Apocalypse Now, Dispatches, Michael Herr, and Shooting War

OK, I think some clarification is in order.

Yes, Apocalypse Now is based on Heart of Darkness, but! the screenplay for that movie–as well as Full Metal Jacket–is co-authored by none other than Michael Herr. Herr wrote a non-fiction account of his time as an embedded journalist in Vietnam–complete with his accounts of actually accompanying troops into the shit, his dealings with Generals clearly lying about the situation in Vietnam, etc. The point I wanted to make in class is that Apocalypse Now is, in fact, based heavily upon Herr’s experience in Vietnam. The story follows Heart of Darkness but some of the things that happen are based on the very real scenes in Dispatches–this is how Herr makes both Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket so damned realistic–he was there. The cover of Shooting War quotes Forbes magazine: “A winner…The Apocalypse Now of the War on Terrorism.” My question/point had to do with whether the authors knew about Dispatches or not. If they did, then this is a great example of their view on the media. Forbes didn’t say it was the Dispatches, but referenced a movie–much more popular culture. This is just like the media going sensational/getting everything wrong in Shooting War and not really presenting both sides/doing their homework. The real Shooting War of Vietnam is Michael Herr’s book, DispatchesApocalypse Now references the book frequently. Scenes from both of those movies pull from Herr’s book, which does a lot of the same things Shooting War does, just without the graphical element. Since we just left last class, I doubt many people will read this–but now I feel vindicated. This is my rant/revenge post since I lost that point so quickly in class. I feel better now, but will concede that I didn’t vehemently back up that point because I wasn’t sure if it was Full Metal and Platoon or Full Metal and Apocalypse that Herr co-wrote. Dispatches is an amazing read for anyone interested in what it was like to be a journalist during that fight, or anyone just looking for an excellent read. For those familiar with Full Metal Jacket, that line about shooting women and children (easy, just don’t lead them so much) is something a real heli-gunner said to Herr. Yeah, it’s that kind of book. Just thought I’d finish the thought I didn’t finish in class because I lost faith in my reference. That’s what I get for saying “based on” instead of “partially based upon” :-)

Good luck on your papers and read Dispatches!


Apacolypse Now–right there in the top paragraph–“drawing elements from…Dispatches.” Ha! (not that Wikipedia is scholarly or anything, but…)

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Jared C.

Second semester English literature graduate student. BA in creative writing and electronic journalism from GMU. Capricorn. Long walks on beach, etc.

One thought on “Apocalypse Now, Dispatches, Michael Herr, and Shooting War”

  1. I’m going to stand by my original assertion: Michael Herr had nothing to do with the script of Apocalypse Now. The original screenplay for Apocalypse Now was written by John Milius, but director Francis Ford Coppola made his own drastic rewrites and additions on the set in the Philippines. In the end, both Milius and Coppola received credits for the film.

    It is true that Michael Herr wrote Willard’s narrative voiceover (“Saigon, I still can’t believe I’m in Saigon”), but that was all written post-production, after the film had been shot. I imagine that screenwriter John Milius pulled images from Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977) as he wrote the script, but Herr himself did not have any input in the script.

    Regardless of the authorship of these various texts, I don’t think your overarching point is disproved: the war is mediated, distorted, and full of competing claims of narrative “truth.”

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