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The Vietnam War on Film

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Directed by Stanley Kubrick.

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  • Image © 2002 Photofest

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Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001), 197 min
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
With Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, and Laurence Fishburne

Francis Ford Coppola's expansive revision of his visually stunning, Academy Award-winning Apocalypse Now, includes more than an hour of extra footage. In this film inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, a special agent is sent to Vietnam to locate and terminate a rogue U.S. officer who is leading guerilla forces in the jungle. The New York Times calls the new version "transporting...Vittorio Storaro's Oscar-winning cinematography is devastating."

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Ashes and Embers (1982), 120 min
Directed by Haile Gerima
With John Anderson, Evelyn A. Blackwell, and Norman Blalock

Haile Gerima's compelling film tells the story of an African-American veteran's attempt to reconcile his war experiences with his postwar life in the U.S. The narrative makes connections among his personal search for meaning and issues of racism, Black Nationalism, and the consequences of the Vietnam War. According to The Nation, its "jarring episodes...show incurable anger and alarm, futile escape and final despair at the order offered Black veterans by our society."

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Basic Training (1971), 89 min
Directed by Frederick Wiseman

Since his early work in the 1960s, Frederick Wiseman has become one of America's most influential (and controversial) documentary filmmakers. Basic Training, called a "humanistic masterpiece" by The New York Times, examines the methods employed by the U.S. Armed Forces to train soldiers during the Vietnam War era, thereby providing insight into the military experiences of young American men and women in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Bat 21 (1988), 105 min
Directed by Peter Markle
With Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, and Jerry Reed

"Director Markle hits the mark in depicting the nightmarish aspects of [a] jungle war" in Bat 21, observes The San Francisco Chronicle. Based on actual events, the film tells the story of a U.S. military strategist (portrayed by Gene Hackman) who is caught in the middle of the conflict when his plane is shot down in enemy territory. His colleagues desperately try to locate and rescue him before he is captured.

* * *

Born on the 4th of July (1989), 114 min
Directed by Oliver Stone
With Tom Cruise, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berringer

Oliver Stone's Academy Award-winning film is based on the real-life experiences of Ron Kovic, a soldier in Vietnam who was seriously wounded and who later became an outspoken critic of the war. Co-scripted by Stone and Kovic, the film is relentless in its honest depictions of the darker aspects of the war's effect on U.S. citizens and American culture. As The Houston Chronicle says, "Stone makes Kovic's descent brutal, grim and utterly unblinking."

* * *

Breathe In/Breathe Out (2000), 70 min
Directed by Beth B

Beth B's documentary follows three American combat veterans as they return to Vietnam with their children. Revelations about the impact of the war on their own lives and the effect of their experiences on their relationships with their children make the film a moving account of the personal and social consequences of the war.

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Casualties of War (1989), 113 min
Directed by Brian DePalma
With Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, and Ving Rhames

When a U.S. patrol in Vietnam abducts and abuses a young Vietnamese girl, one of the soldiers (Michael J. Fox) is torn between loyalty to his comrades and his sense of morality. With a script by playwright/Vietnam veteran David Rabe that is based on actual events, Brian DePalma's film portrays the sharp moral divisions that occurred among U.S. ground forces during the conflict. According to The Los Angeles Times, the film "conveys a sense of moral quagmire, of sinking into squishily dangerous terrain, honeycombed with tunnels and traps, all hell exploding around it. That's the imagery of the movie's first battle scene, a taut prologue for a superb film."

* * *

China Gate (1957), 97 min
Directed by Samuel Fuller
With Gene Barry, Angie Dickenson, and Nat "King" Cole

The first film about the Vietnam War made in Hollywood, Samuel Fuller's China Gate - a work "ahead of its time...show[ing] Vietnam as an issue of importance" (The Los Angeles Times) and one that served as a template for subsequent related films. When an international unit is sent to destroy a Communist ammunition dump in North Vietnam, a Eurasian smuggler (Angie Dickenson) agrees to use her connections to help them if they promise to bring her son to America.

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Coming Home (1978), 126 min
Directed by Hal Ashby
With Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, and Bruce Dern

Hal Ashby's "warm, beautifully acted" (San Francisco Chronicle) Coming Home won the Academy Award for best picture, and leading actors Jane Fonda and Jon Voight also won acting awards. The film explores the impact of the Vietnam War on three Americans: a U.S. military officer, his wife, and the disabled Vietnam veteran with whom she has an affair. The film dramatically represents the domestic conflicts among individuals during the war's aftermath.

