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by Laura Kyle

I won’t bother to click through the thirty tracks of the 2-disc Apocalypse Now Original Motion Picture Soundtrack right now, because the images that went with them will stick in my mind forever – even if I never hear the Doors’ “The End” again.

Coppola begins his movie with “The End;” Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard has already been to the Jungle, the cause of the Vietnam War has already been lost in the Jungle. If Morrison was more inspired by an acid trip than clear thought when writing his epic song, it’s all the more effective set against, what some might interpret, a treatise on the dangers of sanity.

Morrison’s eerily cool guitar and gradually haunting lyrics perfectly mesh with Coppola’s introduction to the Horror that we assume has always been there. The snake (river), the insane children, the West – more than 10 years may have separated the Door’s debut album and Coppola’s vision of Vietnam (more accurately, mankind), but that’s about it.

Coppola’s father Carmine flawlessly composed the hollow, unemotional score – it’s not biased, it simply IS his son’s film. And the fact that it’s a notch above most “scary movie” scores of today is a testament to a) how disturbing Apocalypse Now is and b) Carmine’s ability to translate that with his careful choice of instruments and his resistance to melody.

But one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history is in large part thanks to a man who died about a decade before Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (the novel that inspired the film) and more than a hundred years before Coppola ever put pen to paper as co-screenwriter for Apocalypse Now.

That man is Richard Wagner and his famous “Ride of the Valkyries” from the opera “Die Walkure” isn’t just a part of the soundtrack, it’s quite literally a part of the plot. Robert Duvall’s loony Colonel Kilgore routinely blasts the classical piece from his helicopter during raids on Charlie (why they wanted to kill Martin Sheen’s then 14-yr-old son so badly, is beyond me; I bet they can’t stand “Two and a Half Men”) to “scare the hell out of them.”

When Kilgore asks the famed surfer/soldier Lance Johnson what he thinks, and Johnson replies “It’s exciting!” the shock of such casual discourse hardly prepares us for Kilgore’s clarification that he meant the ocean waves, not the air attack, beneath them.

Wagner’s loud, brassy, adventurously buyout music illustrates better than any bit of dialogue though, the difference between harsh, dark reality and the drama of an opera: it's the conflict between what we can't believe is happening and what we wish was happening.

The soundtrack to Apocalypse Now is at once intentional and effortless and it’s equaled by only a few – perhaps that to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I’ve only scratched the surface of it here but it’s an important soundtrack to note, if only to bring Coppola’s masterpiece into one’s conscious again and remind us that man is only as crazy as his war.

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originally posted: 06/23/05 00:16:57
last updated: 09/23/05 01:17:50
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