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Musings:Enter the madness of Apocalyse Now

Well guys,I would be talking about Apocalypse Now (1979) by Francis Ford Coppola by how they conveyed the ‘maddness’ of war by its music choices and cinematography.

“You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. But the smell! You know – that gasoline smell… the whole hill! Smelled like… victory.”

For those who never watched the film (I suggest you do so otherwise you will get spoiled)-I called this an odyssey of a disillusioned army lieutenant Willard (Martin Sheen) who was given a job to assassinate a rather unsound Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando-the guy who pioneered method acting alongside James Dean). Throughout his journey to kill that man,he encounted the horrors of the vietnam war.

In context,let’s look at the historical part-The Vietnam War. Basically it was one of the events in the Cold War history,which turned to be the most bloodiest period in American History. When it was thought to help the south Vietnamese to fight against the Communists turned to be nothing but pure madness and bloodshed. Even today,those who survived their time as the recruit in the Vietnam War still suffer hallucinations and nightmares about this terrible experience.

How do you convoy the madness of The Vietnam War in this film? I found the choices of the music and cinematography interesting as it seems to add the intertexuality to that film.

The Ride of the Valkyires Helicopter Scene (Perhaps the most famous usage of the piece in Pop Culture)

I admit this scene creep me out a bit that I nearly do not want to play The Ride of The Valkyries ever again after I watched the film itself. Now to the intertextuality of that famous piece that is now commonly associated with pop culture thanks to this film. So I did some research on the history behind the music piece. That piece belonged  one of Wagner’s suboperas-Die Walkure which comprised with his bigger opera  Der Ring des Nibelungen. To date was Wagner’s most ambitious opera ever in Classical music history. So basically it was an epic tale of Norse Mythology between the love triangle of a Valkyrie Brunhilde,Siegfriend and his twin sister.

Yes it’s pretty complicated if you know your Norse mythology well. So I will skip the boring bits and talk about the context of this piece. Basically this piece was the sisters of Brunhilde,they are known as the Valkyries (Female warriors who died in battle) came down to heaven to bring the fallen warriors to Vahalla (Known as Norse Heaven:Basically you die in battle,you celebrate your afterlife with fighting and lots of drinking from your enemies’ skulls-a little bit gross but it’s their idea). So it is just simply 8 minutes part of these ladies coming down here to bring people to Vahalla.

Now this piece was perhaps the most well-known piece of Wagner besides the Bridal March (Longherien). Of course it have been used over and over again in our film culture whenever it was for mocking  like James Dean humming that tune in defiance of his parents from Rebel Without A cause (1955),making it accessible in What’s up Doc? or the earliest case of the usage of that piece- The Birth of The Nation (1905),where the Ku Klux Klan rode along to save the damsels of distress. It seemed that piece is destined for greatness in the film soundtrack til this film (I.E Apocalyse Now) makes this piece history.

Interesting Fact: Hitler used this piece in his newsreel during his rule,so we are talking about pride for the Germans

How does Coppola used this piece to convey the madness in war? There is that conversation between Willard and Kilogere,as Willard asked what music he chose for the helicopter assault and he replied simply “We use Wagner. It scares the shit out of the slopes. My boys love it! ” Perhaps Kilogere wants the boys to feel motivated and seen themselves as heroes. It was perhaps their goal to join in war,so that they will come to their own “Vahalla”,winning with honor and knowing they fought a good battle. It was interesting how they paced the music,in one point they stopped the theme for a while to showcase an idyllic scene of children coming out of school and slowly the piece’s volume grew louder as the villagers grew frantic over the raid. Here,things get a lot crazy here as you could feel the foreboding voice of the operatic soprano as they tried to touch down the land and the raid started. When that attack ends,Kilogere added “Very good, Hell’s Angels — suggest you follow with cannon fire.” It sounds ironic to me because now they are somewhat recognized as heroes who supposedly saved the Vietnamese from war. However they did with violence even it means killing innocent lives. In that way,it was twisting a heroic piece to convey they are heroes in their own minds however it was not as they seem.

Secondly let’s look at the music in the introduction and cinematography here. Here they used the song “The End” By The Doors (Not to be mistaken for The Beatles The End)

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes…again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need…of some…stranger’s hand
In a…desperate land
Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah
There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold
The west is the best
The west is the best
Get here, and we’ll do the rest
The blue bus is callin’ us
The blue bus is callin’ us
Driver, where you taken’ us
The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and…then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door…and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
Mother…I want to…WAAAAAA
C’mon baby,——— No “take a chance with us”
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
On a blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
C’mon, yeah
Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill
This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

Again,some background behind the song itself. Basically Jim Morrison wrote this song about the break-up of his girlfriend Mary Scott.He could see it as  the farewell to innocence.

In the beginning,we see a helicopter flying  and the ground being exploded with bombs which foreshadows the air raid much later (Yes The Wagner sequence) and slowly dissolve into Martin Sheen (Willard)’s face. Then the footage seems to be overlapped together. Slowly the footage changed from Sheen’s face to the tracking of his letters and personal belongings he have. It overlaps with fan which symbolized his monotony when he stayed in Saigon. There it cuts back to a mini flashback of his previous recruitment where orange smokes shot up to the coolness of the blues in their jungle track. Firstly it shows how tiresome the war is and it was noted that Jim Morrison died at 27 from a drug over-dose which implied the recurits’ problems as they suffered hallucations from the Vietnam War.

It was interesting on the part where he self-mulitate himself where Morrison’s screams came along with the F-Me,he punched his hand onto the mirror and dripped the blood from his hand to himself. Yes it’s pretty creepy and I actually thought of the worse. To me it shows his breaking point of Willard,and it could be compared to T.E Lawrence’s madness where he just complain his disillusionment.

Lastly I would highlight a different song by The Rolling Stones and absolutely my favourite song from them-(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. I feel that this scene needs to be analyzed because of the way they used the song.

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And that man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
When I’m watchin’ my T.V.
And that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be
But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke
The same cigarrettes as me
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no girl reaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ round the world
And I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that
And I’m tryin’ to make some girl
Who tells me baby better come back later next week
‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak
I can’t get no, oh no, no, no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no, I can’t get no
I can’t get no satisfaction
No satisfaction, no satisfaction, no satisfaction

Basically this song is interesting in its usage,as it shows the frustration of Willard not being able to grasp that mission. Even the line implied on how tired the recruits have to face the war over and over again “Who tells me baby better come back later next week ‘Cause you see I’m on a losing streak.” Anyway Willard could not be satisfied about what people think of Colenel Kurtz as the crazy man as the army conveyed. Even the bassline shows his madness here.

In conclusion,I just love the way for conveying music for the madness whenever the dislluisonment of being heroes or the current situation. It was quite an interesting film to be analysed over and over again


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