Francis Coppola is a liar.
That's the conclusion I've drawn from purchasing the new DVD Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier. Originally, I wasn't even going to pick this up, since I was already furious with Coppola based on some of the things I'd read about it, and since I hated his 2001 recut of the film, which of course is included here. But I found it on sale cheap, and I don't have any version of Apocalypse on DVD, so I bought it.
Mind you, I haven't watched everything yet. I haven't even listened to Coppola's commentary track all the way through, and maybe he says some things that clarify some of the outright lies that appear elsewhere on the disc. I doubt it, though, since his story of the creation of the film's incredible opening sequence smells like a lie. (Though there's nothing I detest more than the stench of lies, we must be merciful to those who lie...Crap! I swore I would get through this thing without paraphrasing favorite Apocalypse lines, but I dunno...)
The lies come mostly in a FAQ section among the supplements. Though the responses to the questions aren't written by Coppola himself, since this is a Zoetrope-authorized release, we can assume they are his official version of the story. And they're just wrong.
Sample question: Was there a five and a half hour cut of the film? The answer given is a flat no...but then it goes on to explain that there was a five and a half hour work print...so shouldn't the answer be yes? No, the workprint was never finished, and it was never meant to be Coppola's final cut, but it was a version he was circulating at one point, suggesting that he meant for it to approximate his final cut.
Another question: Does Willard order the destruction of Kurtz's compound at the end of the film? The answer given is no, which is true in the film as it stands. But it goes on to state that the footage of explosions destroying the compound (not included on this particular DVD, unfortunately) which accompanied the end credits of 35mm showings of the film back in '79 were never intended to be included in the movie itself, but were simply shot when Coppola and company dismantled the sets in the Phillipines.
Wait...Whaaaa--? When a movie is done shooting, sets are taken apart, not blown up. How stupid does Coppola think we are? Of course he shot footage of the destruction of the compound, because at one point he was planning on concluding the film that way. Back in '79, he admitted he didn't know how to end the damn thing, and shot a ton of possible endings. Now he's trying to claim he knew what he was doing all along, that the way the film ends now is the only way he ever intended. So he was either lying then or he's lying now, and the footage makes it pretty clear that he's lying now.
Why? Maybe he's trying to preserve his legacy. Coppola has done some interesting work since Apocalypse Now, but he's also done some embarrassing crap, and certainly nothing he's done since the seventies can compare with either Apocalypse or the first two Godfather pictures. In recent years, it's become possible to see Apocalypse Now as a failed masterpiece, saved from the smoking ruins of Coppola's ego by the masterful contributions of others. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro might have been most responsible for the stunning visuals. The narration written by Michael Herr provides the lion's share of the film's most quotable lines, and gives the characters back story and motivation that otherwise wouldn't be apparent on screen. The editing team gave the film a structure and pace when Coppola apparently couldn't.
It's a pointless game to play, but Coppola plays it himself. I'm not exactly glad that Stanley Kubrick is dead, or Bob Fosse or John Huston, but at least we never had to listen to these guys rewrite film history on DVDs of their work, and prove themselves to be total assholes.