In this article, Beck claims that during the 1970s, sound moved from a secondary aspect of filmmaking to a primary concern of directors. Coppola in particular is attributed with beginning the practice of paying particular attention to the film’s soundtrack. His 1974 work The Conversation not only heavily uses its soundtrack to advance the plot, but also features a sound-recording expert as the protagonist.
Although Beck focuses on the soundtrack of The Conversation, the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now is also quite impressive. One of the most memorable scenes in the film, the entrance of the helicopters, is inexorably tied to the operatic “Ride of the Valkyries.” Coppola manages to use sound to not only augment visual displays, but also create the atmosphere for a scene. Moreover, Coppola uses popular songs such as The Doors’ “The End” to convey the despair of the moment.
Beck also mentions Coppola’s use of “conceptual depth,” or the practice of using ambient sounds to make certain dialogue difficult for the audience to hear. Even though Beck only discusses this technique in the context of The Conversation, it is apparent in Apocalypse Now as well. For example, when the helicopters first arrive in Vietnam, the roar of the choppers keeps the men from hearing Lieutenant Kilgore’s orders. The viewer experiences the same confusion as the men must have felt, deaf and without direction. Moreover, the initial conversation between Kilgore and the California surfer is drowned out by the roar of enemy fire. Both men have to shout at each other to get their point across. Again, the chaos of war is emphasized, as is Kilgore’s lunacy while he tries to go surfing amid the din of heavy artillery.
Coppola’s innovations in film audio are clearly represented in Apocalypse Now.