This book is now available for purchase at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Scene—Scene-David-Ebert/dp/0985480289/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434117953&sr=8-1&keywords=apocalypse+now+scene-by-scene
Excerpted from the book Apocalypse Now Scene-by-Scene
by John David Ebert:
(34:05 – 52:08)
In this scene, Kilgore’s Air-Cav regiment launches from the ground at dawn to the bugle cries of reveille. There follows a hypnotic, morphine-trance ride through the orange and vanilla swirl clouds as the helicopters head, in symmetric formation, toward Charlie’s Point. As Kilgore and Lance discuss their preferences for light vs. heavy surfboards, the regiment approaches the tiny quiet village nestled in the jungle at the edge of the shoreline. Kilgore informs Lance that they will be playing Wagner about a mile out from the village, since it “scares the hell out of the slopes.” Then, with the piece from Die Walkure—from the opening of its third act–playing at maximum volume, the helicopters glide in over the foam of the beach and begin demolishing the village, reducing it to rubble with mortar rounds, rockets, M16s and eventually, napalm. Keep in mind that all of this done so that Kilgore and his buddies can go surfing.
The first point to note about this (very famous) sequence—its influence is immediately evident the next year in the snow battle that occurs, likewise, about a half hour into The Empire Strikes Back (1980)–is that it is war fought under a single mighty C.O. with maximum strategic organization: the choppers attack with all the discipline of a highly regimented Roman military machine—such machines were composed of both cavalry and infantry, whereas the helicopters combine their separate lines into one phalanx–but when they touch the ground, the air-cavalry are instantly transformed into ground-based infantry as they are dumped out of the dromosphere.
The yellow crest which the Air-Cav pilots wear on the backs of their helmets is composed of a black stripe across a sun-yellow field with a tiny horse’s head in the upper right corner. So we are to imagine that the mobilization of modernity has transformed ancient horseback-riding legions into the flying horses of Wagner’s opera, since the Valkyries in Norse mythology ride on flying horses and swoop down to the battlefields to pick up the souls of warriors who have been killed in battle. The attack is thus structurally homologous to the old, very old story of Indo-European horsemen sweeping nomadologically across the ancient steppes of Central Europe and Asia, crashing into quiet farming villages everywhere they went, undoubtedly raping, burning and looting in the process, as we know that the Vikings did.[i]
The helicopter is, of course, much faster than the horse, but it still treats the space that it sweeps across in the same manner as the nomads do, that is to say, as “smooth space” (a la D&G’s “nomadology” in A Thousand Plateaus)[ii] and the villages and cities that are encountered in its path as “striated spaces” that interrupt their trajectories.
Willard and his crew—on the other hand–with their tiny gunboat that miniaturizes the Argo, are an anachronism from the days of the Odyssey, for they are sailors on a mysterious errand travelling through the snake-like arteries that lead through the back alleys, as it were, of the jungle; whereas Kilgore and his men are nomads of the skies capable of traversing any terrain whatsoever. The sailing vessel, like the man-horse-nomad assemblage, treats the sea as “smooth space,” but the river is another matter topologically considered, for it is full of all kinds of striations, wadis, deltas and shallow spots where mounds of mud protrude. Let us not forget: the river is brown, whereas the sea is blue-green. The river is, therefore, a mixture of earth and water, and so its passage must be navigated with much greater circumspection than the great, glittering seas over which the Vikings prowled on their various raids.
Once his helicopter has touched the earth, Kilgore’s ontological status transforms him from that of a Parthian (or Scythian, let’s say) horseman to that of an enormous giant, as he strides across the beach and through the murky yellow and crimson-colored smoke of the battlefield. He shouts orders to his men to prepare the waves for surfing, but Lance insists that they should wait for the tide to come in. Kilgore replies that it would take six hours for the tide to come in, so he has his men drop explosives from their helicopters in order to simulate artificial waves like the surfing and beach theme parks in the American Southwest that generate mechanical waves with their machinery.
