The strongest period for American film starts with Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate, which both came out in 1967, and, in my opinion, ends, 12 years later, with Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola had once been one of the main poster boys for the New American Cinema, having made the first two masterful Godfather movies and The Conversation in the early 1970s. When he chose to adapt Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness as a Vietnam movie—and spent several years and tens of millions of dollars to do it—the American public was made to focus on Coppola’s ego and excesses, which was certainly at least partly fair but, in a way, seemed to misdiagnose the problem. Coppola was being ridiculed for ... wanting to make an ambitious work of art on a socially relevant subject? The abuse seemed out of proportion to the crime.
It’s difficult to reconstruct just how deep the mockery of Coppola ran at that time. I can remember quite clearly the accepted-by-everyone premise that Apocalypse Now “didn’t have an ending”—this claim that was supposed to be definitively argument-ending on the subject of Coppola’s lunacy but in retrospect seems fairly arbitrary. Coppola had trouble pinning down a final version in the editing room, true, and you can see the lengthier cut of the movie when you watch Apocolypse Now Redux, but it just wasn’t true that the ending was any special index of Coppola’s excesses or inability to make a decision (both of which were real factors for Coppola at that point). As Richard Beggs, who won an Oscar for Best Sound for his work on the movie, later said in defense of the movie: “There were never five endings, but just the one, even if there were differently edited versions.”
At any rate, the idea that Coppola was ripe for a comeuppance was inescapable in the culture. Case in point: Porklips Now, a short movie (16 minutes) directed by Ernie Fosselius to make fun of Coppola’s Vietnam epic. Fosselius’ main claim to fame at this point was certainly Hardware Wars, a parody of Star Wars that had become something of an indie sensation in 1977. Lifting its strategies directly from MAD Magazine, just as Hardware Wars had done, Porklips Now transforms the story of Willard seeking out Kurtz into the following: “Dullard,” a barbecue practitioner of the suburbs, is sent into “Chinatown” to investigate the unorthodox practices of a rogue butcher named “Mertz” (as in Fred Mertz, from I Love Lucy).
I won’t ruin too many of the jokes but I will point out that Billy Gray, once best known for playing “Bud” on Father Knows Best, was extremely well cast as “Dullard”—the re-creation of Martin Sheen’s voiceover in Apocalypse Now is one of the best elements of the satire. Fosselius himself does the Brando turn as Mertz, and it’s only fair to say that he does a pretty excellent job in the role.
You can’t take on Apocalypse Now without addressing the Doors, and sure enough, Fosselius comes up with a pretty amusing Doors pastiche under the title “Not the End—Yet” (a dig at the indecision surrounding the original movie), performed by “Scott Mathews and the Back Doors,” whoever that may be. Meanwhile, true to the times, the parody of the big helicopter scene is given a suitably cocaine-y gloss, with the Wagnerian “Disco Valkyries” performed by the Four Hoarsemen, har har. Devotees of MTV in the late 1980s will be amused to see Jim Turner in a small role—years later he would be better known to a nation of teenagers as Randee of the Redwoods.
I honestly enjoyed this more than Hardware Wars, and if you’re into Coppola or Apocalypse Now, it’s a must-see. It was included on Hardware Wars, and Other Film Farces, which came out on VHS in the early 1980s.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Hardware Wars,’ the ‘Star Wars’ parody that became a blockbuster