Memorial Day will likely never be considered date night, but there is plenty of war-themed programming and cookout tradition to warrant dinner and a movie.
The holiday began shortly after the Civil War when soldier gravesites were decorated with flowers by widows, mothers and orphans of those left behind.
These days, the holiday is marked by memorial services, parades, cookouts, the Indianapolis 500 and war-movie marathons.
As a kid, I loved war movies. Next to Japanese monster movies, watching Gary Cooper portray Sgt. York or hearing “Tora, Tora, Tora” passed up the Japanese military food chain was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
But my all-time favorite war film is Francis Ford Coppola's “Apocalypse Now.” When the DVD of “Apocalypse Now Redux” came out in 2001, the auteur's vision was complete.
By the time “Apocalypse Now” arrived in theaters on 1979 it was preceded by torrents of bad press, reporting a chaotic production fraught with budget overruns, star Martin Sheen's heart attack and Marlon Brando arriving on set looking more like Fatty Arbuckle than Vito Corleone.
I begged and badgered my parents to take me to see the movie, despite its R rating, invoking my 13th birthday in desperation. That cinched it with my begging out of the experience.
Through the eyes of a kid, the first two-thirds of the film were as joyous as a young Laurence Fishburne waterskiing to the Rolling Stones' “Satisfaction.” Robert Duvall's Col. Kilgore quickly became the center of idolatry for the film-and-music circle I ran with in middle school. As I entered my 20s, PBR Street Gang and Charlie Don't Surf would both become names for fantasy baseball teams.
But as a kid, the brooding, brutal final third left me confused. Why couldn't Kilgore have cranked the Wagner and come to the rescue at the end?
By college, videotape had taken over the world. “Apocalypse Now” was one of the first movies I ever owned. It was not uncommon for those walking by my dorm room at York College in Nebraska to hear The Doors' “The End” mixed over the whipping of attack helicopters pouring from my Pioneers at any hour of day or night.
In time, third act became less problematic. The T.S. Eliot poetry came into context, as did the script's interpretation of the source material, Joseph Conrad's “Heart of Darkness.”
Coppola and screenwriter John Milius turned the simple tale of a small group of soldiers hunting down a decorated Marine named Kurtz who'd gone rogue, into a nuanced exposition of what's at the heart of war — chaos.
The film was made under chaotic circumstances, which might've helped inform its depiction of war's pure madness and how it permeates everything it touches. After a brief interlude with the absurdity of war, a delirious Chef, played by Frederic Forrest, reminds himself to “never get out of the boat.” Sheen, in voice-over, agrees.
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