* * *

Cutter's Way (1981), 105 min
Directed by Ivan Passer
With Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and Lisa Eichhorn

Called a "powerful paranoid thriller" by The Chicago Reader, Cutter's Way follows a disabled Vietnam veteran and his closest friend as they investigate the murder of a high school cheerleader in their hometown. Passer's film articulates the growing sense of alienation, social fragmentation, and moral ambiguity that existed in America in the years after the war.

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Daughter from Danang (2002), 75 min
Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco

Daughter from Danang, which won the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, follows a young Vietnamese-American woman (taken to the U.S. as part of 1975's Operation Babylift) who returns to Vietnam to be reunited with the family she never knew-with unexpected results. "With fly-on-the-wall unobtrusiveness, Dolgin and Franco capture every painful moment of the meltdown, and the cumulative effect is deeply moving," notes Variety. The film raises challenging questions about cultural differences, socialization, and historical interpretation.

* * *

Dumbarton Bridge (1999), 98 min
Directed by Charles Koppelman
With Tom Wright, Esperanza Catubig, and Daphne Ashbrook

A story about an African-American veteran who is forced to confront his suppressed wartime memories when his Vietnamese-American daughter arrives in the United States.

* * *

Full Metal Jacket (1987), 118 min
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
With Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, and Vincent D'Onofrio

With his trademark irony, Kubrick follows a group of U.S. Marine recruits from basic training to combat during the Vietnam Tet Offensive in Full Metal Jacket, a film based in part on Gustav Hasford's novel The Short-Timers. Upon its release, The Washington Post hailed the film as "the most eloquent and exacting vision of the war to date," and it was nominated for best picture at both the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards.

* * *

Gardens of Stone (1987), 112 min
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
With James Caan, James Earl Jones, and D.B. Sweeney

Gardens of Stone, Coppola's second film focusing on the Vietnam War, centers on a decorated veteran who is reassigned to the Old Guard Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery, where he counsels younger soldiers in his unit as they prepare for combat assignments in Vietnam. "The movie creates its characters with realism, love and detail," observes Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

* * *

Go Tell the Spartans (1978), 114 min
Directed by Ted Post
With Burt Lancaster, Craig Wasson, and Marc Singer

Considered "one of the best Vietnam films" (Boston Globe), Post's provocative yet largely overlooked film tells the story of a group of American soldiers who are assigned to defend a former French outpost in Vietnam shortly before the escalation of the war.

* * *

Hair (1979), 121 min
Directed by Milos Forman
With Treat Williams, Beverly D'Angelo, and John Savage

Milos Forman adapts Hair-the wildly popular 1960s musical about the Age of Aquarius and the youth counter-culture-for the screen. Though the film is rarely included in the canon of Vietnam-related films, Forman strays from the original play to make some pointed statements about the Vietnam era. Featuring choreography by the renowned Twyla Tharp, it is "a boisterous, colorful film, and probably the best film musical of the '70s next to Cabaret," according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

* * *

Hearts & Minds (1974), 112 min
Restored print
Directed by Peter Davis

Peter Davis' provocative, Academy Award-winning documentary examines the cultural values and beliefs that inspired U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and contrasts these beliefs with the images and experiences that occurred after the war. Effective on multiple levels, the film invites critical discussion about the assumptions made by U.S. policymakers and citizens about foreign involvement in distant lands. According to The Los Angeles Times, the film "shows the futility of the war and the heartbreaking series of events that brought the United States into Vietnam. It is a powerful piece of documentary filmmaking."

* * *

Hidden Warriors: Women of The Ho Chi Minh Trail (2002), 60 min
Directed by Karen Turner

Karen Turner's documentary examines the experiences of Vietnamese women who served during the war as well as the conflict's continuing impact on their lives. Through interviews and film material previously unavailable in the U.S., the film conveys rarely glimpsed aspects of Vietnam's wartime history.

* * *

How to Behave ((1987) 45 min, Tolerance for the Dead (50 min), The Sound of My Violin in Lai (30 min)
Directed by Tran Van Thuy

Tran Van Thuy is one of Vietnam's most esteemed filmmakers. American Historical Review called How to Behave "a fascinating glimpse into (North) Vietnamese society at the start of economic and social change".

