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Shirley Walker’s Contribution to “Apolcalypse Now” (1979)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • February 09, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Before becoming the next best thing to the likes of film composer Danny Elfman, Shirley Walker made her mark as a conductor for a few renowned films such as Randa Haine’s Children of a Lesser God (1986) and Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused (1988). Her greatness was matched by the production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) as her first gig in Hollywood. On the Internet Movie Database, Walker is listed as a synthesizer musician in the film’s music department. The original music credit goes to its director (listed as Francis Coppola) and his father Carmine Coppola. Coppola’s wife, Eleanor, was too busy documenting its production with stunning material that would later become Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991), written and directed by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper who also made the wonderful film, The Man From Elysian Fields (2001). Like Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982) and its accompanying documentary Burden of Dreams (1982), Hearts of Darkness presents the production as harrowing an experience as Apocalypse Now.

2008 was a year to be a fan of Batman; not only did The Dark Knight raise the bar of action pictures involving anti-heroes, but after over a dozen years of waiting, some of the exemplary score from Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995) was finally released on commercially sold CDs. This first volume is an accumulation of music by head composer Shirley Walker and collaborations by the equally good musicians Lolita Aitmanis and Michael McCuistion. Yes, I bought one of the three-thousand limited releases and it has a place of honor in my office. I investigated Shirley Walker’s 1979 case after reading this excerpt from the collectible booklet included with the soundtrack:

In the 1970’s, Walker began scoring industrial films and jingles while continuing to play as apianist with a variety of orchestras. With one of the Bay’s hotbeds of creativity being Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studios, Walker’s notoriety would see her join the musical team of the writer-director’s Apocalypse Now in 1979. Her synth playing was a major factor in helping Coppola’s father Carmine realize Apocalypse Now‘s acid rock groove, and Walker would re-team with Carmine that same year for The Black Stallion, charging to the rescue with additional music for the Coppola-produced family classic.

Daniel Schweiger, a soundtrack editor for iFmagazine.com and Venice Magazine.

Exhibit A:

“You’re in the asshole of the world, Captain!”

apocolypseMy favorite twenty seconds of Apocalypse Now‘s entirety is comprised from 2:59 to 3:19 in the following Do Long Bridge sequence. Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his acid-tripping soldier Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms) march across the wire-protruding, burnt-black terrain erupting with explosions of hellfire. From the center of a shooting post, descending lines of light bulbs stretch beyond the inky background and toward the frame panning horizontally to the right. Accompanying the commands, screams and growls on the soundtrack, the surrealistic music kicks in and drowns out the noise, effectively smothering it. The best way to describe the music would be like a carnival pavilion vomiting bile and severed elephant parts. If I died and heard this music, then I will know that I am really in Heaven. I love this music!

Exhibit B:

At this point of The Clock King episode, Batman is locked in a bank vault rigged to suck all of the oxygen from the room. Nearly unconscious, Batman’s point-of-view reveals a digital read-out box from a distance going in and out of focus as opposed to the steel door of the vault. Starting at 4:21 of episode track (not included on the CD…the next one, maybe?), listen for blaring synthesizers from 4:26 to 4:31. Sound familiar? The achieved effect of those nauseous sounds is identical to those used for the Apocalypse Now track. My conclusion is that Shirley Walker is directly responsible for why I regard that scene of Coppola’s film so highly.

jokersfavorListening to those inspired, sinister tracks from Batman: The Animated Series always brings me back to my childhood. Where else has a theme for Batgirl (4:22 – 5:11) sounded so celebratory, bouncy, rousing and yet threatening? Okay, that is the music I want to hear before those illusory golden gates open before me. What other music makes the Joker (1:43 – 2:35) sound like a balance between lunacy and satanic hedonism? I refer to this soundtrack release as Volume One because there is a big demand for the rest out of the sixty-five episodes of the series. I want to listen to a pure orchestrate of virginal tracks from episodes ranging from Read My Lips, Mudslide, and Shadow of the Bat to House of Garden, Harlequinade, and BabyDoll. Oh, and I haven’t forgotten about the music from The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), like Over The Edge, Growing Pains, and Mad Love. Surely, about a dozen more volumes isn’t out of the question. So far the first release is an excellent start on part of its producers to do justice to the late, great Shirley Walker.

UPDATE: April 2, 2009

Turns out it was Carlos Rodriguez who did The Clock King score. He was one of the invaluable composers along with Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis who worked with Shirley Walker as their mentor on the series. All three composers have each contributed music for a few whole episodes of their own. In Rodriguez’s case, they include Day of the Samurai, Avatar, The Clock King, Robin’s Rechoning Part I, and If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? featuring the Riddler. You can listen to all of his isolated tracks, which Rodriguez was kind enough to load on his MySpace page. The four seconds of music that compelled me to write this article can be heard in between 4:26 – 4:30.

FYI: The minute-and-half of Batmobile music is from I’ve Got Batman in My Basement, which has a bad rep being the one time Batman needs saving from the Penguin by a couple of kids! For me, the episode is redeemable. The Penguin at one point drives a whirling slicer towards Batman’s face… when he’s comatose. “Ah! A treat with my egg! Sliced ham!” Yikes! And in front of the children no less.

When was the last time you saw a cartoon where the kids are in more danger and sky was a dark gray? We’ve seen countless shows like Johnny Quest where the kids play war and the sky is always a bright blue. At best, I’ve Got Batman in My Basement has a dark atmosphere aided by another fine Shirley Walker score. Walker was so good she could make a light premise sound much more menacing.

Memories: The Batman Promo for “The Clock King” (1992)

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  • Miss Soo

    awww the classic batman animations. I loved this series.. the newer verions aren’t as good and dark as this.. I heard johnny depp is playing the riddler in the new Batman movie! That i can’t wait for! he would do such a great job