Apocalypse Now: Sound, Image, & Editing

Let’s talk about the role of sound, image, and editing. Specifically in the film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1979.

The opening scene – sound, image and editing are the pivotal elements and techniques that make this scene so incredible and captivating. The scene starts with a passive serene jungle, interrupted by helicopters which swarm the jungle, and as the tree line goes up in flames “the End” by the Doors begins to play, a song which represents death and futility. The use of editing is blurred with the intertwining images of present and past, the war and the aftermath. Through impeccable placement of layering faded scenes, editing, sound effects, imagery, music and editing, this scene works incredible well with all these elements thus making it one of the greatest opening sequences of any film. Apocalypse now is a heart wrenching, gripping and advanced film which in my opinion uses sound, imagery and editing to make the film work in more advanced ways than any movie of the time it was made.

Sound is a crucial element to this scene, the movie begins in darkness, a blank screen and all we can hear is the beating cycles of a helicopter blade, haunting us, throughout the scene the helicopter noise fades away only to come back louder and eerier as we delve into the jungle. It seems that when the jungle catches on fire we simultaneously begin to hear the ghostly and melancholic voice of Jim Morrison singing”The End” a song with lyrics such as “This is the end, my only friend, the end” giving us the feeling of death, war, futility and loss. While this song is being played the sound of the helicopters flying back and forth is evident and disarming as it tends to get louder as the helicopters appear and softer as they leave the area of the scene, these continuous overlays of sound effects on top of the music draw us back to the reality of the war and disastrous things happening to the jungle.

The process of editing in this scene is undeniably skillful and effective, from scene 10 until scene 18 there are two layers of scenes being seen through the use of fading and dissolving techniques, we are able to respond and see both scenes, we are faced with the continuous images of the war in the jungle fading in and out from fire, helicopters, tribal people, the burning jungle at night, the smoke filled jungle during the day with helicopters swarming like locusts, it is chaos, violent and alarming, while the contrasting image faded on top is a close up of a mans face, opposite side down, he is still, calm, stationary all he does is blink for the most part. The dissolving from the jungle scene to the man alone scene seems to start gradually showing less of the jungle and more of him until the end scene where there is no longer any lingering images from the jungle scene and all we are left with is the image of this man lying on his bed, with a gun next to him.

The use of imagery in this film is apparent and austere we are shown what is relevant and important to the narrative and without any dialogue we know and understand the story. The main thing that I noticed with this film was the use of colour, in the beginning we are shown this green jungle with clear crisp blue sky and can almost smell the fresh air and then we see it attacked by a polluted yellow smog and eventually covered with a contrasting yellow orange and red fire, the colours are so vivid the we can almost feel the heat of the flames I find it intriguing the contrast of elements and colours and conclude that this is a technique set in motion by the use of imagery. The other way I found imagery to be effective was through symbols and narrative, in those 20 scenes there is no dialogue only the use of editing, sound (sound effects and music) and imagery, it is the imagery that tells the story, the helicopters, the flames, the war, the man/soldier we can associate these images to the story that we conceive in our own minds and therefore have a more emotionally intelligent reaction to the film.

I think that sound; image and editing work exceptionally well in this scene, but work even better when all these three elements become cohesive and tell the story together. The scenes that I have chosen clearly demonstrate how these techniques can be used together, especially scene 10 where all these elements are working together, firstly we have the editing, two scenes faded on top of one another, secondly we have the images that are being shown, the war and jungle of the past in opposition to the man alone in the aftermath of the present and most importantly the music which ties all these elements together making them seamless and cohesive. It is evident that sound, imagery and editing were fundamental techniques that made this scene beautiful to watch.

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