Martin Sheen Cuts his Hand Wrestling a Demon on his Birthday | Ep5 | Making Apocalypse Now

Martin Sheen Cuts his Hand Wrestling a Demon on his Birthday | Ep5 | Making Apocalypse Now


Martin Sheen: “You know, Francis had a lot
of courage— one, in bringing me in to play that part. I was too old, frankly. I was 36
when I came to the Philippines and I’m eternally grateful to Francis and we formed a friendship
over the years that started with that and he opened a lot of areas to me and allowed
me to explore a lot of things that I don’t know if I ever would have gotten the chance
to do and never would have gotten to know myself as a result of ‘Apocalypse’ if
he that courageous and that generous and that tough on me. He was tough on me. Martin Sheen wasn’t accepted into the military
during the war saying, “I was classified 4F because I had a birth defect, my left arm
was crippled, most of my classmates ended up in Vietnam … I would have gone. I had
two brothers in Vietnam, one who was decorated, a Marine, my brother John was a decorated
hero, he survived, he had a very difficult time, and he’s one of my heroes. He’s still
alive, God love him. My feelings for him are of joy … he became a corpsman in the Navy
… the Marines took all the corpsmen into combat. He found himself in some horrible
conflicts and lost all his friends. He became a raging lunatic and ended up in jail and
beat people up, and finally had a moment of clarity” (Travers 114). Coppola thought that Sheen was hesitant in
his depiction of Willard. Willard is a pretty passive character and the hotel scene is our
only real glimpse into the kind of person Willard is outside of his mission. Coppola: “Much of what the character had
to do was look at weird things, I mean, it was always a shot of a face and he’s looking
at whatever it may be, but it was a very passive kind of a role and I really worried about
that. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted Marty Sheen to do it because he has such a
beautiful face.” I don’t follow, sir. Coppola: “I figured, well, if your going
to look at this fellow, he ought to look nice.” Sir, I am unaware of any such activity. At this point, they had been shooting for
4 to 5 months. Let’s take a look at the production timeline. You can see here that the hotel scene was
shot after they already had the flight of the valkyries, the tiger, the playboy, and
the medivac sequences in the can. This was Coppola’s chance to apply further meaning
to Willard’s watchful eye and transform these images of a character simply seeing
the strange things around him to a character going through a personal crisis. Milius relates Willard to Marlow— the protagonist
from Heart of Darkness— saying, “Willard was my Marlow, a very complex character, a
guy who was ahead of his time, written of a lot now, but not then… He was a warrior,
but not warlike, but got high on war, it was his drug, and he had nowhere else to go, he
didn’t know what else to do. Willard is a poster boy for post-traumatic [stress disorder]
syndrome, especially the first scene. I love the idea that he hopes they’re gonna come
to get him” (Travers 117). I wanted a mission. And for my sins, they
gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. Sheen: “My opinion of The Deer Hunter, and
Coming Home, both brilliant films, are really about civilians who went to war. Apocalypse
Now is about professionals who invented it, and there really is no comparison. We play,
both Marlon and myself and Bobby Duvall, professional soldiers, who don’t question really the morality
or the right and wrong of fighting in Vietnam, but rather the methods of how it’s fought.” I don’t see any method at all, sir. The sound of a helicopter outside causes Willard
to drag himself out of bed and look out the window to realize– after a night of heavy
drinking— that he is still in stuck in Saigon waiting for a mission— longing to go back
into the jungle. Coppola remarked in the commentary that reconstructing Saigon in the Philippines
was a hectic day involving lots of “taxis and people” and Coppola never quite got
it the way he wanted it (Commentary). It’s interesting that so much work was put in for
a shot that is less than 10 seconds and seen only partially through the venetian blinds. Here is some footage of the recreated Saigon
that wasn’t used in the final film. The way the light shines through the venetian
blinds creates almost a war-paint effect on Willard’s face. This wasn’t the first
time cinematographer Vittorio Storaro played with the striped shadows and light from venetian
blinds. In fact, by this time, it was almost a trademark of Storaro. Storaro had been finishing up his cinematography
work on Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage just before moving on to his
next job— The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci. You might remember that Storaro got offered
the job of cinematographer on Apocalypse Now because of Coppola’s love of The Conformist.
Well, due to scheduling, Storaro went straight from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage to
The Conformist and had very little time to prepare (NYFF55). He met with Bertolucci less
than a week before filming would begin. Storaro saw some Venetian blinds and immediately had
the idea to use the striping effect of light coming through the blinds for a scene they
