Friday, August 15, 2003

On the Blackout

Spike Lee directed a movie about the last time New York City went dark -- the angry, cynical Summer of Sam. But only Frank Capra, or Walt Disney, could make a movie about yesterday's massive power failure.

Unless, of course, this movie is set in Ottawa or Toronto. It looks like our wacky neighbors to the north are behaving like pre-Giuliani New Yorkers, looting, burning and rioting as soon as the sun goes down.

Britain's Sky News reported that New York City "was still in chaos as the power started to come back on." Yet New Yorkers remained calm and orderly through the disaster; they've had only one heat-related death so far (at least that we know of), several accidental fires, and far less crime than would be normal on a typical Thursday night. Citizens stepped up and provided services that the city could no longer sustain. Hairdressers directed traffic; stock brokers kept an eye on the crowds. Hospitals cranked up their emergency generators, so they could continue to care for the sick. Ice cream vendors gave away product as a gesture of goodwill. Local pubs stayed open with candle power; people met and talked with people they had never seen or noticed before. Stranded commuters slept in parks, even on the very steps of city hall, with not the slightest fear for their personal safety. The great city was on holiday, quiet as a country lane. If this be "chaos," give us more of it.

In the words of Michael Moore, "Are we [Americans] a nation of gun nuts, or are we just nuts?" It's well known that The Bloated One has no shame, but I'd like to see him try to explain the past twenty-four hours. Maybe he could make a documentary: Bowling for Ottawa, anyone?

Update (8:30 p.m.): American newspapers have generally referred to the blackout as a "disruption." That sounds more accurate than British reports of "chaos." Meanwhile, accident-prone Toronto parties like it's 1999, and the rest of the world says, "Good. Americans got it good."

This Blog Is Now Banned in the People's Republic of China

The technique of "fisking" is named after British journalist Robert Fisk, not so much because he pioneered the form (he didn't), but because his own writing is so marvelously susceptible to it. Over the past few years "fisking" has evolved into one of the Web's few original genres; it usually involves an elaborate line-by-line dissection of some news item or editorial that the author (or "fisker") finds ludicrous and/or reprehensible.

The form gives the illusion of dialogue, in the way that sniper fire can give the illusion of battle. First, the author will reprint a section of the original article ranging from a few words to an entire paragraph. Then, after a double space, the author will add a short comment of her own -- and, as with most Web writing, the snider the comment, the better the fisking. Usually the original article is also presented in a different font, size or style than the comments, so that the reader will have an easy time telling source and response apart.

At its best, "fisking" can be hilarious, resembling a written version of the heckling we like to give an unwatchable movie or a dying comedian. At its worst, it is merely tedious. Most fiskings, including the one below, are a mixture of the two. But for what it's worth, here is my first public attempt in the genre. The occasion is an August 12 Wall Street Journal article by Andrew Batson. Batson's article is in italics, while my own comments are in regular typeface.

BEIJING -- China is about to embark on the world's biggest experiment ...

... the sort of experiment where the lab blows up and lots of people die in the rubble ...

... in the use of electronic identification cards. The core of the new ID cards is an embedded microchip storing an individual's personal information, which can be read electronically and checked against databases kept by China's security authorities.

Hmm, let's see -- re-education, re-education, death squad, re-education ...

Residents of most major cities also will carry other chip-based cards that control access to social services.

In Beijing the secret police are considered a "social service."

This massive transformation of how the government interacts with its citizens is proceeding nearly unnoticed by anyone outside a small circle of bureaucrats and industry executives. There has been little public debate on the costs and benefits of the programs ...

Perhaps because the Chinese people who tried to debate it have all "disappeared."

... and China's state-run media have been mostly silent on the issue.

Silent as the mass grave they might fill if they spoke up?

In their public justification for the new cards, Chinese officials have focused on how the cards can help solve a major law-enforcement problem:

How to find political dissidents hiding in the walls and basements.

Paper IDs can be forged easily, contributing to fraud and financial crime. The plastic cards should be much harder to counterfeit.

But the rewards will be so much greater.

"There is a genuine need for modernization of the ID system to enable the police to fight genuine crime,"

As opposed to the inconvenient outbreaks of freedom which they currently have to fight.

... said Peter Humphrey, China country manager for Kroll Inc., a New York company specializing in security and risk assessment.

Yee-ikes! We're actually helping China to do this? Does Ashcroft know? And if so, is he peeing his pants with excitement?

