Francis Ford Coppola Likens Himself to Michelangelo as He Releases the Final Cut of ‘Apocalypse Now’

Francis Ford Coppola spoke about the creative process ahead of the release of a new cut of the renowned film this week.

American actor Martin Sheen on the set of the film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and based on Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. Photo by Zoetrope Studios/United Artist/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images.

Filmmaking is like sculpture, according to the great director and auteur Francis Ford Coppola. “It’s like Michelangelo of all things. You just cut away everything that’s not part of the fabric. You look for the movie as it’s already there trying to talk to you,” he said at the premiere of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut, which opens in select IMAX theaters this week. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the seminal film, an unsettling Vietnam War drama based on the Joseph Conrad novella Heart of Darkness. Despite the massive success of the first two Godfather movies, Coppola was forced to finance much of the film himself. 

That meant compromising his original vision—a frustrating experience for a young filmmaker who believed in his artistic vision. But Coppola says artists must be prepared to put everything on the line for their work.

“If you want to make art, you also have to be comfortable with risk, and take a chance that you know best,” he told fellow director Steven Soderbergh in a conversation following a screening of the film at the Tribeca Film Festival this spring. “You can’t make art without risk, any more than you can make babies without sex.”

Steven Soderbergh and Francis Ford Coppola at the premiere of <em>Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut</em> at the Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on April 28, 2019 in New York City. Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival.

Steven Soderbergh and Francis Ford Coppola at the premiere of Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut at the Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre on April 28, 2019 in New York City. Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival.

The production was famously troubled—entire sets were destroyed by storms, star Martin Sheen suffered a near-fatal heart attack, and Marlon Brando arrived on location incredibly overweight, ill-equipped to play a Green Beret. 

Desperate to ensure the film would be a success, Coppola cut large segments from the film from the theatrical run, which clocked in at two hours, 33 minutes. That lost footage was restored in Apocalypse Now: Redux, a three-hour, 23-minute behemoth released in 2001. The Final Cut splits the difference between the two versions, clocking in at three hours, two minutes. 

It remains to be seen which version will be considered the definitive one, but fans can catch this latest rendition, Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut, in theaters today and Sunday.


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