December 15, 2018 / 9:28 PM

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'Ride of The Valkyries' in Film and Television: Wagner's Proud (and Sometimes Shameful) Guest Spots


The Bayreuth Opera Festival in Germany might have gotten off to a rough start, so Music Times figured it would try to help by offering a tribute of its own to Richard Wagner, the key honoree of the annual opera fest. "Ride of The Valkyries," the nickname given to the introduction to Act III of the composer's stage play Die Walküre. Thanks to the epic nature of the instrumental charge, the theme has been used over and over again in popular television and film. Some of the best, most renowned (and most loathed) examples are listed below.

The Birth of A Nation (1915)

D.W. Griffith's film Birth of A Nation is hailed for its revolutionary use of camera angles and range of distance between shots. It's better known for being racist out of its damn mind. The "Ride" was used (in)famously during the scene where the Klan comes riding in to rescue innocent whites from the savage blacks. Griffith would be rightfully shamed for the film, even in an era when things were a lot more racist than they are now. Wagner would later deal with an image problem from Hitler's use of the movement in Nazi propaganda, and Americans also pointed back to Birth as "proof" of Wagner being an inherent jerk. Everyone forgets that the famous "Bridal Chorus" used at nearly every wedding was also by the composer.

"What's Opera, Doc?" (1957)

Looney Tunes has been so seminal in the history of American television that there are experts who focus entirely upon the cartoon series. Many of those experts agree that the 1957 Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd showdown "What's Opera, Doc?" is the single best episode episode ever in the series. Although perhaps best known for its riff on The Barber of Seville, "Valkyries" also plays in heavily. Bugs fools Fudd by coming on as a buxom Valkyrie and the pair duet in their respective humorous voices, declaring love.

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The music was again used somewhat controversially during the famous helicopter raid from Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. The music was actually an audible prop, as the helicopters broadcast the triumphant score during their attacks because it "scares the hell out of the spooks." It doesn't do much for a real life surprise attack but it sure makes for a dramatic built-in soundtrack.

The Blues Brothers (1980)

As we mentioned before, "Ride of The Valkyries" enjoyed a bad reputation thanks to Hitler's taste in music. Comedy classic The Blues Brothers set an air attack of its own to the tune when displaying the demise of the off-kilter Illinois Nazis. The aforementioned fascists are chasing the Brothers along the Chicago freeway when they suddenly fly off a bridge under construction. The Wagner theme plays as the the nazis fall a hilariously exaggerated height of several thousand feet.

The Simpsons (multiple)

The Simpsons has been around for more than 550 episodes so it's tough to blame them for rehashing a joke every now and again. "Ride of The Valkyries" has made several appearances throughout the history of the show, including 2012 episode "Gone Abie Gone" and 2007's version of "The Treehouse of Horror" series. 1995's Season 7 gem "Mother Simpson" remains the best however. Mr. Burns has found out that Homer faked his death to get out of work, and takes a tank toward the Simpson family home. He blithely declares "I've been waiting 25 years for this moment" (an Apocalypse Now reference) before inserting a tape version of "Ride" into the tank's cassette player, only to find out Smithers has recorded Abba's "Waterloo" over it.

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