Yesterday’s rant brought to mind an ill-fated short film project I was developing around the time Apocalypse Now Redux was released.
The Chron’s Datebook couldn’t get a peg on anyone from the production willing to talk, but I had an in with the film’s Oscar-winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch, having hosted a radio show for his wife Aggie’s West Marin Coastal Radio project. The interview and subsequent article went well (read it here), which lead to additional interviews with some principle cast members including those who played the ship of fools going up Shit Creek to Col. Kurtz’ compound (sans Martin Sheen who was busy playing Mr. President and Lawrence Fishburne who was getting reloaded for a Matrix sequel).
Regrettably, my word count wouldn’t permit spending the ink on Fred Forest, Sam Bottoms and Albert Hall, who portrayed Chef, Lance the Surfer and the doleful Chief Phillips respectively. However, I did pawn some journalistic credibility for the chance to pitch them all a project that would serve as a reunion of sorts.
In the film , the trio awakes in a Napa Valley bed and breakfast, present day, to find that their pal Marty has broken the room’s full-length mirror like he did in the Saigon hotel room (Marty is never seen, his character is behind the lens of the camcorder which serves to document their exploits). Recriminations ensue and exposition about their ultimate plan comes to the fore: they’re traveling up Highway 29, through the dark heart of the wine country, eventually arriving at the Niebaum-Coppola winery compound. There they would meet Coppola a la Kurtz and improvise some shenanigans seeing as I didn’t have an end in mind yet. I did know, however, that at some point the crew would be pulled over by a Robert Duvall-esque highway patrolman who would croak “I love the smell of Napa in the morning.”
When I positioned the actual production of the film as “really just a weekend in the wine country with a digital video camera,” the actors’ interest was piqued. However, Bottoms insisted that I get Coppola’s blessing before he would completely commit. After working the phones for a few hours, I ended up in a conversation with Kim Aubrey, a longtime executive at Zoetrope who also happened to have a producer credit on the Redux.
If memory serves, I pitched my flick, waited out the uncomfortable silence on the other end and got into the following:
Aubrey: “Hmm. Cute, but it’s sort of like Apocalypse Now Two, isn’t it?”
Howell: “Same actors, different characters.”
Howell: “And, you know, funny.”
Howell: “What do you say, Kim, can we do it?”
Aubrey: “Sure, you can do it. But we might have to sue you.”
Seeing as I didn’t want to disrespect the godfather and wake up with the head of a pantomime horse in my bed (how the film mob deals with satirists), I put the kibosh on the project.
This is just as well. The same territory was expertly trod back in 1980 in Ernie Fosselius’ deliciously titled Pork Lips Now! Best known for the seminal Star Wars parody Hardware Wars, Fosselius managed to make his redux of Apocalypse Now more an ode to Coppola’s original than a takedown. In it, Capt. Dullard (a the funhouse reflection of Sheen’s Capt. Williard) hunts down a certain Colonel Mertz to a Chinatown barbershop in San Francisco. There’s some hullabaloo about nefarious meat processing that underpins the narrative structure, but it is the dark atmosphere of Fosselius’ flick that is it’s triumph — it simply feels like Apocalypse Now, perhaps even more than the original, for like any distillation it is more potent, like cognac from wine.
Now, whenever I cork one o’ dem fine Coppola clarets, I toast “Terminate with extreme prejudice.”