Section One

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Apocalypse Now
Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen
Bob Peak, 1979

By the time he was recruited for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now, the influential but controversial actor Marlon Brando had become almost a parody of himself. Although he was paid generously for his relatively small role in this Vietnam-era war epic, he arrived for the shoot grossly overweight and ill-prepared. Nonetheless, Brando, playing Colonel Kurtz, a Special Forces officer driven mad by the moral ambiguity and unendurable horror of war, looms at the heart of the film in Coppola’s vision, as this poster suggests. Brando shaved his head for the role, and his partially improvised monologue is filmed in a surreal, shadowy close-up.

Despite the director’s problems with Brando, Coppola conceded the importance of his role. The big scene of this adventure-action movie, he claimed, “is not another helicopter battle, but it’s a guy, a face, alone in a dark room, telling the truth.”