I’m not gonna bother recapping the plot of Apocalypse Now. If you don’t already know Coppola’s masterpiece, well, you should. The US Army send a guy deep behind enemy lines to kill a rogue officer. But reducing Apocalypse Now to a bare synopsis is like calling Moby Dick just a big dumb book about a whale!

The world changed in the Spring of 1982. 

Maybe not for you, but definitely for me. I was around eight at the time and had a bad case of chickenpox. 

I remember being driven almost mad by the itching, the only thing that seemed to cut through the fog of my fever, the temporary relief of my fingers tearing like claws at my blistered flesh, robotically scratching, picking at myself. No school; a fortnight’s quarantine at home. Ice cream. Tepid baths. Calamine lotion. My mum making up a bed on the couch for me. 

And I remember my dad coming home on the Friday evening with our first video recorder and a bundle of tapes from the local library. A Betamax, of course, they were the best! My parents had been talking about getting a VCR for months – mainly because they wanted to record the televisation of Pope John Paul II’s upcoming visit to Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in June (an event we were already attending!) and they had done their research. 

That squat, black tape of the Papal Visit would sit, unwatched, in the cabinet beneath the TV, along with the videos of my sister’s First Communion, both our respective Confirmations and my cousin’s ill-fated wedding until my folks eventually admitted defeat and bought a VHS some six years later. But that Friday afternoon in April as I listlessly lay on the sofa in vest and jammy trousers watching my father struggle to hook up and tune in the video, that future was still unwritten, an undiscovered country. 

Growing up, my mother was the first major influence on my viewing tastes, taking me once a week to the brothel of cinematic delights, peppering my movie diet of Disney and Star Wars, Bond and Indiana Jones, Herbie, The Cat From Outer Space, Battle Beyond The Stars, with more eclectic fare, sneaking my underage ass into AA-rated movies like Excalibur, Outland and Blade Runner as well as retrospective screenings of classics like Seven Samurai, Rashomon, The Searchers, North By Northwest, Rififi, prints as scratched and battered as a Reader’s Wives centrefold you’d find in a hedge. She’d allow me to stay up late to watch on TV the likes of Alien (her yelling at the screen “Feed it the bloody cat!” at the film’s climax…) and Logan’s Run (like most cishet boys of the 70s and 80s my sexual awakening owes a debt to Jenny Agutter), the Universal monster movies, Dirty Harry and The French Connection. To this day, most of my favourite films, are films she introduced me to; Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Dumbo (the original), Yojimbo, The Asphalt Jungle. 

But it was my dad who introduced me to the delicious insanity of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. My father worked in football and wasn’t much of a film buff, he’d simply grabbed a handful of tapes from the library’s rack on his way home, films he hoped I’d like, never once considering their certificate or suitability. I’m not even sure my father knew there was such a thing as a film certificate. There was Flash Gordon in all it’s vibrant, primary-coloured camp. John Belushi boozing and capering in Animal House. And there was Apocalypse Now! 

From it’s opening shots – helicopters flittering over lush jungle blending with Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard’s face, Jim Morrison lamenting the end – I was captivated, entranced. Like Sam Bottoms’ acid casualty Lance, my mind was blown, expanded, a veil was torn asunder and hidden truths revealed. 

Like Ridley Scott before him, Coppola’s not satisfied with his legacy though and just as Scott endlessly tinkers with Blade Runner (a new EVEN MORE UNICORNS cut will probably be along any day now…), Coppola has cut and recut arguably one of the greatest works of cinema ever since its Cannes debut. This latest cut, we are assured his Final Cut (it’s there in the title…), frankly adds nothing to the 2001 Redux cut. Gone is the jungle interlude with the stranded Playboy bunnies and, bizarrely, there’s less Brando while the interminable French plantation scene inexplicably remains, stopping the film dead until these ghosts of colonialism disappear back into the mist. 

But none of that matters. Some 37 years after my first fevered, hallucinatory viewing, sat in a Soho screening theatre, watching Coppola’s 4K Final Cut, helicopters whapping past overhead, explosions and Wagner thrumming up my spine, I’m eight years old again. See it on the biggest screen you can with the best sound. This is the end…

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