were preparing (NYFF55). Storaro: I said, “Bernardo, let’s create
a kind of cage around this character. Let’s use the light in such a sharp way, that there
is not any embrace, not any harmony between light and shadows. He was extremely happy to discover, on the
day, that the costume designer had a similar idea and dressed the actress in black and
white stripes (NYFF55). Storaro was very interested in the separation between light and shadow
and later came across this Alfred Stieglitz photo from 1889 in Northern Italy depicting
a woman striped by the shadows and light coming from the blinds (NYFF55). He would later revisit
an old short that he had worked on in which he had forgotten that he had also used the
striping effect of venetian blinds. They had a soundstage and he had a student grip take
all the stage lights down from overhead and place lights on the other side of the set’s
window (NYFF55). In Storaro’s mind, the light represents something and the dark represents
the opposite and with the blinds, we get a strong sense of the conflict and separation
between these two things. The Conformist, is about a man’s struggles
with being swept up by fascism. He tries to conform, but there is a conflict within himself.
This conflict is represented in the separation of light and shadow— reality and artifice
created by fascism. Amore. Storaro said that Bertolucci would “express
each scene” in the proper conscious way, but not completely— there was always some
part that was suggested or symbolic or hiding in the shadows (NYFF55). This likely encouraged
Storaro when heightening reality for Apocalypse Now. Here, we can already see the conflict between
light and shadow as representing this conflict in Willard. The light is civilization and
the shadow is the dark, primal nature of humankind. Civilization is creeping in from outside,
but it appears that he is already approaching the heart of darkness when we meet him. There is a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational. Between good and evil. Coppola: I always imagined the type of operations
he did he spent many many many nights in the jungle alone eating what he could and so he
was used to a very solitary kind of strange existence. When Storaro arrived
in the Philippines, he had brought with him his own team made up of camera operator Enrico
Umetelli, gaffer Luciano Galli, and key grip Alfredo Marchetti, but it wasn’t long before
Storaro would realize that the sheer scope of Apocalypse Now would require assembling
a second unit to help shoot the film (Cowie 48). Coppola agreed to this request and they hired
on Stephen Burum as second unit director and cinematographer who would be aided by “one
of Storaro’s favorite operators” named Piero Servo, who had brought his own cameras
(Cowie 48). Of course, Burum would have his work cut out for him because he would have
to match the intense style of Storaro’s cinematography. Burum would later go on to
be the cinematographer for such movies as The Outsiders, The Untouchables, and the first
Mission Impossible movie. Burum said, “I agreed to head up the second
unit, so about a month later I got on a plane and flew to the Philippines. About a day and
a half after I got there, I met Vittorio, who introduced me to Piero Servo, who would
be operating the camera for me. Vittorio then said to me, ‘I want you to watch me shoot
two scenes before you do anything: So first, I watched Vittorio shoot [the military briefing]”
(American Cinematographer 95). And shortly after, Burum would shadow Storaro on Willard’s
drunken night in the hotel. Burum said, “I was looking very carefully
at what Vittorio was doing, because I knew I had to duplicate exactly what he was doing
not only technically, but spiritually. I’d gone to school [at UCLA] with Francis, so
I understood how he thought, but I didn’t yet understand how Vittorio thought, and it
was very interesting to observe the way in which he used the light. Coming from the industry
in Los Angeles, I was used to having all of this equipment; we had more gadgets and tools
than anybody else in the world. Vittorio, on the other hand, was just using Brute arcs
and Photofloods with blue gels on them. In the hotel room, he had two arcs coming in
through the windows and a little cluster of lights bouncing up on the ceiling to provide
a bit of fill. Then, back in this dark corner, he had a lamp on with a lampshade over it.
By doing that, he made the black in the corner look better, because he had that bright reference
in the frame. He also had this elaborate system of cutting pieces of paper or gels for the
shades in order to block out the light coming toward the camera, and have as much of it
as possible hitting the wall instead” (American Cinematographer 95). Sheen: “I remember complaining to Francis
one day about my confusion about all that was going down and I said to him, ‘I don’t
know who this guy is, who is this Williard?’ And Francis just looked at me square in the
eye and he said, ‘He’s you. Whoever you are. Whatever we’re filming at the time. You are
that character.’” The scene was shot on August 3rd, 1976—
Sheen’s 36th birthday. He had been drinking all day and Coppola had an idea to incorporate
Sheen’s drunkenness into the scene (Travers 116). By the time they got going, Sheen was
