly, that it came out as fast as it did. There‘s certainly more material to be included.“
Several weeks into filming, before Harvey Keitel had been replaced by Martin Sheen, some 70,000 feet of film had been exposed, Murch estimates, including a version of the early briefing scene, featuring Harry Dean Stanton, and bar scenes set in Saigon. Other outtakes from the bootleg five-and-a-half-hour editing assembly include Sheen doing his JFK impression; pillow talk between Willard (Sheen) and Aurore Clement at the French plantation, in which Willard articulates his love of being a soldier; Willard being carried the length of the Kurtz compound in a bamboo cage; perhaps 20 minutes of Scott Glenn’s excised role as Willard‘s predecessor, Captain Colby, including Colby cutting photographer Dennis Hopper in half with a shotgun blast; Willard’s final approach to assassinate Kurtz, in which he thrusts a spear through an infant held aloft by a bodyguard as a human shield; and a final shot of monkeys covering the deserted sampan (where Willard earlier delivered the coup de grace to the wounded Vietnamese woman), now drifting downstream and pointedly quoting the final image of Werner Herzog‘s 1972 Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
In addition: Dennis Jakob, a mysterious Bay Area figure who received the credit ”creative consultant“ on the original film, reportedly edited a version of the Playboy bunnies dancing at the USO show to Stravinsky’s ballet suite Le Sacre du Printemps. According to Michael Herr, who was brought on to script the narration for the finished film, ”It would have sunk the whole movie right there, but as a weird kind of solitary, aesthetic exercise, it was really quite extraordinary.“ Herr also recalls a scene filmed on the Napa River in which director Terrence Malick appears as a construction foreman in a white suit (this was during his two-decade self-imposed exile from Hollywood), and another, following the sampan scene, in which Sheen meditatively cleans and identifies the parts of his pistol. Also ripe for inclusion in Redux Deluxe are numerous parodies, including Apocalypse Pooh, with dialogue from Francis Ford Coppola‘s film rather amazingly synchronized to clips from the Disney-animated Winnie the Pooh, and Ernie ”Ford“ Fosselius’ Porklips Now, in which a Crazy Eddie–like butcher in L.A.‘s Chinatown is targeted by the Meat Council for termination.
And then there’s the Brando death scene, filmed against a single profile of Kurtz lying in state. In Brando‘s autobiography, Songs My Mother Taught Me, he claims, ”I wrote Kurtz’s speeches, including a monologue at his death that must have been 45 minutes long. It was probably the closest I‘ve ever come to getting lost in a part, and one of the best scenes I’ve ever played, because I really had to hold myself under control.“ Murch‘s overall vision for the CD includes taking the unused audio track and including it as the ”Jim Jones–like“ transmissions of Kurtz in the jungle, intercepted by the CIA, much as the clip of ”a snail gliding along a straight razor“ is used in the original briefing scene.
According to Paramount Home Video spokesman Martin Blythe, ”The choice was to bring out a vanilla disc now or bring out a loaded disc later. In a sense, we opted for both. We have never re-released a title on DVD. However, this is not to say that, down the road, we won’t release one.“ Certainly the appearance of Coppola‘s Godfather box set is anyone’s idea of a prestige release — even if it took them three decades to get around to it.
So perhaps another 20 years ought to do it? Let‘s ask Murch.
”I doubt that there will ever be anything like that,“ he says. ”But listen, I doubted that we would ever be doing this Redux version. So I’m not really the person to ask.“