Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Apocalypse Now

There is a Blockbuster’s worth of "classic" movies I haven't seen, and a record store’s worth of "classic" albums. Thankfully I now have Netflix, and BitTorrent. I am attempting to fill in those gaps. Please do not leave comments saying "zomg, i can't believe u haven't seen/heard _____." Please do send suggestions.

Apocalypse Now

A couple weeks back, Paul Greengrass released "Green Zone," the new Matt-Damon-as-Jason-Bourne vehicle. It's a fairly pedestrian action movie, made worse with the knowledge that it was based on a pretty great book, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," a non-fiction account of the real Green Zone, filled with the black humor of Americans lounging poolside while car bombs exploded around them in Baghdad. There was precious little of this influence to be found Greengrass' conspiracy-fueled jerky-camera fest, and to plagiarize myself, it would have been nice to have Francis Ford Coppola give the material the "Apocalypse Now" treatment.

Black humor is at the heart of Apocalypse Now's darkness. An opening scene mixes a napalm bombing with Martin Sheen's blinking eyes beneath a ceiling fan spinning in time with the whirr of helicopter blades. Colonel Kilgore - of napalm for breakfast fame - raids a hostile village for the purpose of securing a particularly spectacular stretch of waves, for surfing. Half a dozen Vietnamese are killed for a puppy. (an unrecognizably young Laurence Fishburne does the killing. He was 15.) Gases of various sorts release in comically technicolor shades of lavender and buttercup and and lime. The heart of the movie was summed up in this juxtaposition: One chopper lands during a bloody massacre with "Death From Above" and a pair crossed swords painted on. Later, another chopper with the Playboy Bunny on its side drops the Playmate of the Year into an amphitheater of sex-starved G.I.'s.

Along with its model, "Heart of Darkness," the movie's plot flows downriver. Deeper and deeper into the jungle we go, and the current pulls each of the characters on a slow descent into insanity. Martin Sheen is talking to himself, and one character covers his head with a giant leaf, like a man wrapping his head in tin foil to keep the aliens out. By the end, everything's in shadows. Namely, Marlon Brando's shaved head. Nothing is certain: we're in "the worst place in the world," and we don't even know it, until it's too late. In Green Zone, we're in the 21st-century's worst place, but everything is certain. The morality is so black-and-white, Greg Kinnear is somehow turned into the face of unquestioned evil.

Back on the river, a soldier dies in the arm of his commander, and a taped message plays. It's his mother speaking, on a recorded message she sent in the mail, telling him she plans to buy him a car when he returns. In this one moment, the black humor simply gives way to blackness. As Conrad would have it.

Reeves Wiedeman