Apocalypse Now Scene Analysis

 

Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now used every aspect of filmmaking expertly to make it one of the most hailed movies of the last 50 years. The cinematography, in particular, is an aspect that contributes to the film’s themes and character development. Vittorio Storaro, the cinematographer for Apocalypse Now, won an Oscar for his work in the movie. Among the many outstanding scenes in the movie, the helicopter assault on the beach early in the movie is a prime example of how the cinematography added to the film as a whole. Through the use of different camera angles and shots including close ups,  long shots, and different angle shots as well as high and low key lighting, the cinematography conveys the subjectivity of the war between Kilgore and Willard, Kilgore’s character and values, and the anonymity of war.

Willard is revealed early on to have mixed feelings of the war; He feels as if he can’t live without it but also dreading some aspects of it. Kilgore is shown as an adrenaline junkie who is a commanding figure and is ignorant to the war; he treats it more or less as a game. Before the attack, as the helicopter are approaching the beach during the dawn, the audiences are greeted to a long shot of helicopters with some magnificent low key lighting. After this shot, there is an extreme close-up of Willard’s face, also in low key lighting. These two shots are repeated with fades sometimes blending the two together (see fig. 1). The use of many different angle shots on the group of helicopters reveals Willard’s own fragmented or skewed frame of mind regarding the U.S. Army in Vietnam. The close-up of Willard with low key lighting established that this part of the scene is to be viewed through his perspective, the dark shadows of the low key lighting represents his lack of clarity on the war; this will play into what Kurtz wants later on. As soon as the group arrives close to the beach, however, there is a shift in perspective to Kilgore’s view of the war. Coppola uses Kilgore to represent the popular view of Americans during war, that America is an unbeatable powerhouse.  Storaro chooses to use several high angle shots from the view of the helicopters to show the destruction of the village (see fig. 2). Storaro mixes these in with some low angle shots from below the helicopters (see fig. 3). The high angle shots down on the village show the mindset of the soldiers during this attack: the Vietcong are shown as puny and a pest as the high angle shot shows the helicopter as being a giant figure over the village. The view before the war ended was that there was no way that the brute force of the united states would lose to a guerilla fighting force. The low angle shot, from the perspective of the villagers, displays the group of helicopters as an unbeatable force that literally almost takes up the entire sky.

Many shots in this scene help convey both the ignorance and recklessness of Kilgore but also the control that he has over the situation. As soon as the troops land, Kilgore is shown as the tallest man on the scene with a medium shot from a slightly low angle (see fig. 4). Coppola establishes him as the dominant figure in the scene thanks to a tracking shot centered on Kilgore. This shot, with the medium shot, shows how Kilgore has immediate control of every situation as well as having everyone literally looking up to him, including the audience. As the camera tracks Kilgore, it begins to move closer and start angling a bit lower (see fig. 5) as the troops get even lower, holding their helmets in case of an explosion. This shot shows Kilgore’s lack of fear in war, in this situation he is still standing straight up and the tallest man in the shot. The low angle here again represents his command, in time of fear or danger, his troops will look up to him because of his fearlessness.

It is often said that in war, everyone is equal. War does not discriminate. Coppola defends this statement through his cinematographic choices in the middle of the battle. In the middle of the scene, Coppola chooses to have a pan shot of the helicopter attacks. This also shows the villagers scrambling with a high angle shot (see fig. 6). In this shot, the villagers all appear the same due to their hats, making them all appear the same. The same type of shot appears again when the American troops land (see fig. 7), as soon as they leave the relative safety of the chopper. When joining the fight on the ground, everyone is at risk of dying, no matter the rank. Coppola shows this with the high angle shot again, having all the soldiers appear identical thanks to their uniforms and helmets.

The cinematography in Apocalypse Now helps to support central ideas that guide the entire movie, as well as character traits and larger themes. This aspect truly elevates it to the masterpiece status it holds today.