so drunk that he could barely stand (Hearts of Darkness). Storaro set up two cameras and they started
rolling without telling Sheen what to do, but letting Sheen know that they could wrap
for the day whenever he felt like it (Cowie 69, Hearts of Darkness). Coppola: “At the time of doing that scene,
I was talking in terms of, you know, showing the different levels of good and evil in yourself
and I imagine that this guy did things that nobody had ever seen or even ever talked to
anyone, must still be in him. And he must still have that Kurtzian other side in him.” Coppola: “I thought, I wish there was one
scene at the beginning that established that he was a complex, deep guy. So the audience,
and audiences will do this, would read into if he’s looking at something interesting,
that they would read emotion or thoughts in the character that’s really, he’s just looking,
is very passive.” Coppola needed something to set up the dark side of Willard and instill this conflict within him that would drive him ultimately to Kurtz with the question being: what would he do when he gets there? But Coppola needed an approach for displaying this conflict within the scene. Earlier Coppola had a dream that he was shooting
the scene with Sheen and a Green Beret advisor and the advisor told Coppola that all these
elite military guys were vain— in the dream, Coppola had Sheen go to the mirror and admire
his beautiful face “and when he turned around, Francis could see that Marty had suddenly
turned into Willard” (Coppola 103). Sheen: “He was hard on me in that he would
not let me get away with any cheap shots, acting wise, you know. He wanted me to fully
realize myself in this piece.” Coppola decided to take this approach in the
scene, having Sheen admire himself in the mirror. Coppola: “Marty, go look at yourself in the
mirror. I want you to look at how beautiful you are, I want you to look at your mouth– mouth and your hair. You look like a movie star.” Costas: “What do you think you were trying
to be, that no long matters to you?” Sheen: “Well, all my life, I wanted to be
a movie star, you know, and here was the opportunity of a lifetime, I was working with the most
important talented director in the world on the biggest feature ever made with one of
my idols, Marlon Brando, you know. And I’d felt terribly insecure and empty about it
all. It just didn’t make any sense. Why me? And why this? And why now? You know? Over
and over again, I would talk to Francis about who is this character Willard, and how do
we play him, and Francis was always, always clear about it, in that he’d tell me constantly,
Willard is you, whoever you are at this time, in this place.” In her production diary, Eleanor Coppola writes,
“Yesterday Francis shot the scene in the hotel room. He let Marty get a little drunk, as
the character is really supposed to be. He and Marty both knew they were taking a chance.
The first layer of the character Marty played was the mystic, the saint, the Christlike
version of Willard. Francis pushed him with a few words and he became the theatrical performer,
Willard as the Shakespearean actor. Francis prodded him again and he moved to a street
tough, a feisty street fighter who has been at the bottom, but is smart, knows some judo,
is used to a scrap” (Coppola 103). Crew: “Fellas, get right here, as soon as
you can, please …” A Vietnam veteran and friend of Sheen’s named
Joe Lowery taught Sheen about hand-to-hand combat (Cowie 69). Lowery told Sheen that
it was best to practice in front of a mirror [quote] “because nothing is faster than
your own reflection” (Cowie 69). Since the scene would just play out over music,
Coppola directed Sheen during the shooting of each take. He told Sheen, “You’re evil;
I want all the evil, the violence, the hatred in you to come out” (Travers 116). Coppola
had told Sheen to be vain, and now he told Sheen [quote] “now frighten yourself, Marty”
and Sheen punched the mirror (Travers 116). Sheen: “I was so intoxicated I didn’t realize
how close to the mirror I was, and when I struck it, I ended up catching my thumb in
the mirror and split it open a bit.” Sheen said, “Francis tried to stop it, and
he called for a doctor and there was a nurse standing by, I said, ‘No, let it go,’ I said,
‘Let’s have it out right here and now.’ It had to do with facing my own worst enemy,
myself” (Travers 116). Coppola was conflicted. He wanted to stop
and have a nurse look at Sheen’s hand, but Sheen wanted to keep going. Sheen was blind
drunk and likely wasn’t really in a position to judge exactly how badly he had been injured,
but luckily it wasn’t too bad. Coppola: “I was sitting up on a piece of the
furniture and I knew that I should say “cut” because he might have hurt his hand. And yet,
if I said “cut,” it would mean that the scene would be stopped and ruined and all of this
that he had gone through would have been lost and so I sat up there and I bit my tongue
and I allowed it to go on, against partly my better judgement, and there was I, as the
director, wanting him to have the scene which I knew he wanted to have and yet at the same
time I said, “my god, I’m responsible for this guy” and so finally when we did cut and
immediately gave medical attention to his hand, you know, I felt badly, I’m not sure
