Sunday, January 25, 2009

Down the rabbit hole with Francis Coppola

Today, Karmasurfer and I watched a movie called "Hearts of Darkness," which is a documentary about the making of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now."

It is a fascinating watch; but it took me straight back to the memories of watching Coppola make "Gardens of Stone."

He shot parts of the movie at the Army base I was stationed at. As an Army journalist assigned to the base public affairs office, I attended the shooting every day. I was told to help myself to the (excellently) catered food, talk to whomever I wanted, observe the production, whatever. An experience of a lifetime right there.

I chatted with James Earl Jones, who is perhaps one of the most stellar actors AND people you'll ever want to meet:

I laughed as Casey Siemazsko and D.B. Sweeney passed the time between takes balancing M-16s on their chins, to see who could keep them up longer.

But on the day when it was discovered that Coppola's son, Gian-Carlo ("Gio"), had been killed in a terrible boating accident on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., involving Ryan O'Neal's son, Griffin -- I was suddenly cast adrift. No more fly-on-the-wall enjoyment of Hollywood in action. Real life stepped in like a boot.

I sat alone at one of the picnic tables set up near the set, eating lunch. Taking everything in. I knew Gio had been killed; I was horrified. But I felt I had to mentally record it all. This was personal history. I knew that, young idiot though I was. Later, perhaps, you could meditate on the enormous tragedy that had happened, and everything it meant. (And I did. Still do.) But right then, you were on auto-pilot, by necessity.

From my table, I watched grips and sound men stringing cables, the wardrobe mistress (a lovely, friendly lady with unkempt hair) pulling people into her trailer for fittings, the two guys in charge of keeping a bear cub happy with ice-cream sandwiches (Coppola has always had a thing about animals, whether in his movies or not -- witness the tiger in "Apocalypse") -- busy people, running around.

It was sunny and warm. Suddenly, Mr. Coppola sat down right next to me. No one at all at this big, long table but me. He sat down on my left.

He was wearing a rumpled, khaki-colored trench coat and a fedora hat, despite the heat. It looked as if he hadn't bathed for a couple of days. His beard was wild, a tangle of black and grey. His glasses were huge and square. He had two full plates of food, which he proceeded to methodically attack, quite as if I wasn't there.

How to describe the flood and diversity of emotions that seized one at a moment like this?

I played along, continuing to eat as well. Famous filmmakers sit down to share lunch with anonymous female soldiers every day of the week, no big deal! A man who has just lost his eldest son! Oh, WHAT does one say at a time like this? The silence began to grow painful, overstated. I must say something to this man of loss. My heart is full, for so many reasons, the chief of which is it is aching for him. Please, let me say something.

I couldn't. I didn't. He wiped off his mouth with a napkin, got up, walked away, and went on about the business of finishing up a film that had become a nightmare duty to simply be finished.


In the documentary we watched tonight, a colleague of Coppola's said it is Coppola's way to go from A to Z, no matter what. During the filming of "Apocalypse," there were many, many times Coppola could have been de-railed. He didn't. He can't. He won't.

What a multilayered, complex man -- with whom it was my privilege to share a small moment, a terrible, magical moment. He is a surfer of life on a level not imaginable. In ways, he is a giant, and I am an ant. In others, he is just a man.

My dear sir: If you read this, here's what I would have said to you, had I not been so tongue-tied:

Who knew black bear cubs purred like cats?


KT said...

Excellent share, my friend!!!

Eowyn said...

Thanks :)