The amount of information to be stored on the new personal-identification cards is dwarfed by the data on social-security cards coming into use in many of China's big cities.

Good to see that before China even began Phase 1, it had already implemented Phase 2.

These conveniently link account information for all the government services that a person receives, including medical care, welfare benefits and employment assistance.

Now, before the authorities apply electric shocks to the genitals of a suspected counterrevolutionary, they'll know whether he has a heart condition beforehand. Not that it would necessarily make a difference.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security plays down privacy concerns ...

... since in China privacy does not exist ...

... saying encryption systems on the cards will prevent unwanted crossover, such as an employer getting information about an employee's medical history.

Unless, of course, that employer is the government. But when you think about it, in the Great Workers' Paradise, everybody works for the government, don't they?

The ministry will control the huge databases being built to store the detailed records.

What a comfort to know all this information will be centralized.

"We can use this information to better research macro-level policies"

... and tighten the noose of control around the people's neck ...

such as changes in benefits or the retirement age, said Wang Dongyan, who heads the ministry's information-systems department.

It's just like the old Star Trek series. Landru is all-powerful. Landru is all-knowing. Landru says that you must die now.

He plans eventually to link the social-security databases to those of other ministries, such as security and education.

Wow. 1984 is so much scarier in 2003.

China's ID-card law doesn't have any provisions controlling how the government or companies can gather and use personal information.

An understandable oversight, since in China the government can do pretty much whatever the hell it wants anyway.

Song Gongde, a legal expert at the National School of Administration in Beijing, says he was encouraged by a provision in China's ID law, passed in June, that strictly limits the kinds of data that can be put on the ID card ...

And how does one ensure that the Chinese government respects those limits?

But the law doesn't give citizens the right to see or correct their personal information, whether it is stored on a card or elsewhere.

Oh, right. This is China we're talking about. There are no limits. You're pretty much screwed, folks.

The introduction of the cards will be accompanied by a major upgrade of the security ministry's databases and computer systems, analysts say.

And remember, one man's "upgrade" is another's Great Leap Forward.

China's security forces, which investigate political misdeeds as well as other crimes ...

So "political misdeeds" like speaking out against the government are, in fact, crimes. More proof, as if more were needed, that it's not easy to report on totalitarianism without buying into its methods.

... have been enthusiastic users of technology -- for instance, to monitor Internet and e-mail traffic -- and face few curbs on how they can use such technology.

Gee whillikers! When you put it that way, China's "enthusiastic" attitude sounds just neato! Evil despotism is so cute when the latest chrome-plated scientific advances make it possible.

Too bad all that pesky individual liberty over here impedes the twin causes of technology and law enforcement. (Of course, the People's Republic had to rely on American know-how to implement its grand scheme, but that's a different matter ... I hope.)

"The absence of a counterweight is worrying, especially in China where the legal system is very deficient," said Nicolas Becquelin, the research director for rights group Human Rights in China.

Saying the legal system in China is "deficient" is like saying the temperature at the South Pole is "nippy."

But enough of this, gentle reader; by now you get the point. Frankly, news like this gives me the shivers, especially when it comes from China, Cuba or anywhere in the old Soviet Union. It's like reading in 1933 about Germany's proposed "clothing-badge" system, which will enable police to maintain order by identifying Jews, Roma, Gays, and assorted social deviants instantaneously. When I see this, I know what must follow.

Heaven help the Chinese people if their government and our info-tech corporations actually make this harebrained scheme work. And heaven help everybody else, too.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003


Okay, here's an immortal question: How do we know when a work of art is great?

Most of the time when I'm asked that, I just give a French shrug and move along. (It's certainly the best reaction when one is among artsy or scholarly types.) Still, I think the basic issue of artistic greatness is vital, perhaps because I tend not to hang out with such an aesthetically rarefied crowd. Most of the people I know don't enjoy or appreciate art in its many forms -- literature, cinema, architecture, music, and so forth. So from time to time, I find myself confronted with the old question of what "culture" or "the arts" might be good for.

It's a life-or-death matter, and if I want to answer it at least to my own satisfaction, I have to explain what art can do that other forms of human expression cannot. In short, I need some concept of "greatness" if I want to justify this defining aspect of human culture to my friends and neighbors.