Kilgore calls in an airstrike to bomb the tree line, the very same tree line, be it noted, with which the film had begun, only in that case, the viewpoint was at ground level relative to the observer. In these scenes, the F-100 jets drop huge loads of napalm and transform the tree line into a living hell of burning fossil fuels and gasoline-perfumed explosives.
As Kilgore hunkers down and discourses on the virtues of napalm, a distant line of prisoners who have been scaled down by the camera’s focus to tiny figures can be glimpsed marching across the beach behind him. With this image, Kilgore becomes a figure straight out of ancient myth and history, for the scene is a celluloid equivalent of the various military “victory steles” that have been erected throughout history, especially Mesopotamian history.
The image reminds me in particular of the so-called Naram-Sin stele dating from the city of Akkad to about 2200 BC (shown below). Naram-Sin was the grandson of Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Akkadian dynasty, and on the stele—carved out of pink limestone—Naram-Sin has the hubris to depict himself wearing the headdress of a god—with two bull’s horns poking up out of it—while marching up the side of a mountain towards a pair of celestial disks that represent the domain of the heavenly deities. Enemies—a mountain people known as the Lullubi—are shown falling out of his way as he simply tosses them aside on his way up the mountain.
Like Kilgore, Naram-Sin is the largest figure in the composition, for he is depicted—again with almighty hubris—in the semiotic slot that would normally be reserved in Mesopotamian art for deities, since they were always the largest figures in previous Sumerian compositions. Naram-Sin himself reigned for 36 years from 2254 – 2218 BC, and was the last great king of the Akkadian Dynasty before it was overrun by Gutian barbarians shortly thereafter. A whole literature surrounding the motif of “the hubris of Naram-Sin” later emerged, in which the subsequent collapse and fall of the Akkadian Dynasty was ascribed to his insolence toward the gods.
Kilgore is a modern incarnation of Naram-Sin: his manner of carrying himself and his command over his soldiers and equipment indicate that absolutely no signifier can escape the sweeping surveillance of his gaze. He is a human Panopticon, in full control of his battlefield, and all signifiers are held firmly in his grasp.
It is important to note that his tactical manner of fighting is to create and maximize a sort of maximal stress sphere over which, as the mightiest signifier in the zone, he has full command. However, as the film goes along, the entropy content of such zones increases with each sequence until it reaches full and total thermodynamic disequilibrium with the disorder of the Do Lung Bridge sequence. Each set piece becomes messier, and more and more disordered as the narrative unfolds.
The original theatrical release of the film in 1979 ended with Kilgore’s complete control over his battlefield at the end of his napalm speech, but in Apocalypse Now Redux, the scene continues with the theft of his favorite surfboard, indicating the first small beginnings of an entropic element in his command, and correspondingly in the narrative episodes themselves. The board is stolen by Willard, who jumps with it into the gunboat, laughing, as he and the crew race away with Kilgore shouting after them. It is not so much the theft of the actual surfboard that angers him and sets him off in pursuit, but the fact that, perhaps for the first time ever, a single signifier has escaped his all-seeing capture and control, like a missing piece on an otherwise perfect chessboard.
The loss of the surfboard is thus the first entropic element to appear in the narrative, and since it is possibly the first time Kilgore the mythical giant has lost absolute control over a strategic and carefully managed battle zone, its implications are similar to the exquisite sensitivity to initial conditions in Chaos theory: a tiny crack in the quantum foam results in the asymmetric explosion of the universe. The theft of the board therefore suggests the appearance of a crack, not only in Kilgore’s otherwise perfectly maintained command, but in the narrative episodes themselves, for each one, from this point onward, becomes more and more disordered as the story unfolds.
This book can be purchased at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Scene—Scene-David-Ebert/dp/0985480289/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434117953&sr=8-1&keywords=apocalypse+now+scene-by-scene