Storaro Apocalypse Now

Vittorio Storaro continues to be an influence when I approach lighting from film. He is one of few cinematographers who is driven by the art of light over the art of camera operation. Coming from a theatrical background I relate to his approach to his art form, also interpreting life and emotions through colour and light. I feel you can carry a narrative through these elements, underpinning the text with subliminal emotional manipulation.


Apocalypse Now is one of his most notable works of cinematography, and whilst it may not be as experimental with its use of colour it is hugely inspiring for his approach to lighting. Whilst you could deconstruct every scene such as the iconic low-key lighting in Willard’s scenes with Colonel Kurtz in great detail; his entire approach of constructed vs natural light is what I appreciated.

There is a great conflict between the heavily stylised lighting that surrounds the America troops when compared to his natural approach for the Vietnamese. Storaro discusses this further in ‘Writing With Light’:

It had to have its own style. I didn’t want it to look like reportage. I put artificial colour, artificial light next to real colour, real light – to have the explosion of napalm next to a green palm tree; to have the fire of an explosion next to a sunset in order to represent the conflict between culture and irrational.

This clash of approaches to light and contrapuntal placement reflects the intruding presence of the Americans on the lives on the Vietnamese. The natural colours show every day life, and the boldness or these vibrant colours demands attention and cuts away anything considered naturalistic.

Looking beyond this clash in tones the omnipresence of darkness helps to emphasise the effect when these cultures come into conflict. The darkness symbolises a lack of either civilisation, acting as a tool for either civilisation to justify destruction of the latter half. This ties back with the iconic scene between Willard and Colonel Kurtz. Kurtz represents the dark side of the American culture, as Willard journeys into the truth of the horror of war Kurtz steps into the light further as if on trial. As we uncover the facts neither civilisation can hide in the darkness, but both must show themselves for what they represent, cinematographically being artificial and natural light.

The simplicity behind such iconic connotations secures Storaro as one of the greats. This idea of stepping in and out of darkness ties in with my research from ‘Escape From New York’. This further cements my concept to use high contrast lighting in order to characters to step in and out of illumination dependent on their stance in the situation presented. When Jack is called back into action it can trigger his interest in his involvement upon discovering his daughter is held hostage. This can carry across into other scenes such as Bennett revealing his plans as he could remain in darkness then become illuminated as he reveals all.


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