For now, my answer goes like this: I don't love art just because it has the power to satisfy me. I could be satisfied with other things -- a juicy beefsteak, for instance -- with less time, effort and expense. After all, in most of America juicy beefsteaks are far more common than art, and as a result, many Americans have learned to content themselves with the one and do without the other. But I happen to love art, to the point where I don't think I could do without it. You see, I've discovered that some art has the power to change me, and from what I can tell, those changes have been largely for the better.

Unlike good art, which fulfills the expectations I bring to it, a great work of art will shatter those expectations, then build new and better ones in their place. You'll notice that I haven't described what greatness is per se; that quality will vary from case to case, and even from observer to observer. Instead, I'm focusing on what greatness in art does for me, and therefore what it can mean to me.

I think Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is great (though in that ghastly gallery in the Louvre it's underwhelming enough), mostly because that odd smirk leads me to reflect on how a representation of the human face can convey -- or conceal -- emotion. Granted, Mona Lisa can never live up to her hype; the painting is too often seen and too widely known to be more than a cliche today. But small and overexposed as it is, I could imagine it taking me by surprise in some distant once-upon-a-time.

Mozart's symphonies are great because when I hear them, I find myself reevaluating what his deceptively simple, stable tonalities can do. Schoenberg's "Chamber Symphony" is great because when I listen to it, I question what tonality is. Elvis Presley's music is great because it takes what I expect will be barnyard R&B, and synthesizes it with other musical forms for a new, unexpected style.

Rembrandt's paintings are great because when I see them, I look at the world with a subtler awareness of light and shadow. Alexander Calder's mobiles are great because they lead me to reevaluate my relationships with geometric forms (which I usually take for granted). I could say the same for Cezanne's post-Impressionism. Saint-Gaudens's Shaw Memorial is great to me, because its inclusive vision of the American Civil War allows me to see what other public monuments have left out.

Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc is great because when I see it, I have to reexamine how cinema reshapes human experience. Griffith's Birth of a Nation and Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux are great because, when I see them, I find myself examining the raw power cinema can have over its audience, and the ways in which cinema can use that power for good or for ill.

Now, generally "great" achievements in human culture don't stir my emotions as much as "good" or "excellent" ones. (There are exceptions, but I'm often surprised at how few they are.) Questioning my preconceived ideas and assumptions is not usually an emotional or a visceral experience. But it is the hallmark of what I consider "greatness." Thus, I consider William Byrd a "good" composer because he raises my expectations, then fulfills them expertly. In the process he stirs my emotions, sometimes quite deeply. However, Bach is "great" because he raises my expectations, shatters them, then rebuilds them in a new way. I enjoy Byrd; I learn -- often, I'll admit, despite myself -- from Bach.

There's a certain amount of "informed connoisseurship" in this process. The more you know about human culture, the less likely you are to pronounce a work "great" -- unless, of course, you are a publicist, a curator, or a child. Of these three, children have far and away the best excuse, partly because they haven't developed the faculty of critical distance, and also because they've encountered so little culture (or anything else, for that matter). I remember one childhood story I loved because it began with the words: "Pody looked like a sheep dog. But Pody was not a sheep dog. He was a boy." At all of six years old, I thought comparing a shaggy-haired boy to a sheep dog was incredibly witty, and I doubt any joke I've ever read has "moved" me quite so much at the time. With education and experience, I learned that this joke was as threadbare as they come, though when I was six it seemed fresh and exciting. Informed connoisseurship does come over time, thank goodness.

But it doesn't come at all without openness, a certain willingness to have one's expectations shattered and then rebuilt. This is why American audiences at all levels are frequently compared -- somewhat rightly, somewhat wrongly -- to children: They are unwilling to have their expectations changed by what they encounter. Our audiences usually shut out great art, rather than allow themselves to experience its values.

Perhaps that's because most audiences see this process as sublimated warfare, a grand conflict between the work of art and some poor schmoe who has to grapple with the thing. A great work of art must be "challenging," "confrontational," "hard-hitting" -- the violent metaphors pile up like corpses on a battlefield. In the end, the idea is that art should hurt you in some way, and the more you're hurt, the better the art must be. Well, for my part, I don't like to be attacked or wounded, by art or anything else. Instead, I prefer to think of aesthetic appreciation in terms akin to human relationships. Works of art are like people: Both have the power to alter me from moment to moment, as I gradually redefine my relation to a new and unfamiliar element.