Appendix

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The Collision of Art and Hollywood

 

                21st century film has seen a rise in the popularity of indie (independent) movies. Many viewers are becoming enamored with the deeper meanings and far reaching social messages that indie movies provide. Big Blockbusters often choose to remain formulaic for the same of profit and consistent viewer enjoyment. Punch-Drunk Love (2002) is Paul Thomas Anderson’s sleeper hit starring Adam Sandler, it is a romantic movie but deals with Barry Egan (Sandler) overcoming his mental insecurities and emotional trauma to go after a girl he fell for. The film uses colors and lights as symbols for loneliness and the mental troubles Egan deals with. Inception (2010) is Christopher Nolan’s big budget summer blockbuster that stars Leonardo DiCaprio as dream hijacker and inception artist Dominick Cobb who is still mourning the loss of his wife. Nolan employs a lot of personal touches and film elements to create a movie that can be deeply analyzed while still enjoyable to the common viewer. When comparing Inception and Punch-Drunk Love in regards to auteur cinema, and the future of film, it is arguable that the standards for a successful movie are beginning to become a blend of Hollywood formula and independent art film

                Christopher Nolan has complete creative control of his movies. His last few movies not only did he direct but he also co-wrote the script. An auteur in the most basic sense is someone who both writes and directs. His films all feature similar cinematography and sound. An auteur shows competence or expertise in every film element. Nolan has a clear vision for all of his movies, he often “deals with ambiguous themes”1  or themes that explore a moral grey area. His previous movie, the Prestige, dealt with how two magicians compete with each other but he doesn’t establish any of their competitive actions as wrong. This brings up Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Christopher Nolan has shown how he breaks Hollywood conventions by being an auteur that directs blockbusters. What makes inception an auteur film is not only how it links to Nolan’s older movies, but how it has very large underlying themes for a Hollywood movie and how it arguably becomes a self aware movie. Inception again tackles a very ambiguous topic, dream crimes. While crimes are universally seen as wrong how wrong is a crime if it is in a dream? Most characters in the film are dream extractors and are presented as morally grey, a theme that appears in both the prestige and the dark knight series. Nolan creates the characters in his movies to behave exactly like this, making him a true film auteur. In inception, he also tackles a specific major theme, unlike The Prestige where he focused on rivalry, in Inception it is the process of making film. Nolan in inception actually uses mise-en-scene to show how an auteur injects personality into the movies he makes. It is arguable that every dream level in Inception is an allegory to movie sets 2 . each dream is influenced by the dreams creator, at one point, a dream level is raining because the dreamer had a full bladder2. Another example of this injection of personality is shown where in multiple dream levels Cobb actually brings in Mal to the dream. Mal is something specific to Cobb but even against his will she finds a way into the dreams that he is in. Nolan is an auteur because all of his moves hold similar themes and also their own specific major underlying ones. Inception itself is also an example of the future of film. Being made only a few years ago, it is definitely still impressive. It is an obvious blockbuster, bringing in almost 6 times its huge budget of $160 million. The movie makes great use of the new IMAX technology. Christopher Nolan uses it to show off the grand scope of is movies. Inception uses “the genius of the system” to its advantage. The use of new technology definitely makes it more appealing to the viewer, but employing auteur film concepts as described before. This makes a movie that would, ideally, be appreciated by fans and critics alike and is a great representation of how to make  blockbuster that still has aspects that are unique.

                Punch-Drunk Love is Paul Thomas Anderson’s by far best work to date. Anderson is undoubtedly one of the best young auteurs in the film industry. “Prior to Punch Drunk Love Anderson’s first three films – Hard Eight(1996), Boogie Nights (1997), and Magnolia (1999) – dealt with themes of alienation, regret, dysfunctional families”4 . Each of his movies had a deep fixation on how his characters expressed emotion. An auteur is expected to be competent in all the formal elements of film; Punch-Drunk Love is a clear cut example of how Anderson is a masterful Auteur. Punch-Drunk Love explores the themes of his older movies but does it through great use of mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and maybe most importantly, sound. The mood of the main character, Barry, and therefore the tone of the movie, is always represented through the colors present in the shot

Image

 

(From source 5)

 White is prominent throughout the beginning, this color is symbolic of the loneliness that Barry feels. Barry is always wearing blue, as well as the color being present in backdrops and his job. “Barry is literally blue for the whole movie” 4. Instead of having Barry physically express his emotions, Barry hides them. The only giveaway is the use of colors and sound in the movie. A harmonium and the color red both represent Barry’s sense of hope. This color appears as soon as Barry meets his love interest. The mise-en-scene here (placement of the color) is used to represent recurring themes present in Anderson’s films. Punch-Drunk Love, however, is different from his other movies in the way that it tells a concrete story. Anderson’s previous films had a very difficult to follow story that always ended on a down note. Punch-Drunk Love is a future film, it is an independent movie made about 10 years ago , it represents the evolution of Independent films into something that can be more universally digested. Anderson uses digital editing to his advantage, able to make use of colors as symbols thanks to fantastic digital editing  but also bucking his trend of a complex narrative, instead going with an extremely simple plot to make his film more commercial.