his wife appreciated that I allowed him to go on longer after he had cut his hand. It
was an accident and I was responsible but nonetheless I did and the scene is as it is
because of that decision.” Sheen: “Yeah, I still got the scar. Yeah,
I cut myself and bled quite a lot, and Francis tried to stop the scene. And I begged him
to continue rolling, there were two cameras going, and he said he couldn’t do it and they
had a nurse standing by and I said, “Please, I must do this for myself, I beg you to leave
it going.” And he did. And he allowed me to wrestle, in a sense, with some demons that
I had been wrestling with for quite awhile. And now I was doing it in a public forum and
in a sense I got them out.” Eleanor writes, “Francis had a moment of not
wanting to be a vampire, sucking Marty’s blood for the camera, and not wanting to turn
off the camera when Marty was Willard” (Coppola 104). Both Coppola and Sheen knew how truthful
this performance was— Sheen was Willard and this moment really expresses Willard’s
nature— not to mention, it adds some great humor to the next scene. Are you all right, Captain? What’s it look like? Sheen: “I had done that scene in bars, I’d
done that scene at home, you know, in my drunkenness. I’m an alcoholic, you know. And I had to come
to grips with it. I had to exorcise that out of myself.” Coppola: Why did you come back? Why did you come back? Think about it. Your wife… Home… Car. My heart is broken. Eleanor talks about the aftermath of filming
this scene saying, “I was outside in the street, shooting [for the documentary]. When I went
back to the set, Enrico, Vittorio and the people who had been inside during the scene
were coming out, visibly shaken. Silent and disturbed, emotionally affected by the power
of Marty/Willard baring his guts in the room… I waited for Francis to come outside after
the wrap. He never came. Finally, I went into the set. Francis and Marty were alone. Marty
was lying on the bed, really drunk, talking about love and God. He was singing an old
hymn called “Amazing Grace” and trying to get Francis and me to sing with him, holding
our hands and crying… His cut finger had been bandaged. It started to bleed again because
he was squeezing our hands, hard, and sometimes hitting edges of the bed… The nurse came
in and I helped hold his arm, so she could put a fresh dressing on the cut and try to
stop the bleeding. The cut was not deep, but it was right on the knuckle and he kept bending
it. Everyone was trying to sort of ease him toward the car. The Filipina nurse was praying
out loud and saying, ‘Jesus loves you Marty.’ It took about two hours to get him in the
car and back to the hotel in the rain… Francis wanted an actor to have confidence in him,
even if wasn’t all written in the script. Confidence that he would find a way to get
to that moment where the actor, the person and the character merged into reality when
the cameras are rolling.” (Coppola 104). Sheen: “I pretended I couldn’t remember a
lot of the things that I’d done that night. Actually, I remembered it all.” Since they had been in production for nearly
5 months before shooting this scene, this actually wasn’t the first injury Sheen sustained
during production— [quote] “He had already fainted from the heat and needed four stitches
from cuts after standing too dose to an on-set explosion” (Travers 115). At first, Sheen didn’t want to see that
scene. The scene wasn’t in the version that premiered at Cannes, but Sheen would later
go it in New York with friend who had been in the Army and was “shocked” by what
he saw (Travers 116). Costas: “What did it look like when you saw
it?” Sheen: “Pretty frightening. And today I don’t
recognize that man, he’s a pretty sad guy. Pretty sad man. Trying to be something he
wasn’t, afraid of things that he shouldn’t have been. Immature in a lot of ways. Very painful guy.” In a separate interview, Sheen said, “It was a transcendent scene. I am an alcoholic, and the insanity of alcoholics is, you think that’s who you are … that’s
where I was at that time. … I knew I was gonna wrestle one of the demons … some part
of me wanted to see it on film…. I had to look at that, and see what family members
had seen in me: self-loathing, guilt. All the things that destroy our humanity. I had
to live that” (Travers 116). Sheen had already been a well-known actor,
but after Apocalypse Now, he would be a movie star (Travers 114). It’s hard to think of anyone else playing
Willard at this point, but Sheen wasn’t the first choice to play Willard— they had
originally wanted Steve McQueen for the role who entertained the idea but ultimately declined
(Casting). Sheen wasn’t available, so they cast the great frequent Scorsese player Harvey
Keitel, but things didn’t go so well… This episode’s companion PDF is a little
more simplified for the sake of time. In this one, I compare the introduction of Willard
in John Milius’ 1969 draft, Willard’s introduction in Coppola’s 1975 draft, and
Willard’s introduction in the final film, as well as a selection of interesting comments
from the previous episode. It’s yours for just a dollar and you can
check-out easy with PayPal. Your support really helps keep the channel afloat during copyright
issues and other annoying problems that inevitably arise while making these. Thanks so much for
your support and for watching!

