Having seen Apocalypse Now many times – including Redux, which I maintain is better – I have finally got around to watching the documentary about the infamous shoot. At this point I have seen hundreds if not thousands of documentaries and most of them were made since this one. And I will say that your enjoyment of this film likely depends on how you feel about what should be done in pursuit of Art (with a capital A) but also how you feel about how documentaries have evolved over the last 30 years.
In 1991, this was likely an extremely revealing film. There weren’t that many films about making movies, there were fewer films depicting the making of movies, and there were very few films depicting the making of Oscar-winning films. If you limit it to documentaries about boondoggles that became Oscar-winning films, this might have been the only movie. So I get the acclaim.
And it mostly is a pretty revealing film, featuring footage of the set, Eleanor Coppola narrating the film by reading her diary, and recordings of Eleanor and Francis discussing the film during the making of it. This is supplemented by limited interviews with some of the principal crew and cast. For a 1991 documentary, it’s a pretty good look into a film that started as a notorious debacle and ended up as one of the most acclaimed war films of all time.
My one quibble is one that comes from watching this in 2022, and having seen a lot of films about films that have been made in the interim. Though there is lots of talk about how they wanted to expose the cast and crew to something similar to what people were going through in Vietnam, there is basically zero reflection about the film’s deal with the devil, the devil in this case being Ferdinand Marcos. I consider Apocalypse Now to be one of the great works of art of 20th century American cinema. But a truly great documentary about its making would have reckoned with the payments to the military just a little bit, instead of only focusing on Coppola’s single-minded drive to finish the film.
Still, it’s very much worth your time if you like learning about how movies are made. And it’s a bit of a landmark given the level of access and the fact the film won Oscars.