Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) introduced a new sort of movie music resounding across Hollywood war films for the last thirty years: the elegiac register. Composer Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, heard repeatedly in Platoon, proves the musical source for this slow, strings-only, contrapuntal, harmonious, sad, and mournful music. This chapter describes this new sort of movie music in musical terms and identifies moments in later films when composers model their original scores directly on Barber’s Adagio. Film form often follows musical form when elegiac music is used. Multiple scenes from combat films are described visually and sonically, showing how the elegiac register has been put to varied ends: to foster reflection in combat film audiences, to put a pause on the action, and, most significantly, to frame the repeated images of dead and injured American soldiers’ bodies which lie at the heart of the cultural work done by serious war films in the post-Vietnam era.
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