(103 minutes, Not Rated)
Writer and director John Milius does not get the publicity he rightfully deserves; the man, who was apart of the filmmaking revolution of the 60s and 70s, gets neglected when people talk about George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, or Francis Ford Coppola. Meanwhile, his writing helped bolster their careers; Milius wrote the famous monologue for Robert Shaw in Jaws and heroically tackled Vietnam and the ‘unfilmable’ Heart of Darkness with Apocalypse Now.
Yet, his boisterous personality may have negatively affected his output in Hollywood: which is a shame because his products shaped my childhood. And as an aspiring writer, I find Apocalypse Now to be one of the greatest screenplays ever produced; so this personal connection, along with my love for industry documentaries, made Milius a must see. And while it does nothing to shake up the genre vise vie Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, it provides a two-sided view of the man behind the myth.
People have always told crazy stories about John Milius; for instance, the time the writer pointed a Colt 1911 at a studio head was a frequent ‘campfire tale,’ which according to Millius, happens to be true. The Milius persona reflects a dying breed of filmmakers; the people who are willing to do crazy things, in order to ensure their art makes it past the studio unscathed. The documentary does a good job showing that this man’s pigheadedness prevented him from having stable career, especially with the rise of conglomerates. But at the same time, the audience realizes that John was his ‘own worst enemy;’ this two-sided view illustrates that though the studio heads were artistically ignorant, John’s failure to get projects done was caused by his own actions.
The film perfectly encapsulates his cursed talent: an amazing dramatist trapped in the body of a ‘right wing nut job.’ And though his politics, which are fanatically described, could have been a problem in a liberal business, John’s failures rest on his own shoulders: which is a shame because he deserved to be more than a notorious ‘script doctor.’ His cigar chomping anarchist mentality does not fit in an environment controlled by corporations, which makes the viewer coincidentally side with the so-called ‘artistic butchers’ known as studio execs: for instance, I would not hire a man who could be seen as a liability to the company, especially with millions of dollars at stake.
With that said, this new vantage did not hinder the hilarious stories about the dim-witted executives: stories like a bigwig turning down Milius’ pitch for Macbeth, help the ‘flip-flopping’ viewers to, once again, side with the reckless auteur. Also, the over-arching story of John Milius’ life helps paint a backdrop of how this persona, which many of his colleagues admit was an act, became apart of his already crazy lifestyle. This ‘black sheep’ rose from a failure to become one of the best writers of the 70s and 80s; however, the overall documentary suffers from the fact that Milius seems to overlook the director’s many flaws.
Like most documentaries about living subjects, the negative facts could be mentioned but not dissected. Though the film appears to ‘air the dirty laundry’ of Milius’ life, it fails to interpret the ludicrous mind of the self-proclaimed ‘gun-toting patriot.’ The fact that his children describe him as exactly like Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski or his supposed joke about children on the set of Red Dawn, illustrates a terribly disturbed individual: but what elevates him is utter brilliance.
This supposed psycho gave the world Conan the Barbarian, Dillinger, Dirty Harry, the cult classic Red Dawn, and many more. Though I do not agree with his political views, I cannot deny his impact on cinema history. The documentary opens with a ridiculous line from Sam Elliot: “he doesn’t write for p*ssies and he doesn’t write for women. He writes for men, because he’s a man.” And though I do not agree with that assessment of Milius’ work, one has to realize that his hard-nosed characters, who spewed fantastic dialogue, were the precursors to Tarantino’s work: the only difference is that Tarantino knows that a female character could be as badass as a male, vise vie Jackie Brown, the Bride, or even Shosanna. Either way, John Milius is a forgotten treasure of the 70s and 80s. Plenty of today’s directors and writers owe tribute to John Milius: the man, the myth, the legend.
Cool Tidbit: The initial design of UFC’s ocatagon was designed by John Milius.