To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some… just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them…
And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder.
And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form. That’s my opinion.
Francis Ford Coppola
There is a wonderful early Martin Scorsese documentary ITALIAN AMERICAN (1974) where his mother and father recall the history of their neighbourhood and their relationships within the ethnic group of Italians in Queens, New York City. His mother is a captivating, big hearted presence who provides her recipe for meatballs during the closing credits; she went on to reprise this role in GOODFELLAS (1991) and CASINO (1995). The directors of New Hollywood in 1970s America, inspired by European nouvelle vague, were fascinated by how to represent ‘the personal’ on film.
APOCALYSE NOW (1979) with all its sturm and drang may seem a million miles away from an old woman reflecting on the plight of Sicilian immigrants in 1920s America, however the documentary HEARTS OF DARKNESS … is a oddly, under-stated, personal reflection on the experience of producing this titanic epic within the canon of film history.
There are plenty of ‘behind the scenes’ footage of the ‘horror the horror’ of the experience and relationships between the director and those on set. Francis Ford Coppola had a suitably robust writing partnership with John Milius as they conceived a film that brought together Vietnam reportage with Joseph Conrad. The production of the film was a huge gamble for everyone concerned, especially its director and his wife Eleanor, who had a huge financial and emotional investment in seeing his vision becoming a reality. The budget doubled due to delays caused by bad weather, change in actors (Martin Sheen taking over the lead role from Harvey Keitel), over indulgence, illness and the Philippine air-force asking for their helicopters back at a moment’s notice:
“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”
So far, so BURDEN OF DREAMS (1982).
There is something familiar, almost cliched in documentaries about films, “one man’s struggle against the forces of nature and finance,” however, this film is different as much of the source material came from Eleanor, his wife, who narrates the film, occasionally with transcripts from her diary, sometimes from home-movie footage that she captured of her husband in various states of distress as he attempts to marshall together the different elements, while at the same time wrestling with his own doubts and insecurities. There are some tender moments amongst the madness. On the other side of the testosterone induced bravura, there is a vulnerable, sensitivity, that shows through Coppola’s final production.
At the end of the film, he shows remarkable prescience, predicting a time when the means of production will be seized from the bread-heads and a new generation of filmmakers will emerge. So far only TARNATION (2003) has been distributed widely and the You Tube patchwork LIFE IN A DAY (2011) found an audience, but so far, that fat girl in Ohio may have made a film, but nobody has seen it.