                Both Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson have been established as auteurs. Both films keep trend and themes from their previous works while showing expertise in film elements especially to express these themes. Inception is much more subtle in its themes as Christopher Nolan is a much more subtle auteur. His success commercially is not due to the themes that he incorporates but rather thanks to the giant scope of his movies and his characters. The fact that he chooses to keep incorporating these themes and adding injecting his own personal flair into his movies is, however, arguably why his movies have gone beyond commercial success and achieved critical success as well. By adding these themes and layers to his films, he has intrigued the “art film” crowd. Punch-drunk love by contrast is at the heart an art film. Anderson came from the other side of the spectrum as Nolan, his movies had always been a pleasure to watch but not a giant commercial success. Punch-drunk love achieved success supposedly because it too combined art film elements with a regular romantic comedy story. As auteurs, both directors are becoming more and more adept at their own style, Inception being the peak of Nolan’s craftsmanship and Punch-Drunk Love being Anderson’s.

                With these last two films, each director has made a step to the other side of the creative scale. Punch-drunk Love is Anderson’s step towards the commercial side while Inception is Nolan’s step towards the art side. Nolan has been established as an undoubtedly successful Hollywood director, making billions at the box office with his movies. Him being an auteur and his films being both critically and commercially successful is no coincidence. Nolan is showing modern Hollywood directors the step they should take for their films to go above and beyond what is expected of a Hollywood film. Likewise, Punch-Drunk Love seems like a new direction for independent directors. Often, their movies are left in the dust due to lack of widespread success. Anderson shows independent directors the direction they should move in with his film. The film takes a step toward convention without losing the auteur artisanship that made Anderson such a great independent director to begin with.  The two movies together, represent the ideal future of film, the collision of Hollywood convention and auteur craftsmanship that will push films to great new heights.

Works Cited

PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE

4. “Punch Drunk Love: The Budding of an Auteur.” Senses of Cinema RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

5. “Punch-Drunk Love . A Paul Thomas Anderson Picture.” Punch-Drunk Love . A Paul Thomas Anderson Picture. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. <http://www.a2pcinema.com/archive/PDL/colors.htm&gt;.

Punch-drunk Love. By Paul Thomas. Anderson. Dir. Paul Thomas. Anderson. 2002. DVD.

INCEPTION

Inception. Dir. Christopher Nolan. 2010. Film.

1. “Desiring-Machines in American Cinema: What Inception Tells Us about Our Experience of Reality and Film.” Senses of Cinema RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

2. “Reverse Shot.” Inception. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

3. Thorpe, Vanessa. “How Inception Proves the Art of Baffling Films Does Make Sense.” The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 25 July 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2013

Three Experimental Films (Avant-garde Cinema)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is an avant-garde film in the sense that it ws shot using dolls. This plays into one of its major themes, the imposible feminine physical ideals. Using barbie dolls to create the movie already has hints about what karen carpenter wanted to see herself as. a barbie doll is often thought of as a perfect feminine figure and is often under flak because of it. Using barbie dolls shows how Karen wanted to be, even though it is close to impossible to look like barbie. 

The three movies are avant-garde in their own ways, Superstar uses barbie dolls in order to convey feminine themes, Meshes of the afternoon uses circular narrative and dreams in order to express the characters issues outside of the dream, and An Andalusian Dog has no discernible plot. Each film, however, has repeating themes and motifs that work well with the movie, the latter two movies taking a book out of psychology and using Freudian ideas to create deeper meanings and hopefully to be interpreted by the audience. Avant-garde films, can be argued, show a way of expressing an idea that cannot be expressed in any other way.

Karen carpenter, becoming a celebrity at a young age, was overwhelmed with expectations that most young women should not have to stress over. She had to keep an image of the Karen Carpenter that others believed she was which was extremely unrealistic. Trying to keep this image is what could have caused her addiction to laxatives to stay thin.

