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Classical 101

Memorable Classical Music in Vietnam War Movies

Universal Pictures
Robert De Niro stars in 'The Deer Hunter' (1978).

With The Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick set to begin at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17 on WOSU-TV, I thought I'd conclude my three-part music-related reflections of that era by briefly presenting some of the most striking examples of the use of classical music in Hollywood films about the Vietnam War.

The Deer Hunter from 1978 centers on a group of three steelworkers from Pennsylvania. Directed by Michael Cimino, the film uses the lovely "Cavatina" by Stanley Myers.

This haunting piece was written for an earlier less-known film called The Walking Stick. When it was used in The Deer Hunter, it became a hit. Australian-born guitarist John Williams played it in the film soundtrack, and it has become a favorite. 


Apocalypse Now, the 1979 war epic by Francis Ford Coppola, is bizarre and surreal at times but very powerful. This loose adaptation and updating of Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness also has the most chillingly memorable use of music by Richard Wagner I've ever seen in a film, Ride of the Valkyries.


Platoon, from 1986, was written and directed by Oliver Stone, based on his own experiences in Vietnam. The film features the heart-achingly sad Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber.


To get the bigger historical picture and complete story of what these films are all about, watch Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's The Vietnam War, starting at 8 p.m. this Sunday on WOSU-TV.