#128- Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Quick a recap: This is the ‘making of’ documentary about Apocalypse Now, the movie where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Annex - Brando, Marlon (Apocalypse Now)_12

Fun (?) fact: It’s really difficult to find ‘fun facts’ about a movie that is basically ‘fun facts’. So instead, here is a fact about Francis Ford Coppola: George Lucas has said he based the character Han Solo off of him.

directing Dennis Hopper would probably have driven me to the brink of insanity more so than any other issue the film had

directing Dennis Hopper would probably have driven me to the brink of insanity more so than any other issue the film had

My thoughts: After watching a movie on this list the very first thing I do is head to IMDb and Wikipedia for trivia. Most of the time I’m greeted with subpar information about who might’ve been cast in a lead role or who didn’t get along, but then sometimes I land on a goldmine like Apocalypse Now. I don’t know if I could call it the biggest disaster in movie making, but it was pretty bad: shooting in the Philippines during a civil conflict, a typhoon, Martin Sheen’s near fatal heart attack, going way over budget, everything Marlin Brando…..and the list goes on. The distinction this movie has over other disasters, though,  is that it continued to plug along and what was finally released to the public is one of the best movies ever made.

Which makes me wonder how this documentary would be viewed had Apocalypse Now been a bomb. Part of the joy of watching this was seeing all the chaos and knowing that in the end a masterpiece would be created. I loved watching the process of how it all came together and it gave me more appreciation for the director knowing all the fires that must be put out daily between the actors, production crew and even the setting. At the same time, watching Coppola talk about his plan for how the movie would play out, one has to wonder how anything less than a disaster was to be expected. This isn’t some romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon; this is a war movie, with the full war experience and big themes woven all through each scene. Knowing this side of the story makes me love the end result even more.

My drawback to this documentary is a big one: I didn’t find it all that interesting over all. I learned nothing new about how the movie came to be, although I was deeply interested watching Coppola and his methods. I blame the internet for this one more so than the movie. Had I seen Hearts of Darkness in 1995, let’s say, it would’ve been shocking to find out everything that happened. As it stands now, all I have to do is read an article on Wikipedia and I’m good to go. What’s left is a compelling enough story about a director and the lengths that he must go through, but not compelling enough for me to enjoy myself very much.


Final review: 3/5. As a personal preference, I’m not a huge fan of ‘making of’ documentaries to begin with.

Up next: Gimme Shelter

#124- The Thin Blue Line

Quick recap: A documentary from Errol Morris, who attempts to prove a man has been wrongly convicted of murder. The story takes place in Dallas, Texas where there has never been any controversy with pegging the wrong guy for murder.

nothing to see here. Move along.

nothing to see here. Move along.

Fun (?) fact: After having his conviction overturned (SPOILER ALERT. I should really do those sooner), Randall Adams sued Morris over the rights to his life.

My thoughts: I had been looking forward to this documentary for awhile A) because I love documentaries and B) because Errol Morris appeared on ‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’ and was pretty funny. Thinking back a bit, there haven’t been many documentaries I have disliked, not even Dear Zachary, which completely broke me until I wished I could no longer feel feelings. Considering all these things, The Thin Blue Line seemed like a slam dunk perfect rating from me.

The case itself is pretty straightforward: A drifter by the name of Randall Adams comes to Dallas looking for a job. Along the way he meets up with teenager David Harris. The two drink a little, smoke a little and watch a movie or two. Later on at night, a man is pulled over by a cop. As the cop walks up to the car he is shot several times and dies. Seeing how it’s the 70’s, it’s really difficult to find the person who did the shooting because all the police have to go on is a poor description of a vehicle. There was another cop in the car that night who was supposed to get out and back her partner up, but instead sat in the car sipping a milkshake. After the officer was shot she dropped the milkshake and allegedly fired shots into the fleeing vehicle. About a month later David Harris reemerged in his hometown, bragging about killing a cop so that somehow led police to arrest Randall Adams instead.

there was a lot of time spent on this milkshake

there was a lot of time spent on this milkshake

To cut to the chase, I feel like Adams was probably innocent (and the court agreed too because his case was overturned) but I don’t believe Morris made an ironclad argument. There were a lot of details that showed the ineptitude of the investigators- focusing on Adams from the beginning and then finding evidence to back them up, as well as the witnesses who claimed to have driven by as the cop pulled someone over. But there were also a few unanswered questions for me: Harris said he was a ‘scared 16 year old kid’ but he had already done a lot of crimes so why did this cop scare him enough to shoot? And it was also never answered where Adams was the night of the murder. Could he have been in the car?

Moving away from my super scholarly arguments, I mostly disliked this documentary because it was SO literal. A person mentions that it was after midnight and you see a clock pointing to midnight. An investigator mentions hypnosis and there’s a watch swinging back and forth. The investigator mentions the police officer throwing her milkshake out the window and then that’s what you see because it’s apparently really difficult to imagine that. The reenacted scenes were also a little hokey. I like that Morris continued to use the description of Adams instead of Harris so that the audience could see how little belief that theory held, but I got tired of watching the cop get shot 10 different times. The milkshake getting tossed never got old though. I hope it was at least a strawberry flavor.


Final review: 2/5. Meh.

Up next: Jaws at the Drafthouse.

#95- Nanook of the North

Quick recap: Nanook (who’s name isn’t really Nanook) is an Eskimo (Inuk) who must fight daily (with guns) for survival. Along with documenting Nanook’s life (most of it is staged), the film also captures his family ( not really his family) and how they manage to adapt to the bitter cold.

