Thursday, September 3, 2020

Apocalypse Now -- Prelude

I don't write uberposts but for this movie I will have to make an exception. All of you you are at least aware of Apocalypse Now, some of you may remember seeing it, it's even possible that some of you didn't care for the movie. Nonetheless, this movie is one candidate for my all time top 10 list of films from any genre.

First a personal story.

I served in the Marines during an interesting time. It was late Cold War and there was tension with the Soviet Union but not a shooting war. Vietnam was over. It was before beginning of the hostilities in the Middle East. We were a peacetime military. I have no personal war stories, no experiences to share.

I worked electronics on fighters, F-4s, and on one deployment to Japan, I worked mids. Sleep in the day, go to chow at 2300, then report to the hanger at 2330 and work or perhaps just hang out if the planes were ready for the next day.

The Staff Sergeant that ran the mid crew had been in a lot longer. He probably should have been a rank higher, but there was some history, and anyway, there he was, running Maintenance Control. He had been in helicopters in Vietnam and reenlisted while overseas to get something better, safer,  and as he would later tell it, more likely to let him see his 21st birthday. We were friends. I was a Sergeant, E-5 and he was a Staff Sergeant, E-6, so it wasn't a huge divide. His name was Ira.

1983. Remember what the world was like back then. If I wrote my wife a letter, it was 7 to 10 days before she would get it.  Our mail passed each other and if I wrote regularly, I was responding to a letter at least a week old. We didn't speak to each other for 6 months.

No cell phones, internet, Facebook, movies on demand, YouTube, none of it. There was one TV channel that played on the screen in the common room. It ran the FEN broadcasts, mostly old inoffensive reruns like Bonanza and some sports programming. No VCRs yet. Laserdisks were coming out and it looked like they might be a big thing. There was a base movie theater and it got a different movie every week or so.

And in the winter of 1983, Apocalypse Now came to the base theater. Ira and I had a day off and we went to the movie. It's a long movie, epic in scope, hard to take it all in the first time you see it. I was blown away. Ira was quiet and we didn't talk as the film rolled. I have no reference for what war really is like, but this movie, whatever it's inaccuracies, hyperbole, or flaws, grabbed Ira and pulled him back in to a place he thought he had left behind.

When the movie was over and we got outside he started talking. About the movie, his life, his war, the things that happened, the effect it had on him, all of it. Stream of consciousness. He knew we were in Japan, knew what year it was, but it was the closest I have ever been to someone who is havng a full flashback experience. We had rain ponchos and winter coats on and we walked out the main gate and hiked up through dark streets, all the while with him talking, explaining, tying the movie into his experiences and events.

The rain stopped, and as it usually did, it got foggy. We walked and talked and finally returned to the base as the sky got light and morning came. We went to chow, then back to our respective barracks. The details of what he talked about are not something I am going to share, but in some way, it cemented our friendship. The movie and his story  became something he would occasionally revisit in conversation.

I didn't see the film again until at least the mid 1990s when I got a VHS player. I rented it and watched it twice before I returned it. I have seen it once since then, and watched the Redux version as well. I have read about the making of the movie and seen the documentary. I have read some critical commentary, some of which is interesting, and some is pure hogwash.

But I think Ira got the heart of it. The movie isn't so much about Vietnam as it is about the experience of Vietnam, the feel, the emotions, and the insanity. The next post will be about the movie itself.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I have a friend that left the theater during the scene at the fire base. It was too intense, and too close to reality.