Hollywood goes to great pains

SETBACKS ON SET: A still from the 2001 extended version of Coppola's epic war film Apocalypse Now. Suffering for your art is just as in now as it was then


    Feb 10, 2016

    Hollywood goes to great pains


    SHOT in brutal weather to a punishing schedule, Oscar favourite The Revenant belongs to a fine Hollywood tradition in which the truly creative must suffer for their art.

    Leonardo DiCaprio went through hell to inhabit the character of 19th century frontiersman Hugh Glass, eating a raw buffalo liver, bathing in icy rivers and climbing mountains laden with furs.

    In an era where much of the heavy lifting is done in post-production by CGI artists, the tough conditions endured by cast and crew of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's survival and revenge epic resulted in several resignations, months of delays and a soaring budget.

    The Mexican director's claims that all this hardship would be worth it in the end appears to have been borne out, with the film proving a box-office hit and picking up 12 Oscar nominations.

    Inarritu is the latest, but by no means the first, film-maker to put his actors through the mill in the service of perfection.

    Francis Ford Coppola created his own mini-hell in the Philippines for the infamous Apocalypse Now (1979), which updates the setting of Joseph Conrad's novella Heart Of Darkness to the Vietnam War.

    Chief among numerous problems and setbacks were Martin Sheen's near-fatal heart attack, a typhoon that flattened expensive sets and Coppola's chronic indecision, which led Marlon Brando to improvise much of his dialogue.

    Jaws (1975), which ushered in the era of summer blockbusters and propelled Steven Spielberg into the Hollywood stratosphere, also has its place in the pantheon of nightmarish shoots.

    "The mechanical shark, nicknamed Bruce, wasn't working and didn't really inspire fear," said Jonathan Kuntz, a professor at UCLA's School of Theatre, Film and Television.

    At one point, the hull of the ship carrying the crew broke up at sea, causing a mini-mutiny.

    Meanwhile, Bruce's problems led Spielberg to decide to show only the briefest glimpses of the shark, which in the end proved far more terrifying.

    The filming of Titanic (1997), one of the two highest grossing movies in history along with Avatar - both by James Cameron - was in itself a titanic struggle.

    Hours of filming in a huge tank led to colds, infections and delays.

    Rumour has it that a crew member, infuriated by Cameron's despotic style, spiked a soup in the canteen with a hallucinogenic drug.

    German director Werner Herzog is also "famous for his intense and exhausting cinematography", Kuntz said.

    On Fitzcarraldo (1982), a film about an Irishman who becomes obsessed with building an opera house in the jungles of Peru, he forced his cast to pull a real steamboat weighing hundreds of tonnes up a muddy hillside.

    Leading man Klaus Kinski was enraged and his screams of protest led the Peruvian Indian extras to offer to kill the temperamental star, the director would later claim.

    Michael Cimino's excesses on the production of epic western Heaven's Gate (1980), starring Christopher Walken and Isabelle Huppert, finished off studio United Artists.

    The budget and shoot time spiralled out of control as he built and rebuilt set after set, picking extras by hand and insisting on waiting for the right cloud formation before allowing the cameras to roll.

    Cimino ended up delivering a movie lasting almost 51/2 hours, which - despite a two-hour cut by United Artists to render the film more watchable - was a flop at the box office.