Machismo has always been a problem for Hollywood: on the one hand the American film industry is largely comprised of left-leaning artsy types with their charity balls and Democrat fundraising; on the other the entire industry was built on depictions of violence and ‘manly’ behaviour. The filmmaker who most frequently put this conflict to the test was John Milius, writer of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and director of ‘Red Dawn and ‘Conan the Barbarian’.
A graduate of the same USC film programme that also produced George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, Milius was the first of the gang to find fame, and the first to blow it. His scripts for the likes of ‘Dirty Harry’ (uncredited) and ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ were hugely succesful, and his early directorial works – including ‘Dillinger’, ‘The Wind and the Lion’ and ‘Big Wednesday’ – were generally well received, if hardly commercial gold. But Milius also had the spectacular talent of offending, alienating and generally pissing off just about everyone who crossed his path, most notably studio execs – this documentary refuses to confirm whether or not he pulled a gun in a script meeting, but it’s definitely not ruled out.
With contributions from Lucas, Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and many others, the film does approach Milius with a certain reverence, but it can’t disguise the fact that he’s a troubling, divisive figure: bull-headed, almost cartoonishly macho, staunchly right-wing and dangerously self-obsessed. The portrait it paints is of a fascinating figure, but one you really, really wouldn’t want to have a beer with.