If a work of art inspires anything like a "challenge" or "confrontation," then I figure something must be wrong. It may be a shortcoming within myself -- for example, if Schoenberg's atonalism threatens me at first, that's because it doesn't sound like the Mozart sonatas I'm used to. I know that when this happens, it is strictly my fault. For me, the most important part of being an informed connoisseur is the ability to recognize my own shortcomings, learn from them, then hopefully move past them. Nowadays, though, when I find myself challenged by a work of art, it's usually because the work of art assumes a fundamentally unresponsive or hostile attitude from its audience, in which case it will defensively withhold from me whatever truth and beauty it might have had to offer. I don't have much patience with that attitude, and I have every right to reject it. This is the artwork's fault.

I could write reams on this subject, I think. Still, I think I'll stop here, now that I've made my point about what greatness means to me. The funny thing about the examples I've used above is that, with the possible exception of Saint-Gaudens's Shaw Memorial, all of them have already had this mantle of "greatness" conferred upon them. I hope that my own ideas of greatness are not solely dependent on these earlier judgments, but I also hope that an awareness of tradition informs and influences my own experience. To my relief I often find that what makes a work great for me is not what makes it great for others; another critic may agree with me that a work is "great," but find something completely different in the work.

Ultimately, when I see a work of art which I can deem "good" or "excellent," but not "great," I feel as if I've been waiting to find it, or at least for something much like it. With great art, I always feel as if the work has somehow been waiting to find me. If I can experience this unfamiliar thing on my own terms, it will change me, perhaps profoundly, in ways I could never imagine by myself. If, on the other hand, I cannot respond to it -- well, when I'm ready, it will still be there, waiting for me to catch up to it. Great art, I've learned, is always ready when I am.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Tim's "Sight and Sound" Poll: Apocalypse Now Redux

This is Part XII (and the next-to-last installment) of my "Ten Greatest Films" series. To read Part XI, click here.

Jean Baudrillard wrote of the original Apocalypse Now that "Coppola makes his film like the Americans make war [...] with the same immoderation, the same excess of means, the same monstrous candor ... and the same success." Taking Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness for its nominal source, this Vietnam War film tells the story of a group of American operatives, led by the borderline-obsessed Col. Willard (a young Martin Sheen), sent up a river into the Asian interior to kill a rogue American army officer, Colonel Kurtz. Along the way, it invokes the war movies and westerns of classic Hollywood, alongside Melville's Moby Dick (with Kurtz as white whale, perhaps) and Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The resulting farrago of sources and ideas is not just a milestone of international cinema and culture, but a touchstone for contemporary left-liberalism. Consider this recent lede from the notoriously anti-war Reuters News Service:

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops psyched up on a bizarre musical reprise from Vietnam war film "Apocalypse Now" before crashing into Iraqi homes to hunt gunmen on Saturday, as Shi'ite Muslims rallied against the U.S. occupation of Iraq. With Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" still ringing in their ears and the clatter of helicopters overhead, soldiers rammed vehicles into metal gates and hundreds of troops raided houses in the western city of Ramadi after sunrise as part of a drive to quell a spate of attacks on U.S. forces.

The article refers, of course, to the film's most famous scene: a helicopter attack on a Vietnamese town scored to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." It is a thrilling piece of cinema, with meticulously composed images, long tracking shots, swooping camera movements, and a strangely intense focus on the attackers' point of view. The entire battle feels like a conflict between earth and air, with the Americans' air power seemingly overpowering the grounded Vietnamese. But this initial exhilaration rapidly dwindles into farce; once the helicopters land, American casualties pile up. Soon the unit leader, Lt. Col. Kilgore, will reveal the true reason for his attack: Kilgore has chosen this beachhead for the waves, and he wants to see a world-champion surfer in action. There's even a slight suggestion that he wants to go surfing himself.

For the contemporary American left, Robert Duvall's Lt. Col. Kilgore tells us everything we need to know about Vietnam -- and maybe everything we need to know about America, period. Kilgore's swaggering machismo, his Western-style cowboy hat, his general air of invincibility, even his strangely innocent detachment from the proceedings all suggest a peculiar form of dementia. More than any single character in the film, he embodies patriotism as pathology. Even Kilgore's fascination with the pounding surf takes on thematic overtones: His love of the formless ocean is thrown into sharp relief with the fiery napalm attack on shore. On every possible level -- visual, symbolic, psychological -- war grants meaning to the ugly American Kilgore. One can almost hear Jean-Luc Godard's taunting question: "Can't you do this sort of thing more nicely?"

