August 15th is a very significant date in the history of film…for two reasons. We’ll cover them here in order by date, but both are, no doubt, some of the most memorable advances in movies and storytelling.
On August 15, 1934, director Christy Cabanne (The Mummy’s Hand, Scared to Death) released the first audio-visual film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte‘s famous novel Jane Eyre. Excluding the popularity of the novel, the film was part of a series of classic-literary adaptations produced by Monogram Pictures between 1933-1934. Four classic 19th-century novels were all made into big-screen adaptations that featured sound, a new technology for the era. The novels were Oliver Twist, Black Beauty, Jane Eyre, and The Moonstone. Cabanne was well-known at the time as a silent film director, but was also beginning to indulge in sound-projects. For the movie, which only runs a total of 62 minutes, the studio recruited actors Colin Clive, best known for the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the original 1931 James Whales’ classic, and newcomer Virginia Bruce (Born to Dance, The Invisible Woman) to star as Jane Eyre. Oscar-nominated screenwriter Adele Comandini (Beyond Tomorrow, Three Smart Girls) to adapt Bronte’s novel for the film (which admittedly must have been a challenge considering Jane Eyre runs for a total of 38 chapters with 400+ pages in most publications).
Also on August 15th, but in 1979, Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Conversation) released his world-renowned masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. The film is famous not only for its cinematic brilliance, but also for its whirlwind of a production. Coppola and his crew ran into problem after problem making Apocalypse Now. A hurricane came through and delayed shooting for a month; actor Martin Sheen (Catch Me if You Can, The Departed) had a heart attack on location; and Marlon Brando (On the Water Front, Superman) showed up for principle photography late and about 300 lbs overweight. He also had not prepared or memorized his lines, and apparently at one point refused to film until Coppola paid him the $3,000,000 he owed him. All this is without mentioning Coppola’s own health, which suffered greatly during filming and included a visit to the hospital.
Nevertheless, Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest films ever made. Coppola is famous for saying that this “film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam,” and he couldn’t be more on-point. The script, which is based on Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness, covers not only the Vietnam conflict, but also the savagery of war, the physical and psychological health of American soldiers in Vietnam, the mindset of American military leaders there, how the two cultures were mixed and thrown together, prostitution, rape, and even the state of still-present French colonists who had been in Vietnam for years before the American conflict began. It truly is one of the most remarkable experiences ever captured on film, all told in Coppola’s flawless direction that had already earned him three Oscars for The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. Apocalypse Now won two Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, but failed to secure the awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Robert DuVall), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Set-Decoration, and Best Film Editing. But none of that matters. Apocalypse Now will always be remembered for what it is: brilliant storytelling and excellent filmmaking.