Chicago 10(Documentary)

Chicago 10 is a documentary based on the charge to 7 defendants who were tried with inciting riots in Chicago in 1968. The movie focuses heavily on the counterculture and how Americans at the time reacted. The counter culture is shown in the movie through clips of the 60’s there are several people wearing slogans and costumes designed to protest a lot of the political debates that were raised in the 60’s. In many scenes, you can see protesters grouped together while loud rock and roll music is playing, showing the dominance of the counter culture.

As a documentary, Chicago 10 fulfills Brett Morgen’s intent, it gives the viewer an accurate depiction of the Chicago 7 case and how the defendants fought and argued over national values. While the real life clips accurately depicted the culture of the 60’s the trial was depicted as a cartoon/animated trial. The trial is not 100%accurate, Morgen chose to recreate the trial but with more dramatic elements in order to engross the audience but at the same time tried to have as much historical accuracy as possible.

Zero Dark Thirty (Auteur Cinema)

Zero Dark Thirty portrays many of the feelings and desires of many Americans after the incident on 9/11. Maya devotes her life to the hunt for Bin Laden, she has no friends or life outside of her mission, this shows the desperation of the government at catching one man and how one event could make a country this obsessed over a manhunt. Maya, a character who at first is uneasy with torture, even asks that they kill Bin Laden “for [her]”. Even though she is the kindest character in the movie, the hunt has driven her to this moment where she treats her mission like revenge.

A film auteur requires certain qualities. Of these, the main ones would be having a specific distinctive style that is discernible in most of that director’s movies as well as mastering each film technique (editing, cinematography). Bigelow’s last movie, The hurt locker, is very similar to zero dark thiry, both are about war and both share similar shots and framing. The pacing in both movies is very similar, drawing the audience in and keeping a tense atmosphere throughout.

Kathryn Bigelow herself said that she never intended for the torture in the film to be seen as “successful” or that it works. I believe that the torture in the film is realistic, showing that it is an awful act, Maya during the torture was extremely uneasy, but that people do have their breaking point.  

 

Weekend (Social Context)

When talking about Weekend and violence, two scenes immediately come to mind. About a third of the way into the movie, on the trip, they stop in the field and begin chasing each other with guns. The second scene involves the pig, this pig has its throat cut. The violence to the pig seems a lot worse, especially to the viewer. Goddard does this to show how actors are merely objects in a movie, as we care more about an animal being hurt than a character on screen.

Weekend has a wide representation of different classes, the two main characters arguably represent the middle class while the journey through the hllside brings upon both the higher and lower classes. The higher classes are represented n the phone booth scene, with the young man singing in the phone booth. this scene is absurd, the man only leaves at the rev of a porsche engine, speaking to the shallowness of the higher class.

The jump cut editing is used by Godard is successfully used to take the audience out of the movie as godard intended. they make the audience step back and not get sucked in to the film. It works with his satire of film at the time. The jump cut in the first car crash lets Godard show the audience that car crashes in film are just as fake as any other set piece, the car crash happens outside of the viewers perspective and looks extremely fake thanks to the jump cut before the collision

 

Casablanca (genre)

casablanca is a Hollywood movie in every sense of the word. The film seems indecisive about its genre and draws upon many other films for influence. Rick as a character is also wishy washy about his feelings throughout the movie. Among these is the theme of independence vs. involvement. Especially when talking about Ilsa, Rick has many mixed emotions, Rick in the beginning is a clear cut independent man, but this is brought into question when Ilsa shows up again and asks for help, Rick rejects her. Later, however, Rick goes back on this decision.

Picking a specific genre for Casablanca is difficult, there are many recurring elements that can be found in many genres. Romance might be the most recurring one, but the plot follows a very political and dramatic story that doesn’t fit in with the romance. The shootout at the end might even be considered western. The genre mash-up seems to work well for the movie however, mixing in only the best parts of each genre.

The mash up of genres does not make Casablanca a more artistic film. I believe for a film to be artistic and less conventional it has to challenge modern film ideas and formula. Casablanca does not do this, instead, every genre that it uses it borrows the most convention aspects of. Even though it is a hybrid, it doesn’t challenge the conventions of any individual genre.