Coppola has mentioned that the "four elements" of antiquity -- fire, earth, air, water -- play a major thematic role in the film. In the famous helicopter scene, we see all four in fugue. Americans are assigned the unstable, impermanent forces of water and air; US forces attack from jet fighters and helicopters, and the special force of American operatives (led by a young Martin Sheen) begins its journey up a river from the village where Kilgore makes his assault. Fire is a weapon used on both sides, but never so vividly as in US-led napalm raids against the Vietnamese. The primal stability of land, on the other hand, seems to belong squarely to America's adversaries. Tragically, this element of land is the true battlefield, for the land is what American forces in Apocalypse Now wish to occupy.

But the land cannot be taken so easily; indeed, the Westernized Americans seem unable to comprehend the land, let alone possess it. The jungle contains monsters, not all of them VC, and confronted with this nature in the raw, a panicked soldier finds himself repeating, "Never get out of the boat." Colonel Kurtz, as played by Marlon Brando, is an American who steps onto this foreign land and loses himself in the process. The boat, the helicopter, the jet -- these, Coppola signals in none-too-subtle terms, are where Americans belong. Here, alas, the film begins to reflect the ethnocentric vision of its Conradian source. The major difference is that Conrad, an imperialist despite himself, seems to view the natives as fundamentally hostile and horrifying. Coppola, on the other hand, seems to subscribe to more romantic notions of "noble savages." But the end is much the same: Both approaches focus exclusively on Western colonizers, and neither approach gives non-Westerners a real presence in the narrative.

For all its memorable images and astonishing scenes, the original version of Apocalypse Now is an oddly static film -- it is minor Coppola at best. The journey upriver feels like a series of unconnected vignettes, setpieces and tableaux, closer to a slide show than a motion picture. Characters such as Robert Duvall's Kilgore are introduced, then dropped without a word. Brando's Kurtz, who should supply the film's climax, comes off as little more than a garden-variety madman.

The film premiered to mostly positive reactions among the critics, and against all odds, Coppola's epic proved a major box-office success in the United States. At Cannes it won the Palme D'Or; its technical excellence couldn't be denied (except perhaps by the Oscars, which handed its Best Picture award to the mediocre and now-dated divorce pic Kramer vs. Kramer). But something about this film still seemed problematic. As astonishing as many of its scenes were, Apocalypse Now was much, much less than the sum of its parts.

The film's main problem seemed to lie with Coppola's earnest sensibility. In his zeal to condemn war, he had created a message movie, yet the extravagant means could never justify the simplistic message. Had Coppola gone deep into the Phillippines, endured typhoons and hurricanes, spent over forty million dollars, worked two years in production and two more years in post-production, just to tell us that war is not just bad, but a special crazy kind of bad? Coppola had famously quipped that his film wasn't about Vietnam, it was Vietnam. And indeed, a Vietnam-like quagmire was how the finished product seemed to less-than-impressed media wags. Apocalypse Now had taken several years, required enormous resources, was technically flawless, yet proved strangely ineffectual in the end.

Except that this was not the end. Until 2001, the two-and-a-half hour theatrical cut of Apocalypse Now was the only version audiences saw. Die-hard cineastes knew about, but had never seen, Coppola's five-and-a-half hour rough cut, which featured a humanized, even heroic Kilgore, several scenes at an upcountry French plantation, much more footage of Colonel Kurtz, and a more in-depth look at Vietnam itself. Perhaps this longer version film could live up to Coppola's ballyhoo. Perhaps the problem with the film we had seen was that so much of it was left on the cutting-room floor.

The release of the three-and-a-quarter hour Apocalypse Now Redux confirms all my suspicions about the earlier version. It is emotionally dynamic where the other was static, fully formed where the other was inchoate, and very specific where the other was generalized. Even the most famous scenes have undergone subtle improvements. For example, the one flaw in the famous helicopter attack scene was its abrupt ending; the overall sequence was spectacular, but after Kilgore informed us that "Someday this war's gonna end," everything simply stopped. In Redux, the scene has been given a "topper" for much-needed farcical closure: The heat from the napalm has inadvertently stilled the waves so that no one can surf, and the prankish American operatives steal Kilgore's prized surfboard. So the man was planning to catch a wave on that beach after all. But we also see another side to Kilgore, as he places himself at risk to save a wounded Vietnamese mother and child. Beneath all that swagger and bluster beats an all-too-human heart, one which is no longer so easily condemned.

