Excloo: Long-Lost “Apocalypse Brown” Tape Found


On the bitter cold Friday night of March 28, 1980, outside the State Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, the famed film director Francis Ford Coppola produced a 30-minute TV infomercial that effectively ended California Gov. Jerry Brown’s campaign for president.

For Brown, the production was a hideously embarrassing political disaster. It not only crashed his Democratic primary challenge to President Jimmy Carter, but also reinforced his Governor Moonbeam reputation and marked the start of a decade-long decline in his once-meteoric political fortunes.

Titled “The Shape of Things to Come,” the bizarre half-hour show was seen only by Wisconsin viewers who happened to tune in to the statewide broadcast, a pot-hazed crowd of 3,000 who showed for the event and a small group of political reporters who panned it the next day.

Dubbed “Apocalypse Brown,” after Coppola’s Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now,” the program has never been seen by most Californians, including even some of Brown’s closest associates.

Now Calbuzz has obtained one of the few known, converted-to-digital copies of the broadcast.

As a video artifact, the show offers both an extraordinary snapshot of a 41-year old, second-term Gov. Brown, and an intriguing glimpse of the times and culture that provided the backdrop for the rapid arc of success and failure that defined Act I of his long career in politics.

Despite our utter technological ineptitude and extraordinary cheapness,  we’ve found a way to make it available for the next 10 days on a file sharing site to any of our loyal readers with the patience to download it. Trust us, it’s well worth the 36 few minutes the process will take you. You can find it here.

We got our DVD copy from TV consultant and Calbuzzer Peter Shaplen, a freelance network news producer who now teaches video journalism at the Art Institute of San Francisco. At the time, he was covering Brown’s campaign as an ABC News producer. As Shaplen recalls:

The governor and I got into a heated argument the following day aboard the campaign plane. He maintained the audience would see beyond the technology snafu and hear his message, respond and vote for him.  I suggested that the audience was so busy laughing at the failure of any reasonable communication that it was impossible to listen and respond.

A Francis Ford Coppola Production: Using — or misusing — the technique of  chroma key compositing,  Coppola  projected impressionistic images both on a big screen behind Brown, which was flapping in the strong wind, and in the simultaneous TV broadcast.

The signature moment of the infomercial comes about 11 minutes into it with the sudden appearance over Brown’s right shoulder of an astronaut, clad only in white boxer shorts, doing somersaults, flips and other gymnastic moves inside a space capsule while in a weightless state.

Just. Plain. Weird.

Things were going badly well before that, however.

Right before the broadcast begins, a voice from the crowd says, “America has lost its environmental ethic and also Wisconsin doesn’t grow enough sinsemilla.”

Then the titles go up and someone types on a dateline, which is misspelled “Madisno, Wisci”  before being corrected; next an utterly grim looking Brown walks to the stage, wearing a serious trench coat apparently a size too big, and starts orating into a sound system that isn’t working.

“We can’t hear,” a few people yell, whereupon Brown is given a hand-held mic and ad libs: “Even the technology of this age needs some human assistance.”

Not long after, the stage lights go out for a while, as seemingly random images – a steel mill, a rural cabin, an old guy shucking wheat – appear behind Brown, while quadrants of his head mysteriously keep dissolving into gaping gashes of flickering black and white.

How the deal went down: Just three weeks before, Brown had appointed the 40-year Coppola, who’d by then won an Academy Award and produced, directed and written the first two “Godfather” movies, to the state Arts Commission.

Brown’s campaign against a Democratic president never really took off – not least because the late Sen. Edward Kennedy was also challenging the incumbent – but Coppola was doing his bit to help his political patron. The journalist Doug Moe years later reconstructed the event:

Brown felt the April 1 primary in Wisconsin — a state often partial to mavericks — held his last best hope. Coppola produced a few TV spots for Brown that ran in Wisconsin. Then, with primary day fast approaching and funds running low, Coppola suggested the Brown campaign attempt something radical.

The decision was made to have Coppola produce a live half-hour show that would air statewide on March 28, the Friday night before the April 1 Tuesday primary. That Coppola knew little about the technology of live television broadcasting — and less about political campaigns — was apparently of small concern.

