Call#: University Museum Library MUSEUM E99.D1 O85 2004
Call#: Van Pelt Library D13.5.E85 C43 2000
many of the institutions and ideas associated with modernity were linked to colonial modes of knowledge production and strucutres of power
In “Death of glory…,” Ian Garrick Mason discusses the epic film. He claims that the last great era of epic film was the period between the 50s and 60s which saw the release of Ben Hur, Cleopatra, and El Cid. According to Mason, public interest in grandiose movies with triumphant characters was rooted in America’s confidence during this time period. World War II was won and the impending conflict with the Soviet Union painted the United States as a lone defender of freedom against a clearly portrayed evil. Moreover, the introduction of Cinemascope in the early 1950s allowed these ostentatious tales to be appropriately depicted on the big screen.
Even though the genre persisted after reaching its pinnacle during the 50s and 60s, the character of epics shifted. Epics began to focus on the underground. They celebrated the nefarious over the great. Two examples of this phenomenon can be found in Coppola’s canon: The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. With high production values and an exotic locale, Apocalypse Now earns the title of epic. Rather than celebrate the life and triumphs of one man, the film focuses on the downfall of Kurtz and the destruction the American military brings. Even though it retains the spectacle of earlier epics, the underlying themes change dramatically.
Mason claims that films like Apocalypse Now changed the genre permanently. The film created a new type of epic that has been recreated up to the present in films like Goodfellas and Scarface. Meanwhile, traditional-style celebratory epics like Troy and Alexander have proved to be commercial and critical disasters. Coppola’s filmmaking changed epic filmmaking and the mindset of the film going public, making them more cynical and less receptive to laudatory, triumphant movies.
Matthew D’Ancona’s “Apocalypse Again” looks at Apocalypse Now not simply as a film about the Vietnam War, but a movie about war in general. He looks at the work in a post 9/11 context, considering especially the recent war in Afghanistan. Using Apocalypse Now as a starting point, the author mentions the distinction between justifying a war itself and validating the means used to win that war. D’Ancona disputes the claim that Apocalypse Now is a harsh critique of war. Instead, he references a comment made by Coppola in which the director declared that the movie “is not an anti-war film; it’s an anti-lies film.”
D’Ancona builds on this statement, pointing out several factors that support Coppola’s declaration. For one, he highlights the fact that John Milius, the screenwriter for the film, is an ardent conservative who has written scripts for a multitude of gung-ho action movies that seem to celebrate war. In D’Ancona’s eyes, Apocalypse Now is a traditional adversary movie: Willard traverses through the jungle in an attempt to subdue his nemesis Kurtz.
Again referring to Coppola’s comment, D’Ancona explains that the film is not against war itself, but rather condemns the misrepresentation of war by the government and media. He declares Kurtz’s madness is a response to the reality of war, a reaction to learning the horrific truth that had been hidden from him. Kurtz seeks out facts, urging Willard to think about the extent to which America would go to win the war. Therefore, the culprit is not war itself, but rather the uncertainty and lies that surrounds it.
In his article “Culture, US Imperialism, and Globalization,” John Carlos Rowe looks at the current trend of popular support for American aggression abroad and attempts to find its roots. According to Rowe, Americans initially supported Bush’s plans for war because of the media’s cultural conditioning.
Even though the media currently endorses “gunboat democracy,” Rowe argues that this policy was not always the standard. For example, Apocalypse Now was a harsh critique of the war, equating American intervention in Vietnam to the British colonization of Africa. While the film has action and suspense, the prevalent theme remains true to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: the interference of westerners in a foreign land for their own gain is unjustified. Along with films like The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, the film industry was judgmental about the Vietnam War.
This tendency to criticize U.S. military actions, however, quickly ended. A new crop of films like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo glorified the American soldier and made a clear division between the good Americans and the nefarious foreigners. Although Rowe argues that Rambo can also be interpreted as an anti-war movie, the fact remains that the film portrays the American soldier as a triumphant killing machine, single-handedly demolishing the Vietnamese and Russian armies.
In the late 1986, war glorification was at its peak with the release of Top Gun. The film launched a series of imitators all with the same underlying message that at least subconsciously encouraged viewers to support the Untied States military. This constant barrage of pro-war art changed the cultural identity of the nation, making Americans more willing to support the country’s war efforts.
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness serves as the basic story for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The novel tells the story of a crazed British colonialist named Kurtz and the attempts of Marlow, a young sailor, to bring him back from the depths of Africa. While on the surface Heart of Darkness seems a simple story of a man corrupted by the wilderness and savagery that surrounds him, upon closer examination one finds it a treatise on colonization and human rights.
In the novel, just like in Apocalypse Now, the whites, through interfering with a foreign territory, corrupt the wilderness. For Conrad, the domineering power is the British colonists, while for Coppola that same force is the American army. In both cases, the aim of the whites is the same: to bring “civilization” to an untamed land and to exploit the wilderness for their own selfish purposes.
Both Europeans and Americans view the land not only as a commodity, but also as an enemy. Conrad depicts the scared colonialists shelling the river banks upon arrival in Africa, afraid of the jungle and what it may hold. Coppola adapts this idea in a variety of ways. He shows the enormous American helicopters cutting through the air over Vietnam accompanied by a loud orchestra, disturbing the serene scene below. Robert Duvall also makes the famous claim, “I love the smell of fresh napalm in the morning.” Conrad and Coppola similarly expose the destructive power of Westerners in their respective works.