The most important addition in Redux is a thirty-minute scene on an upcountry French plantation. It is an oddly quiet and talkative interlude, yet tells us more about Vietnam itself than any other segment of the film. We see a clinging remnant of French colonial occupants, who proceed to tell their story of the conflict. These people may be White, but they consider themselves native-born, and they are willing to fight for their own land. Something about this decaying outpost of French colonialism is unreal -- "unheimlich" (or "un-homelike") as Freud would have put it. It is a place of mist and twilight, haunted by living specters of history. Here, the Vietnam War unfolds like a family quarrel, and the horrors of Dien Bien Phu are discussed over a four-course dinner. The plantation's occupants explain that they fight the VC "to keep the family together." They also form a major exception to the film's pattern of Westerners who lose their identity once they step on Asian soil. These people have made a life in the jungle and maintained the trappings of Western civilization, however tenuous their hold on life and civilization may be. We know they are doomed, but whether they are heroic or foolhardy is left for us to decide.

This strange interlude breaks the schematic four-element pattern of the 1979 version past all hope of recall. Roger Ebert dislikes it; he views the 1979 Apocalypse Now as one of the great anti-war movies, one which displays in visual terms the age-old truth that war is hell. To his eyes the plantation scene interferes with narrative flow and muddies the messages. But I tend to look at the addition as a major improvement, because it makes Redux a film not about war in general, but about a war, set in a particular time and place. The original Apocalypse Now tried to tell us a basic, clear truth about all wars, and ended up saying nothing we didn't already know. Redux, on the other hand, examines the situation more closely, and finds that what we thought we knew was far from basic, clear, or even true.

An additional scene with Colonel Kurtz illustrates the film's subtle shift from didacticism to inquiry. This sequence humanizes Kurtz by showing him outside his temple-like enclave. He makes peaceful human contact with the non-White locals, which up to this point we have never seen an American do. He reads clippings from Time magazine about the war, as proof that the Americans are going about Vietnam in the wrong way. Kurtz claims that a small, ruthless guerilla force could keep the Communist VC at bay, then defeat them. Implicit in his argument, however, is a much larger point: According to Kurtz, acts of terror against the enemy are morally defensible -- even necessary -- in time of war. Although the final murder of Kurtz would seem to constitute a rejection of his inland commando tactics, neither we nor the film's protagonist can deny that these tactics work, and might even be more humane than the massive attacks and high casualties of traditional military operations.

These additions make Redux something more complicated, and much more interesting, than a simple anti-war film. Rather than using the visuals to reinforce schematic patterns, Coppola employs seemingly contradictory images and scenes to convey impossible complexity. The original opus has been transformed into a cinematic dialogue, one which compels its viewers to ask some very murky questions about a particular historical period. Add to this Coppola's brilliant use of stereo sound, astonishing cinematography by Vittorio Storaro (possibly the best of Coppola's cameramen, which is saying quite a lot), and remarkable editing from Walter Murch, and you have in Redux a thought-provoking film which succeeds both as cinema and as historical dialectic. Finally, Coppola's operatic, grandiose, questioning film had become, if not Vietnam itself, something like the overall American experience of it.

Coppola's gargantuan production of Apocalypse Now would be his last major work as an independent filmmaker. When his much-underrated 1982 musical One From the Heart belly-flopped at the box office, Coppola fell out of critical and popular favor. None of his work over the past two decades has matched his 1970s films in terms of quality, and only Bram Stoker's Dracula has even approached their popular success.

Apocalypse Now also heralded the end of the "second golden age" of American cinema, that creative fervor in the late '60s and '70s when the first generation of film-school graduates rejuvenated American cinema with their auteurist sensibilities. By the early 1980s, great filmmakers like Coppola and Martin Scorsese -- and very good filmmakers like Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen -- were slowly falling prey to a money-minded and youth-oriented production system. There would be a few last hurrahs, the most notable of them being Scorsese's masterpiece Raging Bull, but the new American cinema was coming to a rather inglorious end.

Still, for this film's relentless ambition, for its technical perfection, for its willingness to question its audience, and most importantly for Coppola's willingness to make major changes in his earlier work, I've given Apocalypse Now Redux a place on my "Sight and Sound" ten-greatest list.

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