Apocalypse Now - First draft screeplay dated 12/5/69MILIUS, John
Los Angeles: Creative Management Associates. 1969.
Soft bound in grey CMA card wrappers. 287x225mm. pp. 131. Text block near fine. Damage and closed tears to the upper cover with damage and wear to the spine. Stamped to the title page: "IMPORTANT. Return to Warner Bros Inc. Burbank, Calif. Story library". Also with an ink presentation inscription from Martin Sheen. "To Waring - Best Wishes "Capt. Willard" Martin Sheen 10/2/80". Loosely inserted is a colour studio publicity photograph (255x204mm) of Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz.
Released at the end of 1979, Apocalypse Now is regarded as one of the finest war films and a paradigm for the driven madness of the auteur. In 1969, John Milius was paid $15,000 by Coppola to write the screenplay for a Vietnam film. George Lucas was to have directed it but the commercial failure of his sci-fi dystopia THX-1138 in 1971 (produced by Francis Ford Coppola) meant that the proposed film was shelved. Although it was several years before the project was resurrected by Coppola, accepting the commission established Milius as a major screenwriter: “that was the most important decision I made in my life as a writer. That sort of steered me onto the path of doing my own work and being a little more like a novelist ... I tackled an unpopular subject that no one was going to make a movie about where the chances were really slim that I could pull it off. There was no book, nothing but me and the blank page. And that was wonderful because I had followed my heart. One of the nicest times in my life was writing Apocalypse Now”.
Milius’s approach to the screenplay was literary and highly crafted, going through ten drafts, of which this is the first, completed in December 1969. Apocalypse Now is, famously, a re-imagining of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness through the Vietnam War. But the overall tone owes much to the “New Journalism” which emerged from the conflict, especially Michael Herr’s 1969 article on the siege of the Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh.
In 1975, Coppola and Milius reworked the screenplay but, even a cursory read of the first draft shows how much of Milius’s original remains in the final film version. There are some changes (Robert Duvall’s character Captain Kilgore was originally called Kharnage) but many of the famous lines and the baroque savagery is there from the beginning: “Bomb them into the stone age” and, of course, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.
Unlike many of his background, Milius was desperate to fight in Vietnam but was rejected because of his asthma. Writing about the war therefore became the next best thing to fighting in it. Aside from Vietnam, his other obsession, as a young man, was surfing which he adopted as a quasi-religion when his family moved to California in the late 1950s. This explains the surfing references in Apocalypse Now. Milius has always been a Hollywood outsider: whether as part of the 1960s counterculture or now, as a NRA-supporting Zen Anarchist, he is, in many ways, his own Colonel Kurtz.