55 Comments

  1. Thanks for these videos!

    They've been great. I'd love to see more on Coppola and his other films, especially his lesser recognised work like Cotton Club or Rumble Fish.

  2. as Rodney On The Rock used to say Vittorio Strorraro is GodHead!Take a look at Goya In Bordeaux&the Two Exorcist Prequels he lensed for Paul Schrader&Renny Harlin earlier this century,some gorgeous images in there……..

  3. I have never seen this film. But if it has Martin Sheen on it, then it must be good. Great video as usual, looking forward to seeing more even though sometimes I haven't watch the films you talk about 😂

  4. I’m writing this on your newest video but I counts for all of them. It would be very interesting to see, how you go about your research, just in general. You always wenn to know every little detail, about anything. Keep up the great work!

  5. I've always liked film critic John Nolte's theory that Willard died in that hotel room and when he opens the door, he's entering hell for his many sins.

  6. When your soul becomes the project, when your death would only consolidate the work, only then you become the artist. Only then you become your art.

  7. Weird how the hotel scene injury accounts are totally different between Francis and Martin. Both take credit for not stopping the scene for different egotistical reasons.

  8. “I pretended I couldn’t remember a lot of the things I had done that night, I actually remembered it all”. That’s as real as it gets.

  9. I keep editing my post i really dont know how to congrat you,this is very clean and well structured,i know about the history of apocalypse now and it s great that someone like you tyler takes every source and arranges it with finess…i loved your kubrick 2001 space odysee series and this is shapeing up to be another magnum opus

  10. Wow, a whole episode on the background and analysis of one (pretty pivotal) scene. Just great work, CinemaTyler. More!

  11. Another great video! I'm so consistently impressed by how deeply you dive into these projects, and I never can believe how you find the great archival footage you do!

  12. I love this series on Apocalypse Now! Thank you, CinemaTyler! I really appreciate how instead of just one video on this movie, you’re doing a bunch!

  13. Wow. This is by far the best series on the making of a movie I have seen on your channel. Please, please please 30 more episodes on Apocalypse Now

  14. Only watched this movie once when I was about 14. Something about that beginning sequence really freaked me out, more than the rest of the movie. Since then, I’ve had some nights of violent moaning myself. What a rare type of film.

  15. This was completely absorbing. It flew by like it was five minutes instead of twenty. I got lost in this. You are a hell of a storyteller, not just an analyst.

  16. hey, this is a great series, just found it yesterday. really nice vids man, keep it up! i love apocalypse now & heart of darkness, and heartS of darkness, so this deep dive has been really cool to watch

  17. A lot of respect for your dedication to the art of cinema when you could have gotten 50X more views if you did a documentary on the new Star Wars trilogy. Thank you for being a genuine and refreshing voice on this platform.

  18. please tell me this series is continuing….please. need more episodes, there are so many fascinating scenes and amazing, meaningful details…based on the rest of the comments, I'm not alone in begging for more. we've barely even started the movie!! let's see this through to the end.

    p.s.
    please, more
    apocalypse now

  19. What the hell. A damn 5 part series on my favorite movie? How am I just finding this now?!

    I assume Sheens heart attack will be covered soon

  20. I've seen Apocalypse more times than I can count since around 1981 when I first saw it as a 12-year-old (it was the first "grownup" film my folks allowed me to watch, along with Godfather I and II). I still watch it around once a year. I just watched it again last night, and I can't believe how incredibly moved I can be by a film I already know so well. An absolutely staggering achievement.

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