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Tuesday, February 14, 2012


 napalm in the morning smells like victory

I spent 6 hours watching my favorite movie twice. I'd not yet seen Redux. Every time I went to it on netflix it was listed 'long wait.' This time it had no wait signal, so I ordered it, it came, 2 discs, the original and the Redux. I watched Redux first because I wanted so much to see it. Besides, I'd already seen the original half a dozen times. I'd heard Coppola in an interview talk about how the Redux satisfied what he wanted to do with the film. I'm of a different mind. I watched the original immediately after Redux and preferred it. The part in Redux of the French colony up the river added nothing to the story but a long boring section. The part about the centerfold girls after the show was boring. All it added to the story was seeing the girls of the USO show were a bunch of deadbeat junkies. So what. It also added long sequences of Marlon Brando boring me to death. Those three additions only made the movie longer. That's all. They seemed to me to take a movie with the substance of clam chowder and thinned it down to tomato soup.

When it was over, I was ready to see the original to erase Redux from my mind. From the time the original started, it seemed to have a golden glow of clarity around it, the perfectly cut gem. Of course, it was in my mind, not in the film, but it was my mind's response to the film, which, after seeing Redux, was a relief. Even the repeated scenes, all of them, seemed better in the original. For one thing, from scene one, I knew I was seeing the film I love more than any other I've ever seen, though with several close seconds. My aesthetic eye was set to Perfectly Cut Gem as I sat back and enjoyed my favorite movie again. Coppola's decision to ditch those three extraneous scenes that slowed the film down and thinned its substance show me his genius, as well as the completed film itself. Redux showed me Coppola's self-editing eye is a good one. Even if he had help making the decision, he made the final decision, I suppose.

In Redux, Martin Sheen's character bought some deadbeat junkie pussy for two barrels of boat fuel. His character was a little too rational for such a vastly ignorant move. That was something the surfer on the boat might have done, Lance, when he was on lsd. Maybe it was to show Sheen had lost his good senses, but that would have been the only way it showed at that point, and beyond. The French woman later was out of place too. It didn't fit Sheen's character again, and nothing about the entire scene with the French advanced the story. It was Coppola's baby, not mine, and he had his own reasons. Too much of Brando at the end, way too much, and too much of Sheen in confinement, too many varieties of confinement. By the time he got the deed done, I was so bored I wanted to hit fast forward. I liked what Sheen said of Brando's quarters, "It smelled like slow death in there, malaria, nightmares." But, by the time Redux was over, I was so bored I'd become fidgety.  

My objection to the deleted scene with the French was about placing the war in the context of history, even of reality. The story of the film was this is absurdity, not reality. It was every bit a version of Jaroslav Hasek's GOOD SOLDIER SCHWEIK as it was of Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS. The absurdity of war. Sheen's character said, "Charging a man with murder in this place is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500." Another good observation by Sheen, "The bullshit piled up so fast in Vietnam, you needed wings to stay above it." In the Absurd tradition, this film rates among the best, up there with Pinter and Beckett. Early in the story, the absurdity is noted with smiles and laughs, resignation to the absurd everywhere. First words in the story, Sheen looking out the blinds of his hotel room, says, "Saigon. Shit." It struck me early on, when Chef, the Cajun guy on the boat, had his first melt-down moment, Lance, the surfer, was watching him, laughing like he was having an acid experience. Both their faces in the same scene, one freaking out and losing it, the other looking on amused. I felt like this was the turning point in the nature of absurdity. Before, the absurd was something to be laughed at. The comedy went out of it at this point.

The US military was the comic part of the overwhelming absurdity, Kurtz was the sinister part of the military's yin/yang of absurdity. They said Kurtz was insane. The absurdity of his insanity was that it seemed not to be insane at all. When Dennis Hopper gave for an example of Kurtz's genius something he'd said the day before, "If is the middle word in life." This observation is so college freshman profound it can only ring absurd coming from a grownup mega-military man. Kurtz's reading of TS Eliot's THE HOLLOW MEN is indeed profound and a comment on the absurdity:

          We are the hollow men
          We are the stuffed men
          Leaning together
          Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
          Our dried voices, when
          We whisper together
          Are quiet and meaningless
          As wind in dry grass
          Or rats' feet over broken glass
          In our dry cellar.

               Shape without form, shade without color,
          Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.... 

The absurd war is an excellent vehicle for a work of art commenting on an absurd time, or an absurd era. The absurdity of wiping out an entire village because the surf had six foot peaks, good for surfing, is played to the absurd Nth degree by Robert Duvall, Kilgore (kill / gore). When the village woman threw a hand grenade into the landed helicopter and it exploded, Kilgore seeing it from the air, commented, "Fucking savages!" He ran her down with his chopper's machine guns, saying, "I'm gonna get that dink bitch." There, too, another absurdity, common American usage with language. The absurdity becomes all the more sinister as the story travels up the river, deep into jungle, deep into uncharted territory, deep within where the soldiers are tripping on acid, unto the place where the ultra-soldier is tripping on ego in a primitive world of spear-chuckers and death. The Redux version of the long interaction between Sheen and Brando left the absurd and became ridiculous. Coppola was right to cut most of it. At the end of the Redux version, Brando comes across as a dumbass. Trimmed down to the essential, those scenes at the end are powerful and penetrating, giving a larger than life feeling to Brando's character.

The books he was reading were profound for the time, FROM RITUAL TO ROMANCE, THE GOLDEN BOUGH, and a TS Eliot volume. Ten years later, it would have been Joseph Campbell titles. In that time, these titles identified him an intellectual. He was torn between war and peace. In his pursuit of war, he dove deep within, so deep there was no turning back. He needed an agent from the military itself to release him from the ongoing war within, to give him peace, which, evidently, he drew Sheen's character to himself to do. He had gone as far on his journey away from this world as he could of his own power. He needed someone to release him from his body. The greatest absurdity of all was that this entire mission, from the time it was given to Sheen's character unto his return, never happened and will never happen. Coppola's appearance in the film as director telling Sheen and others to "act like you're fighting," reinforced that none of it ever happened. It's just a story.


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