I’ve always been a fan of Apocalypse now. I felt that all movies ought to be made in this fashion. The very first time I saw it was as a teenager, I was awestruck a the intensity the monstrosity and of course the horror, the horror- all narrated by a very intense Martin Sheen.
The shark in JAWS may have made us wait before giving us more than a fin to show itself. We had a Vietnam Nam lesson and a photograph before we got to see Col. Kurtz. Then, it wasn’t some animatronic replica. It was the Godfather.
I could go on about the magic of beginning a movie with a song called “The End” and the parallels of the slaying of the cattle and the death of Kurtz and the gift of seeing a young Fishburn, the genius of Dennis Hopper playing himself, how the river is an allegory and that Apocalypse is not a Viet Nam movie anymore than The Shining is about hotel management.
I wrote a whole paper in college just about Duval’s “Charlie don’t surf!” scene.
When I found out that the movie was based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I was confused. Coppola had made a documentary about making Apocalypse by the same name. How could the movie be based on the documentary about making that movie? WTF?
When it all cleared up for me I attempted to read Conrad’s story. I first tried while in bed avoiding my in-laws one weekend. That made a mess. What I had gleaned was an incredible sense of narrative and history while trying hard to find the parallels to the movie I loved so much. I could pick up the separate yet similar voice of the cruising yawls captain, Marlow. I tried to compare it to Martin Sheen but it was doing neither of them any justice. The Belgian colonization of the Congo was not a history I knew very well either.
I then decided to download an audio copy of Darkness from an erudite all classics should be free site. I wanted to hear the literal voice of a gritty boat captain experiencing the Congo(?) on his way to find his Kurtz. What I got was the voice of a volunteer reader. The high pitched, adolescent tone and inflections of a teenage girl. Who the fuck thought that would be a great idea?
Before I sound as ungrateful as I am, I have heard a man with a British accent do Sherlock Holmes. I heard a woman due the voice of Wendy Darling from Peter Pan. All from the same free download site. I couldn’t get at least a middle aged man to dictate Heart of Darkness. It’s the psychological journey that supplies the action and the subsequent morph of character which drives the reader down the river with Marlowe. No little girl is gonna do that for me, and that’s not massagony or chauvinism.
This brings me back to the obvious. I am going to have to read the story and stop being lazy. I’m just leary of being able to find the right voice. When I read The Rum Diary I was able to attribute Hunter Thompson’s undeniable complexity and mumble.
I know that a literary voice is more than just the sound somebody makes when they speak. But when it comes to something that’s narrated it’s hard to get past that. The first person limited literary device always intrigued me since The Great Gatsby. You could retell the story, interestingly I’m sure, from the point of view of anyone else but it would not be the same story. And you wouldn’t create an audiobook in the voice of an aging old Irish lady pretending to be Nick Carraway.
The combination of syntax, diction, dialogue style and even punctuation make up a literary voice. I believe American literature and the English language provide a vast opportunity for using this device. It shows the experience and beliefs of a character without having to expressly state them.
Chinua Achebe called Conrad a racist. Many think that misses the point entirely. A teenage girl couldn’t relay it if it were.