Sunday, 26 July 2015

Visual & Sound Diary: Apocalypse Now (1979)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
DoP: Vittorio Storaro
Composer: Carmine & Francis Coppola

Winner of both Best Sound and Best Cinematography at the Oscars in its year of release, this entry to my Visual & Sound Diary requires little justification. The 70s was arguably the most significant decade of American cinema and director Francis Ford Coppola riding in on the New Hollywood wave, managed to close the legendary decade with the greatest war film ever created to this day. Many of the most respected filmmakers have tried their hand at depictions of naval, air or land battles. The result is an array of war movies, each in a distinguished style. Such examples include Steven Spielberg's classic epic Saving Private Ryan, the vague and poetic The Thin Red Line, invariably spawned from the twisted mind of Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino's comedic, indulgently violent Inglorious Basterds and of course the unflinchingly brutal Platoon by Oliver Stone. But Coppola's feature, chronicling a man's mission to terminate a rogue US colonel in 1970 Vietnam, supersedes any of these features in place of the ultimate military film. More revelatory, more engaging, more appreciative and exploitative of its cinematic medium, Apocalypse Now is a vivid glimpse into wartime beauty, that summative genre piece which encapsulates perfectly, the singular qualities of war cinema.

Ceremoniously saturated and strangely hallucinatory, Apocalypse Now subtly captures both the physical toll and the mental degradation of soldiers thrown into the violent light of established warzones. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro utilises spectral imagery to illustrate the unconventionality of the Vietnam war. Perceptions of reality waver in mesmeric ways, the intense humidity traps the soldiers in a deep, idle haze as they travel through Vietnam to Cambodia, experiencing varying sights of air raids, the elaborate destruction caused by a napalm sortie, bridges under attack, a Playboy concert, tribes and villages alight and a Cambodian temple, inhabited by the worshippers of the US colonel, acting as a demigod. It is the feature's narrative arc which distinguishes its unique style, as the key characters of the feature are, for the large duration of the film, merely moving through the conflict.They are, like the audience, mere observers of the hellish landscape and are rarely ever directly involved in combat. Hence, a somewhat dream-like disconnect exists between the viewer and the violence. Striking visuals are accompanied by a stately pop and rock soundtrack with entries such as Shirley and Lee's 50s track "Let the Good Times Roll", The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and the classic "Ride of the Valkyries" in the iconic napalm, air raid sequence. Apocalypse Now is a regal film, a hypnotic synchronisation of image and sound.


  1. What a great movie this is. Certainly one of the greatest war pics ever made. Love all the stills you have, here.

    1. Thanks Wendell. It wasn't difficult. There's not a bad shot in this film.