The director arrived in Madison on Wednesday, March 26, some 48 hours before the scheduled live telecast, accompanied by an entourage of family and friends. Madison-based media writer Tim Onosko covered Coppola’s Madison visit for the Village Voice out of New York City. That first day, Onosko asked Coppola’s brother, August, what he felt his sibling had in mind for Friday night.

“If Picasso were to paint a picture,” August Coppola said, “then donate it to a cause, that would be his way of contributing. Francis will create a piece of his own, and this will be his contribution.” Wednesday night, Coppola made an appearance at Madison West High School and spoke about what had brought him to town…

“We’ll center ourselves by the Capitol building,” Coppola told his West High audience. “We’ll put up this immense television set and we’re going to go on TV live with the governor making a statement that he wants to make. I’ll be in a truck where I can make a live mix, making any combination of things … we’ll decorate the dome and make it very beautiful; of course, it’s a beautiful building anyway.”

The show would be titled “The Shape of Things to Come,” taken from an H. G. Wells story about a society undone by war and reborn through technology. The new technology behind the Jerry Brown half-hour from Madison was called chroma key, and it was being developed at Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios in California. It was a technique of blending images on screen by removing color from one image, rendering it transparent and revealing another image behind it.

But as Coppola told his West High audience that night: “I have no experience at this kind of thing. One reason I’m so excited about doing this little piece is that it’s live television. I get to say ‘cut’ and ‘dissolve’ and if I screw up it’s right there; everybody knows it.”


The Brown manifesto. The following Tuesday, Brown won only 15 percent of the primary vote and dropped out of the race. But the 25-minute speech he delivered during the program, overshadowed by the technical debacle, was framed by many of the ideas and attitudes he still holds – and a few he long ago dumped on the Krusty ash bin of history:

1-Paddle to the right, paddle to the left: Brown’s commentary on global and national political economics, the absolutely humorless tone of which is at odds with the counter-culture crowd on hand, is a case study of how he combines conservative and liberal views in his politics.

His theme was rejuvenating America’s economy, then beset by a crippling combination of high inflation, skyrocketing energy prices and widespread unemployment. He proposed a Japan-like “new economic order,” led by government but including both business and organized labor, that would rebuild the nation’s manufacturing capacity.

“A call to arms, not for war, but for peace – we can re-industrialize this country,” he said.

Among the left-liberal elements of this policy: a “coupon rationing method” for gasoline; a “ban on import of foreign oil by private companies” in favor of a government-run “U.S. Oil Buying Authority,” and new mandatory conservation policies to curtail “profligate, scandalous, unnecessary” energy consumption.

At the same, however, he sounded fiscally conservative themes: stop the government “printing press” of inflationary monetary policy; “balance the budget” by ending “fiscal gimmickry, borrowing from the future (and) huge deficits.” He also called for private-public sector cooperation to sell “re-industrialization bonds (and to) double research efforts into information technologies.”

2-The value of service: Brown’s remarks about himself and his reasons for pursuing elected office echo across three decades.

He recounted growing up in a household dominated by the career of his father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, and his revulsion at what he considered the demeaning nature of much political interaction – “the political language we hear is debased.” He said this led him to his time in the Jesuit seminary.

“I didn’t like politics…I wanted to find God,” he said, an experience that resulted in “development (of) a commitment to be of service.” Railing against “consumerism,” he said that as president he would manifest this idea, which remains a central thread of his politics today, by creating a “domestic Peace Corps” to channel young people into “voluntary service.”

3-The vision thing: Brown’s 1980 speech is also notable for how much it foresees mega economic and political trends that were just then forming.

Speaking of how we all live in “a very small global village,” for example, he foresaw globalization and trade policies a generation into the future, calling for a “North American Economic Community” including the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and enthusiastically describing the possibilities of “co-generation, solar, photo-voltaic” energy sources, as well as the need for “mass transit, bullet trains, fuel efficient cars.”

