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?