Winter 2016

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28 CINEMONTAGE / Q1 2016 by Peter Tonguette F rancis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) opens with a bang that befits its subject: the Vietnam War. As the Doors' song "The End" dominates the soundtrack, the screen is overtaken with a fireball engulfing a mass of deep-green trees. But while Apocalypse Now is set in a jungle battlefield, its actual terrain is the soul of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). The plot closely tracks the book upon which Coppola and John Milius' screenplay was inspired, Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella Heart of Darkness: Willard is directed to ferret out and then "terminate with extreme prejudice" Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), an officer of unsound mind who has stationed himself in Cambodia. Following the film's opening shot, we find Willard in a hotel room in Saigon, hungover and disoriented. Amplified by a series of dexterous, intuitive choices in picture and sound editing, the scene illuminates Willard's inner self. The whirring of a ceiling fan resonates with the force of a helicopter, and dissolves shift from close-ups of Willard to artifacts of his personal life to glimpses of an inferno. In jump cuts, Willard is seen trying out karate-like moves, eventually shattering a mirror. In short, the scene is deeply and profoundly strange — but that was not the original plan. It was August 1977. Coppola and company had recently come home to San Francisco from the Philippines, where the film's 15-month production had taken place, bringing with them about 1.25 million feet (236 hours) of workprint. Having been engaged to serve as sound designer and re-recording mixer, Walter Murch, ACE, CAS, MPSE, was asked to join the film's group of picture editors, which included Richard Marks, ACE, Gerald B. Greenberg, ACE, and Dennis Jakob. Marks and Greenberg had already been on the film for about eight months; later, Greenberg and Jakob would depart, and Lisa Fruchtman, ACE, would join the team. For Apocalypse Now, Coppola envisioned a film that started conventionally and gradually grew "more surreal," according to Murch. Thus, when the director convened a meeting with the editors to establish who edited what, he doled out assignments on unusual grounds. As Murch recalls: "Francis took us all out to lunch and said, 'It's a truth that anyone who works on Apocalypse Now goes crazy, so, of all the people sitting at this table, I'm the craziest because I've been working on it the longest. But in terms of editors, there is a MY MOST MEMORABLE FILM Walter Murch on 'Apocalypse Now' Above, left: Apocalypse Now. United Artists Walter Murch. CONTINUED ON PAGE 30

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