On the other hand, there is a scene with a baby playing with puppies so it isn't all bad

On the other hand, there is a scene with a baby playing with puppies so it isn’t all bad

Fun (?) fact: Shortly after the film’s release, it was revealed that Nanook had died of starvation. Actually, it’s more likely he died at home of Tuberculosis, which is somehow better?

Is ANYTHING real? No.

Is ANYTHING real? No.

My thoughts: Nanook of the North is considered to be the first wide released documentary, which right off the bat I disagree with because so much of it is staged. One article I read put it in the genre of ‘docudrama’ which is a little better, I suppose, but still doesn’t reflect the level of fakery that was sold to the public. Before I continue ranting any more, I feel it best to point out that Nanook of the North ,  regardless of what it has been classified as, is a perfectly fine film all its own. I could’ve watched images of the landscape for many hours and the characters were also endlessly fascinating, real or not.

More huskies, less fake hunting

More huskies, less fake hunting

And now back to your regularly scheduled rant.

I knew going into this that I would potentially be watching something culturally insensitive, as the 20s weren’t known so much for their embracing of diversity as they were known for treating groups like a zoo attraction. One of the very first pieces of text describes the Inuk people (called eskimos) as a happy, simple people. And then the rest of the movie is spent justifying this statement. During one scene, Nanook’s family travels to a trading post, run by the ‘white man’ . While there, they encounter a gramophone for the first time and Nanook hilariously tries to bite the record, to see what it is (he knew what one was in real life). A minute later, one of the children has a stomach ache from eating so much and the man gives him some castor oil. In seconds, the child was smiling brightly and rubbing his stomach and licking his lips as if the oil were the best thing he had ever had in his entire life. Some of the scenes were truly touching, like when Nanook was showing a young child how to hunt with a bow and arrow. But overall, the simplicity of this family bothered me. The best example of this being the final scene, when the family has barely survived a sudden snowstorm. They find shelter in an abandoned igloo and, with faces radiant with happiness, lay down to sleep. It was supposed to be an example of the enduring strength of this man, but to me, came off once again like an attraction at the zoo.

The hunting scenes didn’t bother me as much as they apparently did to audiences when the movie came out. By the time Nanook and his family were being filmed, most of the families in the tribe had started using guns to hunt for food. But since guns kill things easier than a spear, they were left out of the film. I guess I didn’t care so much about these scenes being reenacted because it was hard for food to come by and so you have to work with what you have. And even though Nanook had moved to more modern forms of hunting, he still knew the ways of his ancestors.

Final reveiw: 3/5. A beautiful film filled with lies, but still a work of art.

Up next: Another surprise, apparently.




Quick recap: Robert Crumb is an underground comic artist, known for his psychedelic characters as well as sexualized images of women and cats. That’s right, Crumb is the creator of Fritz the Cat. This documentary focuses on his sad upbringing and his two brothers who have mental illnesses. There are interviews with Crumb himself as well as former girlfriends and wives.

Fun (?) Fact: I knew nothing about Crumb or his work before this film so everything was a big revelation. Despite creating some of the weirdest comics around, Crumb has a semi-normal life with his wife and daughter.



My thoughts: As I stated above, I knew absolutely knew nothing about Crumb before watching the film but after watching for just a couple of minutes, easily recognized his work. If a documentary’s purpose is to shed light on an unknown or little known subject, this one did so perfectly. There were no voiceovers and just a couple of ‘experts’ interviewed. Most of the film is Crumb living out his life or talking to his two brothers.

Crumb is known for creating some of the most controversial comics of his time. Many follow a theme of degrading women to some degree as well as some racist characters thrown in for good measure. Every bone in my body should be disgusted by his work, but I’m not. The documentary does a thorough job explaining some of the reasons Crumb chooses these subjects. His childhood was awful and the interviews with the brothers are heartbreaking to watch, not just because of the mental illness, but because they have just as much talent as Crumb does. And yet, he is the only one able to function in the world.

Every critique of Crumb that could be made already has, so I’ll just focus on the film aspect. Throughout the film I saw Crumb as more of a goofy, geeky guy rather than sexual deviant as some have called him. This film was made in the early 90’s, but Crumb fits in among the indie and hipster crowd. He has an insane amount of records and hates the idea of his work becoming popular. In one interview, Crumb talks about how he was starting to get noticed and had many offers coming in and in response to that, started drawing the truly perverse stuff.

Part of me wants to meet Crumb and just give him a hug because he has had so many bad things happen, but a larger part of me is just in awe of how much he has accomplished and how he has used his talent. His drawings were popular in the pre internet stage when people with the same fetishes and kinks had to really reach out to find others like them. Now there is something for everyone with the click of a button. Crumb thrived in a time when his personality and sexual desires drove people away. There is one interview where a girl comes up and tells him that she stumbled upon his comics when she was younger and how much it disturbed her. Crumb replied that he draws so that someone can be helped and get something out of it. It’s not for everybody, but his art is still important. crumb_200-ee4b225b7a1238c7b02f5e24e682650bfc015dfb-s6-c30

Final review: 4/5. This movie was rated R for good reason. If you can get past all the sexual stuff of which there is A LOT, then you’ll find that this is one of the finest documentaries out there. Truly fascinating.

Where/How I watched it: Netflix, sipping on Karbach’s Weisse Versa. This was my first time to pour from can to pint glass and I was rather proud that I didn’t spill!

Up Next: Written on the Wind