Our monthly column from TSPTR heads down the river… John Lennon doesn’t
March 1977: American film director, producer and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola is living out of a volcano in the Philippines while making his cinematic masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. By this point the film had run dramatically over budget with Coppola himself putting up $30 million of his own money, including using his home and his winery as collateral. When filming began, Coppola’s loan was at 7% interest, by the end of filming it was 29% – things were getting tense. It meant Coppola was searching for some extra weight to get behind the project – that weight would turn out to be John Lennon.
It was clear to those around him that the pressures of filming were getting to Coppola. Veteran crazyman Dennis Hopper, who played the role of “the photojournalist”, once described working on the set as “hell on earth” and added that he “felt like I had fought in the war” after it had finished such was the insanity of the project. Martin Sheen had a heart attack while filming, Coppola suffered epileptic seizures, numerous actors and crew members battled alcoholism, heavy drug binges and tropical diseases all while trying to deliver the seminal epic. The tropical weather also caused havoc. Typhoon Olga destroyed the set 26th May, ’76 and production was closed down. According to Dean Tavoularis, it “started raining harder and harder until finally, it was literally white outside, and all the trees were bent at forty-five degrees”.
Undeterred by the repeated setbacks Coppola contacted John Lennon, hoping that by association, the ex-Beatles name would add the additional pizazz required to pull the project out of its money pit. Coppola was a known platonic-romancer of icons such as Lennon and was usually a dab hand at getting them on board – but Lennon was a notoriously tough nut to crack. He proposed an idea to Lennon about contributing to the score of the film, that two greats of their field working with one another could be magical.
Coppola’s initial letter to Lennon, dated 24th March, ’77, read:
We’ve never met but, of course, I’ve always enjoyed your work.
I am presently in the Philippines making “APOCALYPSE NOW”. I’ve been here eight months, expect to be here another several months. I live inside a volcano, which is a jungle paradise, where there are beautiful mineral springs; and thought if ever you were in the Far East or if ever you would enjoy spending a little time talking about things in general and some distant future projects that I have in mind, please, I would love to cook dinner for you and just talk, listen to music and talk about movies.
If coming to the Far East is difficult, then someday in the future, either in LA, San Francisco or New York, I would like to meet you.
Despite his best efforts, Lennon declined the offer. However, new correspondence recently surfaced citing a reply from Lennon to the director. It would seem that Coppola’s invitation to dinner was accepted by Lennon and it is hinted that the pair discussed working on a new book having seen the Apocalypse Now project completed. Whether or not they arranged to meet up in Coppola’s volcano is unknown.
Lennon’s reply to Coppola was as follows:
Having given a lot more thought to this idea, I realise that due to my work schedule I really don’t have the time for such a big new project.
I love the book but it would take too much energy etc.
Best wishes to you, it was nice meeting you
Apocalypse Now’s truly harrowing and frighteningly accurate depiction of the United States war in South East Asia, eventually went on to win ‘Best Sound’ at the 52nd Academy Awards thanks to the work of Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nathan Boxer, they could have added John Lennon’s name to the list had the former Beatle had just a little more spare time.