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June 1997, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Dan Gribbin Ferrum College Virginia <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 24 Jun 1997 09:45:32 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Mike Frank's comments about the difficulty of adapting literary fictions to
the screen in the case of novels which involve some sort of first-person
narration is certainly relevant to my questions about APOCALYPSE NOW.  We've
discussed voice-over narration on SCREEN-L in the past.  I regard it as a
highly compromised technique if relied on heavily.  (Voice-over in A.N.
reduces Willard's role to the passive point of telling us things which it
seems to me could more profitably be dramatized.  Actually, there was some
excellent dramatization of character in the film, but not much involving the
principals.  The implication underlying the Robert Duvall character, for
example, is that you have to be half crazy to function in a war zone and if
you end up pushing the envelope toward total insanity but still get the job
done, who's going to question you?  That's excellent preparation for
considering Col. Kurtz's case, but the point is that the air-cav colonel
Duvall is playing ends up being interesting in and of himself.  Perhaps
Brando was being asked to do the impossible; perhaps we've been told so much
about Kurtz before we encounter him that the character is bound to fall far
short of expectations.  It's an excellent point that what Conrad withholds
about Kurtz is vitally important to the success of HEART OF DARKNESS, even
though the novelist was severely criticized in his own right for offering
only a partial characterization.  I don't see the novel's characterization as
so damagingly partial, actually.  The phrase "Exterminate all the brutes" and
the wild native woman on the river shore speak volumes about Kurtz; the
manuscript page and the native woman say very little about Col. Kurtz in A.N.
because they haven't been set up properly.  I'll close with a comment about
what I consider the ultimate failed adaptation, CATCH-22, where the novel was
so successful in conveying Yossarian as a state of mind involving embattled
individuality confronted with a dehumanized bureaucracy.  It was a topic that
I could relate to perfectly, reading it during my last weeks in the Army, and
I think the mere appearance of an actor on the screen trying to portray
Yossarian (no offense to Alan Arkin) quite simply infuriated me.  I was
expecting the cinematic experience of my life, and I felt like walking out
after five minutes.  I give Coppola credit for solving many more of the
problems in his adaptation than Nichols did, even as I lament the falling off
of interest in the last third of APOCALYPSE NOW.
Dan Gribbin
Ferrum College (VA)
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