Giant (Acting)

Giant can be considered a film ahead of its time, dealing with gender roles and class struggles in ways that mirror many peoples thought in today’s day and age. In one scene, where Jett is in the truck with Leslie and visiting Little Raeta. In this scene, Leslie shows compassion towards Hispanics. She kindheartedly helps Mrs. Obregon and makes side comments about the area that show a lot of heart. Unlike many racial stereotypes of the time, Leslie seems to ignore all and she acts this way throughout the movie.

The acting in the movie is complementary to all other film aspects such as mise en scene and cinematography. In the dinner fight, the actors have to go along with the cinematography, when a character is shown as bigger (physically) in the shot, he needs to act dominant. This is shown here as dominance switches from whichever character is presented as larger the actor takes a more commanding tone.The argument is what leads up to the fight.

Of the fights in the movie, there is a huge difference between the ones involving women and the ones involving men. The men brawl as one would expect. In the diner scene, they fought to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” further enhancing the sense of excitement and duty that men feel in a fight, they feel as if fights are to prove oneself. In the scene with the group of men, Elizabeth Taylor’s character strikes up an argument but she is quickly dismissed. It is shown that women are not taken as seriously and hey aren’t seen as threats.

 

 

Adaptation (Narrative)

Adaptation is a bizarre movie about an “adaptation” of the book, The Orchid Thief” into a movie, which is the book that this movie is about. Spike Jonze chose to have extremely erratic pacing in his movie, the three different and separate storylines are jumped to and from very frequently, characters change locations rapidly and random cuts and lapses in time are common. This all contributes to a common theme, lack of clarity. Lack of clarity in the film works as an anti-Hollywood convention and also as a representation of Charlies own thought process. Charlie often goes back and creates new ideas for his movie, but seems unsure of his overall direction.

Film narrative is thought to have a very concrete definition, a narrative should have a concrete beginning and end, with the film taking you from the beginning point A to the end point B. Spike Jonze chose to tackle film narrative in his own way. In the scene where Charlie has a dream about random ideas for his movie, in the span of 2 minutes, he wakes up, goes to eat at a cafe, and has come back and is recording his thoughts on what he should incorporate. This erratic pacing with random time lapses and cuts would be seen as a big red flag in common Hollywood movies, but Spike Jonze attempted to create his own narrative structure with a distinct style.

Charlie Kaufman is , in my opinion, a satirical representation of an auteur, and independent art film maker. In charlie’s room, Charlie berates Donald’s simple idea of a psychological thriller with elaborate claims, saying that it cannot be written. Charlie acts a lot more pompous that Donald, who is seen as more relaxed and friendlier in the movie. Charlie has a very specific idea for a movie, he rejects anything close to cliche and wants to inject his own personal spark, making him closer to the art film director. The Cliche ideas of Donald place him as a Hollywood director. The film argues against it at the end with Donald’s death. Charlie begins straying from his art film ways towards the end because of Donald’s death, showing that the huge segregation and hate between the two film sides is unnecessary and that they do not have to be to different.

The Shining (Mise-en-scene)

 The Shining is a psychological horror masterpiece directed by Stanley Kubrick. One could argue that Jack is driven insane thanks to one specific element and recurring theme in the film, work. Work appears in them film at the very beginning, when jack is accepting the job as caretaker of the hotel for the winter, the office is shown as a confines space, which contrast with the open workspace that jack is seen in later in the film. The writers block and constant presence of the typewriter could be what has driven jack insane.

Stanley Kubrick is a master of Mise-en-scene, known for his meticulous and obsessive placement of just about everything in a specific shot, making sure everything contributes towards the films greater themes. The lonliness and barren nature of the hotel is seen in many scenes, in many shots of the hallways, there are only a few decorations present, the rug and possible one table. Everything in the hotel is orderly but in a way that suggests that humans do not reside in it, everything look unused and it basically looks abandoned even for a hotel that has 3 people living in it. 

AS a horror movie, the shining falls short. The shining should not be considered a great example of the horror genre, it lacks the jump scares and dramatic irony that is commonplace in many great horror movies. The movie is, instead a psychological thriller, it calls upon the viewer to decipher many aspects of the movie that are not told to the viewer. These include the reasoning behind jack’s madness and Jack’s relationship to the hotel especially after the picture reveal at the end.