VIETNAM ON FILM: From The Green Berets to Apocalypse Now by Gilbert Adair

VIETNAM ON FILM: From The Green Berets to Apocalypse Now

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As Adair notes in his introduction, ""it's perhaps the very absence of movies [on Vietnam] that is most deserving of study""; and the shortage of films worth serious discussion here--less than a dozen--makes this small book seem like a padded film-magazine essay or one overlong chapter from a wider-focused book. Still, though he tends toward belabored sarcasm and glib socio-historical comments (especially in an opening chapter summarizing war-movie trends since D. W. Griffith), Adair is usually shrewd in his close-up critiques. ""Hollywood didn't simply pass the buck, it tried to bury it,"" he says--starting with an unsurprising, unnecessarily detailed tirade against John Wayne's The Green Berets (1968), which was ""determined to reduce Vietnam to simpleminded Manichean antitheses: good guys versus bad guys, cowboys versus Indians. . . ."" Then it's on to Easy Rider and Co.: the campus/youth films of the Seventies--only tangentially about Vietnam and, for Adair, generally deserving of scorn (except for DePalma's Greetings, ""even in its ungainliness manifestly more honest than all the slick inanities"" of other ""youth"" movies). Next: the movies about Vietnam vets, especially Taxi Driver (""it looks suspiciously like a parable of the war"") and Coming Home--which ""treats the war as if it were a particularly violent game of squash,"" which doesn't offend ""even the ladies of the base newspaper. . ."" (Adair finds more to like in the TV-film Friendly Fire.) And finally, after an interminable dissection of the forgotten Boys in Company C, Adair takes on the two biggies: The Deer Hunter, ""a before-and-after ad for the USA,"" a ""Fascist"" attempt ""to salve the nation's uneasy conscience"" (not a new accusation); and Apocalypse Now, which ""captures as no other film has done the unprecedented obscenity of the Vietnam war"" but which, with no fully realized Vietnamese characters, remains politically ambiguous. A scanty literature--Adair doesn't discuss documentaries or foreign films--and a somewhat dogmatic approach (vainly in search of vivid antiwar themes and three-dimensional Vietnamese). But this may nonetheless be a useful, if opinionated and occasionally puerile, reference for students of the war-film genre or the Vietnam/media connection.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1981
Publisher: Proteus Publishing (733 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017)