Also included in the speech are seeds of others arguments he makes in the current race for governor, sometimes in almost the same words:

“I have the skill, the know-how, the commitment,” for high office, he said at one point; when a woman asked him what he will do to assure the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, he presaged his get-them-all-in-a-room plan for solving the current budget deficit: “I’ll bring recalcitrant legislators to Washington and keep them there until they change their mind.”

Somewhat awkwardly, Brown concluded his remarks by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance – without inviting the crowd to join him. Then he left the stage, unaware that the technical meltdown of the program within a few hours would lead to widespread mockery of the event. Said Shaplen:

My impression was (and remains) that much of what the governor said was well phrased and at times prospective.  But the show reinforced audience stereotypes that he was a wild, untamed Californian unsuited for Washington.

You read the percentages down, not across

Giants fans for Jerry; Rangers fans for Meg: Our friend SF pollster Ben Tulchin came up with some fun data in a survey of 700 likely voters Oct. 25-27 wherein he found Jerry Brown leading Meg Whitman 45-37% and Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina 48-40%.

But the much more interesting data were in the crosstabs with Ben’s findings on the SF Giants and Texas Rangers. Phil Matier and Andy Ross at the SF Chronicle had this first, but thanks to the geniuses managing the Hearst Chron, their article isn’t available online until Tuesday because it’s stuck behind the Chronicle Firewall Designed to Make You Buy Their Dying Newspaper. Which is fine, because M&R screwed up the story by misreporting the crosstabs.

Here’s what Tulchin found: California voters are rooting for the Giants over the Rangers 53-15%; Giants fans support Brown over Whitman 56-32% while Rangers fans support Whitman 51-29%. Giants fans also support Babara Boxer over Carly Fiorina and they oppose Prop. 23 (the measure to undo California’s climate-change law) while Rangers fans support Fiorina and Prop. 23.

The Boyz read the crosstabs (and Ben’s memo) wrong, reporting that Brown supporters favor the Giants 56-29% while Whitman supporters favor the Rangers 51-31%. (That was wrong, too: if you were going to misread the chart properly (!) you’d have it 51-32%).

UPDATE 11/1 12:15 pm: At our request, Tulchin ran a crosstab looking at how the supporters of various candidates are rooting in the World Series (which is what M&R thought they were reporting). Turns out Brown voters are for the Giants over the Rangers 65-10% while Whitman voters are for the Giants by a smaller margin, 47-22%.  Boxer voters favor the Giants over the Rangers 65-10% while Fiorina voters back the Giants 44-22%.

Bottom line: Go Giants!

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 15 comments for this post

  1. avatar Vateor says:

    Why, I wonder, would two lefties like you guys make this available 1 day before the election? You are making it hard not to vote for nutMeg.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      Vateor – Never charge conspiracy until you’ve ruled out incompetence; Dumb and Dumber have been struggling and wheezing for days to figure out how to post the thing so folks could access it, and put it up as soon as they did. Whatever you may think about their rantings, they put their journalism out there when it’s ready for human consumption, not according to political calculation of how it’ll play in the campaign.

    • avatar tegrat says:

      he probably can’t hear you thru the tinfoil…

    • avatar gdewar says:

      Reasonable responses like that do not compute with the crybaby victim mentality of the right. Despite having the Oval Office for 8 years, Congress from 1994-2006 and the judiciary and getting their rocks off with a needles war that cost us a fortune.

      It’s the same with liberal Democrats, who keep on whining and complaining but never doing much more that mild compromise. Pelosi and Reid are excellent minority leaders, but failures at leading when given the chance. Therefore, they are just as whiny and full of crap as their opposition.

      Happy Election!

  2. avatar bth100 says:

    How, I wonder, are “two lefties like you guys” still in business? Don’t your over-sized “Jerry Brown For Governor” buttons get in the way of your typing??

  3. avatar benibriak says:

    C’mon you guys, one day before the election? To Vateor’s comment – it was ‘news’ in 1980. It’s political calculation when it’s 2010 and a day before the election.

