Apocalypse Now is one of the greatest films to emerge from the New Hollywood movement which gave the world Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, and Coppola. Filmed entirely on location in the Philippines the film charts a journey into madness and concludes with a violently nihilistic spectacle.
And it would not have been possible without the hundreds of Filipino extras Coppola hired to play the Montanagard Indians loyal to Colonel Kurtz.
In the script, Kurtz's band of renegade soldiers has trained a tribe of local Montagnard Indians to be a fighting team. They live in huts by the temple. Rather than dress up Filipino extras everyday, Francis asked Eva, a production assistant, to go to a northern province where the rice terraces are and recruit a real tribe of primitive people to come live on the set and be in the scenes. I hear she is trying to make a contract with a group of 250 Ifugao Indians.
Being on strict budget, and in fact running notoriously way over budget, this cost saving measure to hire an entire tribe of local Indians ended up having an unexpected and astonishing influence on the final scenes and on shaping the ending with which Coppla was having so much trouble.
Coppola and his entire crew were indeed bent on making Apocalypse Now appear as close to "authentic" as possible. Dead bodies strewn on the set were cadavers, purchased from hospitals and medical schools. Much time and effort went into preparing sets, explosions, and even training of the extras. The first week they were in Pagsanjan, the Ifugao were given an orientation. They were shown the costumes and how to wear them, how to handle the guns. They were given an overview of their part in the story. Jerry recalls that they were told, "You are the people of Marlon Brando. He is like your god in the mountains. Sheen is your enemy."
The first month they were there, Benjamin participated in training the people "to play the military." They were taught how to handle M14s and armalites, and some carbine pistols. They used camouflage uniforms. "It was more than full time work because we issue the guns early in the morning, then training all day, then we have to account for all the guns and parts in the night. Because there were NPA in the area before and they were worried that some guns and parts might get stolen."
This simulated village also took on Ifugao ritual life. The 'extras' village' was given sacrificial animals that would have normally cost the Ifugao a lot; this was part of their agreement with the production company. In one instance, they asked for a carabao for ritual slaughter. In Eleanor Coppola's Hearts of Darkness, the documentary film on the making of Apocalypse Now, it is this Ifugao request for a carabao for the ritual slaughter that provides Coppola his creative solution for the final scene.
Up to this point, Coppola, the genius filmmaker, arrives as it were up the river into his own hour of darkness. Ill and beset by cost overruns on his production budget, he had also run out of creative juice—having no idea what to do for the final scene. As he plotted on how to stage the death of Kurtz, his wife called him to see the Ifugao ritual slaughter and he became inspired. His genius as filmmaker lies in the images he incorporates—images that he actually took straight out of Ifugao ritual.
So, on screen, the Ifugao hack apart a carabao. All the Ifugao we interviewed insist that this scene wasn't in the script. "That came from us!" Many audiences flinch. Maybe they don't want to think about the origins of meat? Or is it the apparent savagery of the ritual? These are superficial readings and westernized audiences don't see that there is much more to this than meets the eye!
After Coppola first witnessed the carabao ritual slaughter, he tried to shoot every ritual that the Ifugao performed.http://www.oovrag.com/essays/essay2004a-3.shtml
The ending of Apocalypse Now incorporated the rituals of the Ifuago people which in turn infused the production with the requisite sense of primitivism, magic, and ritual confluent with two of the primary influences of the film, The Golden Bough and the apocalyptic and mystical poetry of T.S. Eliot.
Many hours of footage were shot but the final product only ran 2.5 hours. The Redux version runs an hour longer. But there is a third version of that runs for 5 hours, the workprint. It is difficult to obtain but rewarding to watch and it contains many of the scenes of Ifuago ritual which ended up on the cutting room floor.
The video below is a clip from the workprint. The video is bad, the audio horrible, but its sill very watchable. Just remember what you see in this clip is not necessarily acting. It is part of a real ritual incorporated into the film. This is the Philippines as it was before the arrival of the Spanish and as it is even now deep in the mountains of Luzon.