Movie Music Moment: Apocalypse Now ("Ride of the Valkyries")

"Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner

as seen and heard in

Apocalypse Now (1979)


I first saw Apocalypse Now on my computer in my college apartment, but even in that dire (okay, First World "dire") circumstance the famous helicopter flight set to Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" worked its majestic movie magic on my eyes and ears. It's a scene I've shown to several people over the years. Every movie sequence taken out of context with the rest of the film loses some power, though there's so much to go around in regards to this chapter that it manages to hold its own. When I finally saw Apocalypse Now on the big screen it was like seeing it for the first time again. This particular movie music moment has never been quite as astonishing as it was at the Egyptian in glorious 70mm and I'm saddened to think it may never reach that peak again.

Francis Ford Coppola's anti-war masterpiece is lined with one memorable scene in an unforgettable set piece, after another, each tackling its master thesis of the insupportable and unexplainable horror that is war. The "Ride of the Valkyries" sequence (sometimes referred to as the "Flight of the Valkyries") is incredible in showing us both sides of the conflict in Vietnam. From the American soldier's side it is a rousing and spear-shaking number that they blast in unison from their calvary of choppers. The number winds up, much like a set of blades on any of the given helicopters. Each time the strings are held it's as if another airborne vehicle has joined the ranks until a most formidable host has been assembled.

Together they're a black cloud of destruction that the unsuspecting natives, only just seen and heard in time before the surprise storm of an attack. From their point of view the distant but growing classical music mixed with the rotary metal on the wind is as terrifying as the voice of an angry god. This movie music moment manages to be both chest-thumping propaganda, that you will undoubtedly be excited to the bone by, only to be cut at the knees when you see a class of school children running for the privilege of their little lives. The number escalates as the helicopters come over breaking waves and atop the island where the wretch of war awaits.

There's several other movie music moments to analyze from Apocalypse Now (namely the opening and finale uses of "The End" by The Doors), which will have to wait for future installments. "Ride of the Valkyries" has been re-used over the years, most recently in 2011's Rango in a fun referential scene to Apocalypse Now. What are your memories and thoughts about this Movie Music Moment? Please share in the comments below.

Until next time, keep watching and stay listening.

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