  4. avatar ReilleyFam says:

    Why do this NOW? Really disappointed with you folks and my opinion of you and your site will be diminished for a long time. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

  5. avatar micahdw says:

    I’m confused as to what the fuss is about. Calbuzz might as well post it so that they have something other to do rather than point out along with everyone else that the once and future Governor Brown is coasting to a comfortable victory. As entertaining as it might be, it would have made zero impact on the campaign had it been released earlier. The tape is a historical artifact, nothing more. If anything Governor Brown comes out as perceptive and nearly prophetic.

  6. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Besides, Calbuzz has been taking shots at Krusty/Gandalf all along. Why should readers expect them to change now? It doesn’t appear Brown has. Go yell at him about it. Try the “get off my lawn” line. That ought to work.

  7. avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

    Why is a 30-year-old campaign video considered “news”? At least Brown was putting himself out there. 30 years ago, Meg Whitman couldn’t be bothered to even register to vote.

  8. avatar Joe Mealey says:

    This is a big deal? “Reinforced audience stereotypes that he was a wild, untamed Californian unsuited for Washington” …because of technical glitches. Oh come on. Maybe he lost because he was running against an incumbent President. Stop pretending this is some secret hidden tape and focus on what he said in 1980, most of which is strikingly prescient.

  9. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    Visionary. Honest. Sincere.

    He may say or do some unexpected things sometimes but he’s not a scripted phony. If he’s elected, we’ll always know what he’s thinking and how he’s planning to get to his goal.

    I think this video just proves all of this is true. Imagine if the whole country had actually accomplished even half of what he laid out, starting 30 years ago? We’d be in an entirely different place today.


  10. avatar gdewar says:

    first off: may I suggest you guys post this as a Torrent File. That way you can not put a load on your servers and make it easier to get the word out. it will download faster and distribute the load so no one has to take a hit on their bandwidsth. IT”S NOT THAT HARD OMG GET uTorrent (PC) or Transmission for the mac.

    second off: when did Republicans and conservatives become such frakking crybabies? Growing up it was the LIBERALS who cried and cried over every perceived injustice and whined about being victims. Seriously WTF.

    More to the point – Meg spent 150 million bucks. You mean she couldn’t have brought this to light HERSELF ? She should sue her consultants for malpractice if they couldn’t dig this up, oh I don’t know like A YEAR AGO WHEN SHE WAS RUNNING?!?

    Seriously, wtf.

  11. avatar Adelaides Lament says:

    Excellent points, gdewar. Too bad we can’t be in the room – or on the conference call – for the Whitman post-mortem. It’s going to be bloodier than a CSI episode.

    I still can’t get my head around 160 million dollars. That’s a lot of money! The only people who will be happy either way will be Mike Murphy and Rob Stutzman et. al. But I bet it’s not all their fault that this was a lousy campaign. I believe it was Meg herself.

    I know I’ve said this before (and our brilliant Calbuzzers said it first) but I’ll say it one more time. Meg Whitman should have had dinner with CalBuzz and Calitics and any other journalist, newspaper, etc. who invited her. She should have done the CalBuzz debate. She should have gone on real TV – not just Fox.

    She should have behaved like a real person. But she was too arrogant. Lived her whole life in an Atherton bubble. She has no compassion or understanding of real people’s lives. She’s a lousy leader, decision-maker, money manager and, it appears, parent.

    Tomorrow she won’t understand how she could have lost. So she’ll throw her shoes and maybe an expensive lamp and do a lot of hollering and pouting and whining and maybe shove a staff member or two.

    If I had to choose, I’d much rather be Nicky Diaz than Meg Whitman. Tomorrow or any other day.

  12. avatar hclark says:

    Last night, Halloween, I was phone-surveyed by a live person for twenty minutes. I sensed from the line of questioning, it was from Whitman. No way to know for sure, but who else would be spending that much money on a survey this late in the game? Questions sought reactions to the smallest details of the ads which mostly were for Whitman. Me thinks she knows she’s losing and wants to know why. Or, those who are still collecting some of that $160m. are squeezing out every dollar convincing her they will have the answers. Probably both. Of note also in the questioning was a high interest in the plight of women candidates.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.