Another interstitial section, but this one has a slightly different tone. The boat has gone farther up the river and deeper into no-man’s-land, and the sense of menace is palpable. Everyone seems a little jumpy when they encounter another boat, but it turns out to contain friendlies, one of whom shoots the moon at our boys. It is followed by another boat that ups the ante prankwise, tossing a burning flare onto the PBR’s canopy.
This is a little over the top as pranks go; the flare starts a fire, there are a few panicky moments, and soon Lance is covering the roof of the boat with palm fronds like it was Sukkot or something. But the real importance of this event is not the damage it causes; rather it sets the stage for what is to come the next time the PBR encounters another boat. Back in high school we used to call this foreshadowing, if I remember correctly.
Image assembled by Eduardo Saboya
“Sending girls like me to Vietnam to entertain the troops is like teasing a caged lion with a piece of raw meat.”
— Raquel Welch
This is one of the most unsettling scenes in Apocalypse Now; it is the proverbial dream that turns into a nightmare. At first the boat seems to have drifted into some sort of shangri-la; we see lighted domes and giant glowing columns that look like lipstick tubes. “This sho nuff is a bizarre sight in the middle of this shit,” says Mr. Clean with his usual understated eloquence.
At ground level, the place looks like a Vietnam War Costco, stocked with everything a soldier might dream of, from motorcycles to centerfolds to liquor. Chef asks the supply sergeant for Panama Red — not just weed, specifically Panama Red — and the guy says sure, no problem. The one thing they do have a little trouble getting is what they’re actually there for, fuel for the boat. Willard has to grab the sergeant by the collar and throw him around a little bit to get his attention; oddly, he seems to enjoy it, and responds with free booze and press box tickets to the upcoming show.
Ah, yes, the show; a very loud bar band cranks out a tasty version of “Suzie Q” as a copter lands and out steps Bill Graham himself, ideally cast in the role of MC/pimp. He tries to whip up some excitement, but the response is lukewarm until the crowd sees what he has brought them: girls.
This brief interstitial scene doesn’t really belong with the sequences immediately before or after it. It’s more a continuation of the scene just before the mango-tiger incident, with Willard reviewing the dossier on Kurtz as the rest of the crew relaxes.
The information given here starts to fill in the the nuances of Kurtz’s situation. He is a brilliant if stubborn officer who has “gotten off the boat,” i.e., started doing things his own way and getting results, but stepping on toes in the process. Willard admits in so many words that he is starting to admire the man he is supposed to kill.
As much as anything, this scene is a showcase for the movie’s design department, who put together all the documents seen here and many more. Peter Cowie says that they created “tax returns for Kurtz, a driver’s license for his putative wife, Janet, and countless letters from the colonel to his wife and son.” None of these actually appear in the film, except for a single letter, but one must admire the attention to detail.
However, as a professional editor, I am compelled to point out that this scene contains a glaring error that bothers me every time I hear it. Re Kurtz taking airborne training, Willard says “The next youngest guy in his class was half his age,” when he really means “The next oldest guy in his class was half his age.” Oh well, nobody’s perfect.
After all the noise and bad craziness of the Kilgore scenes, things quiet down a bit here as the boat begins moving upriver. Chief is piloting, presumably, as Clean, Lance, and Chef enjoy a smoke, while Willard retreats to his little hideaway to partake of his preferred intoxicant, good old alcohol.
For a moment things seem almost peaceful, but there is a sense of foreboding too. We are heading now into the heart of darkness, beginning the journey backward in time. We hear Chef saying:
I’m not here. I’m walking through the jungle looking for mangoes.
Which is an echo, apparently, of dialogue from the set, where the actors were going bonkers from being stuck in the Philippines for so long. In Hearts of Darkness Frederic Forrest says:
We felt like, after awhile, we really weren’t there. It was like you were in a dream or something…. We’d say to Francis, I’m not here Francis, I’m in Montana with Jack Nicholson. So they’d say “Where are you today, Freddie?” I’d be in Waco, I could be in Des Moines, wherever I wanted to be. And you would just go through your day — you weren’t in that place.