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VIETNAM AT THE MOVIES by Michael Lee Lanning

VIETNAM AT THE MOVIES

By Michael Lee Lanning

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-449-90891-7
Publisher: Ballantine

 An examination of motion picture treatments of the Vietnam War that, while sometimes on the mark, is marred by questionable critical judgments. Lanning (Inside the VC and the NVA, 1992), a Vietnam veteran and former public relations officer for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, looks at the effect of the Southeast Asian conflict on Hollywood and the movies in its broadest possible scope. Beginning with the first epic war film, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, the author examines the history of combat films. WW II was, of course, ``the good war,'' and the numerous films made during and about it reflect that assessment. Korean War films began by following the same format as those about WW II, but their popularity waned and a more cautious and revisionist celluloid treatment arose. For instance, M*A*S*H, the author correctly notes, is less about Korea than about disaffection with Vietnam. Lanning groups treatments of Vietnam itself into a number of different categories. Prewar films such as The Quiet American, he notes, could be remarkably prescient about what was to come. Combat films sought to follow the ``good war'' model; yet the box office success of The Green Berets, Lanning claims, was overlooked by Hollywood. Instead, it produced protest films and, later, films about Vietnam veterans (or even the war itself, like Platoon) that took a decidedly dim view of the conflict. More than half the book is dedicated to meticulous reviews of every film in which Vietnam is even mentioned. Films are rated for artistic merit and historical authenticity. Lanning's prowar stance and his utter lack of knowledge of film lead to odd choices and flawed evaluations. For instance, he has a low opinion of Godard's Masculine-Feminine, generally considered one of the filmmaker's best. Julian Smith's Looking Away: Hollywood and Vietnam (1975) is a far better treatment of the same topic.