Sunday, July 30, 2006


There's an upcoming DVD release called Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier which will contain both the original theatrical cut of Francis Coppola's semi-masterpiece and his mostly dreadful 2001 re-edit, Apocalypse Now Redux. Plus tons of extras, including additional scenes which, mercifully, Coppola has not cut back into the body of the film.

I was a freshman in high school when Apocalypse Now first fried my mind, the perfect age to be dazzled by its attempted profundity, its shout-outs to Joseph Conrad and T.S. Eliot, its allusions to The Golden Bough, its dazzling cinematics and awesome sound design. As soon as I saw it, it seemed like the greatest thing I'd ever seen.

It's still a movie I hold in high regard, but I'm no longer convinced of its greatness, which stems in no small part from the fact that Coppola's 2001 cut of the film suggests that he didn't even understand his own work. Some of the scenes he cut back in clarified aspects of the old film, but they'd never been missed, and he added one whole sequence which brought the whole thing to a dead halt. He'd transformed Apocalypse from a flawed masterpiece to a watchable mess.

Unfortunately, he's not alone. The rise of the DVD format has inexplicably coincided with an explosion of so-called director's cuts, which usually means a few extra scenes are back in the movie. This has resulted in expanded versions of the likes of Saving Silverman, movies that weren't worth seeing in the first place, or the addition of comic book tags in Walter Hill's The Warriors, a movie from 1979 that didn't need any "improvements."

The most notorious example of this trend is the CGI-heavy "special editions" George Lucas made of his original Star Wars trilogy. At the time of their release, Lucas claimed that the original theatrical versions of these pictures would never be seen again, and the "improvements" he'd made suggest that Lucas also didn't understand what made his own work so popular.

Lucas has relented and is releasing the original theatrical cuts on DVD, but reportedly in fuzzy, non-remastered versions, pretty much a fuck you to his fans. His claim is that this is the best these movies can look, because he himself destroyed the original negatives. If this is true--a big if--Lucas is officially batshit insane. These are three of the most beloved movies (okay, two of the most beloved movies, plus Return Of The Jedi) of all time, and historically significant; if he destroyed the negatives on a whim, he clearly has no respect for the art of film.

Is there any other medium in which artists screw around with their work after its out there? Yeah, I know there are "corrected" versions of Beethoven scores and Faulkner manuscipts, but the basic cannon stays the same. Eugene O'Neill didn't undergo therapy and rewrite Long Day's Journey Into Night, and Mozart never wrote The More Magical Flute. And if they had, we'd probably think less of them.

Artists are human; their work is flawed. I hate the last scene in Meet Me In St. Louis, the psychiatrist's explanation almost ruins Psycho, and I wish Stanley Kubrick had recast most of the supporting players in A Clockwork Orange. But the movies are what they are, and we in the audience can accept this, and love them all the same. If only their creators could do the same.