Monday, July 2, 2012

Monday Matinee: On War, Music and Books

We have been wading through some darker war movies lately, and they have been on my mind because they force my imagination to go in different directions, beyond the film themselves.  Rather than doing a straight-forward review of them, I thought I would take a different approach and talk about the musical and bookish side trips these movies have inspired with me.  

The Killing Fields (1984):  This British film depicts the chaos of the 1973 Cambodian civil war and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, from the perspective of a New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian interpreter Dith Pran.  With three Oscars, and a star-studded cast such as Sam Waterston and John Malkevich, this brilliant movie (which is actually based on a true story) is horrifying and unflinching, as well as inspiring.  I find it unique that a nearly all-male casted movie would reduce me to tears, but it did.    

The music:  The soundtrack was written by Mike Oldfield, best known for his 1973 album Tubular Bells which contained the theme song for "The Exorcist".  Most people might cringe at this, but Mike wrote this haunting song at the age of 19, and is probably one of the most identifiable movie songs ever.  His work for The Killing Fields was his first album to be composed specifically for one movie, and is an emotional experience.  It is war put into sound.

The books:  As a tribute to Dith Pran, Schanberg originally published an article about his experience in Cambodia in the New York Times, for which he won a Pulitzer.  Now in his 70's, Schanberg has recorded his thoughts on not only his time in Cambodia but Vietnam and Iraq in "Beyond the Killing Fields".  However, when I was reading Tatjana Soli's "The Lotus Eaters", about photojournalists in Vietnam, I was constantly reminded of this movie...the passion to capture the action, the addiction to the adrenaline rush, the witnessed atrocities.  

Apocalypse Now (1979):  In this epic film about Vietnam, Captain Benjamen Willard (Martin Sheen) is charged by the government to go deep into the jungle, locating rogue and insane Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), and "terminate his command with extreme prejudice"...or assassinate him.  The movie was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and has a long list of awards to its name, but often is remembered for the difficulties that plagued it's production (Brando showing up on the set grossly overweight, Sheen's heart attack, inclement weather, troubled local politics, Dennis Hopper's drug addiction).  It is also known as the movie that had access to way more money that it should have, paying Brando $1 million per week for his three-week shoot.  BE THAT AS IT MAY, this movie is dark and surreal and a watching experience no one should miss.

The music:  While the entire soundtrack is as surreal as the movie, the most memorable track would be the extended mix of The Doors "The End".  The visuals that accompany this song that is played throughout the movie will ensure that you will NEVER hear this song the same again.

The books:  It is pretty common knowledge that the movie is loosely based on Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness", but (according to Wiki) also draws from Conrad's "Lord Jim" as well.  Personally, I couldn't help but make a comparison to Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder", where a scientist is challenged to rope in her rogue mentor deep in the Amazon.  

Have you seen either of these movies?  What did you think?              


bermudaonion said...

I saw Apocalypse Now at the theater and again when Vance was a teen and I have to admit that I don't understand much of it.

I still need to see The Killing Fields after our conversation about it.

Lenore Appelhans said...

The Killing Fields broke my heart! We went to Cambodia in 2001, but didn't make it there. I don't know if I could handle it TBH.

Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

Apocalypse Now is absolutely one of the best and most mindblowing movies I have seen :)

Do visit!

Unknown said...

I have seen both of these, and I once once owned an LP of Tubular Bells even though my parents would not allow me to see The Exorcist. I don't think they knew about the album's connection to the movie.

My mom took me with her when she went to see Apocalypse Now. I remember afterwards arguing with her about whether or not the Robert Duvall character was realistic. She insisted that she knew several men just like him. My father was an officer in the Navy who would never go to a movie like Apocalypse Now for political reasons.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Jim's son actually joined the army (when he was younger) because of the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now, which makes me hate the movie. But also, I think the helicopter scene is so inferior to the similar scene in the movie Hamburger Hill, a much more realistic portrayal in my opinion (and a movie Jim's son won't watch because he considers it 'anti-Vietnam." For similar reasons, he has never watched "Going Home" which I think is one of the best movies I've ever seen!)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I remember The Killing Fields and watched it when I was a teenager. That is such a haunting film. I cried forever throughout it and after watching it. That trivia bit about the composer of the music is incredible! I had no idea.

Zibilee said...

Apocalypse Now was a movie I saw many years ago, and only after I read the backstory about all the strange things that happened during filming. It was a movie I will never forget, and it was totally scary in a way that I can't even begin to explain. The darkness of men's minds and souls, the horror of war, and the insanity that all that brings. Those are all things I think of when I think of this movie. I agree that it changed the way I looked at that song, and it made me feel sort of claustrophobic in an emotional sense. If you really liked that movie, I would recommend the book The White Mary. I have my original copy, and would totally let you borrow it. It evoked a lot of the same emotions in me, and was a tremendous read. Very cool post today. It really made me think.

Literary Feline said...

I grew up on war movies, among them these two. It's been years since I saw either but a part of them still lingers in my memory.

Amy said...

I watched The Killing Fields awhile ago and was also really struck by it. If you are interested and haven't read it and want more Cambodia tragedy, I recommend Kim Echlin's The's gorgeously written and heart breaking and about Cambodia.