* * *

In the Year of the Pig (1969), 103 min
Directed by Emil de Antonio
Using U.S. archival film and material from international sources, this Oscar-nominated documentary examines the roots of America's involvement in Vietnam. The film made a significant impact both in America and other countries, and became a touchstone for anti-war activists. As The Los Angeles Times describes, "De Antonio's 1968 film documents the war up to 1968 using rare interviews and news clips to passionately delve into the roots of the war, to answer the question: Why are Americans fighting in Vietnam? The question is still relevant and the answers as searing as ever. This is an important document of the era."

* * *

Investigation of a Flame (2001), 45 min
Directed by Lynne Sachs

Lynne Sachs' documentary, which made its New York premiere at BAMcinématek in 2002, investigates the Catonsville Nine, a group of anti-Vietnam War activists who burned selective service records at a Catonsville, Maryland draft board office in 1968. Through interviews, archival footage, and dramatic recreations, the film examines the appropriateness of civil disobedience during times of war.

* * *

Karma (1986), 100 min
Directed by Ho Quang Minh Ho

Quang Minh's Karma was one of the first war-related films by a Vietnamese artist to be shown in the U.S. following the war's end. The film explores the effects of the conflict on Vietnamese families by focusing on a South Vietnamese officer, once presumed dead, and his wife, who is forced to become a prostitute in Saigon.

* * *

No Game (1968), Boston Draft Resistance Group (1968), The People's War (1969), 75 min total
Three films released by The Newsreel Collective, the media distribution network for American anti-Vietnam War activists during the late 1960s and early 70s. The films document the activities of the movement, ranging from a 1967 protest at the Pentagon to local actions encouraging grassroots opposition to the war.

* * *

Platoon (1986), 120 min
Directed by Oliver Stone
With Tom Berringer, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen

Oliver Stone's harrowing film about a young American soldier's one-year tour of duty in Vietnam won the Academy Award for best picture, and is widely considered one of the best films about the experience of American troops in Vietnam. Conflicts flare among the men as they grapple with the demands of the battlefield. According to USA Today, "Stone's combat sequences are among the most crisply edited since All Quiet on the Western Front; the characterizations, powerful."

* * *

Regret to Inform (2000), 55 min
Directed by Barbara Sonneborn

Nominated for an Academy Award and winner of prizes at several film festivals, Sonneborn's work is a "self portrait" on film, chronicling her travels to Vietnam to learn more about the war and her husband's death in 1968. It explores uncomfortable questions about the war and its continuing legacy for both U.S. citizens and the Vietnamese. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, "This fine film is a harrowing reminder for viewers with direct memories of Vietnam, and a useful cautionary exercise for a generation born since the fall of Saigon."

* * *

The Deer Hunter (1978), 183 min
Directed by Michael Cimino
With Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep

The iconic Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino's "opus containing some of the most majestic and savage 70-millimeter imagery ever seen" (The Los Angeles Times), won five Academy Awards after its release, including best picture. Emphasizing the shattering effects of war on soldiers, the film depicts the experiences of three working-class men.

* * *

The Green Berets (1968), 141 min
Directed by John Wayne
With John Wayne, David Jansen, and Jim Hutton

John Wayne's transparently patriotic film The Green Berets, the only major Vietnam War film made in Hollywood during the tumultuous 1965-1975 period, was "a lightning rod for the growing debate, and in many ways symbolized the wedge that split America in two," according to The San Francisco Chronicle. Focusing on the operations of U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam, the film relies heavily on the Wayne persona-even replaying specific sequences and dialogue from the actor's World War II films-and elements of Samuel Fuller's China Gate).

* * *

The Liberal War (1972), 33 min
Directed by Nick Macdonald
Using a series of found objects rather than documentary footage, director Nick Macdonald constructs an imaginative and effective anti-war message by explicating its causes, its methods, and its consequences.

* * *

The Sad Song of Yellow Skin (1970), 58 min
Directed by Michael Rubbo

Made in Canada and largely overlooked in the United States, this unique film documents the impact of the war on ordinary citizens in Saigon through the eyes of three American peace activists. Honored with the best documentary award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTA)

* * *

The War at Home (1979), 100 min
Directed by Glenn Silber and Barry Alexander Brown

Nominated for an Oscar for best documentary, The War at Home examines the growing anti-Vietnam War movement in the U.S. in the 1960s by following a cluster of activists at the University of Wisconsin.

* * *

Unfinished Symphony: Democracy & Dissent (2001), 60 min
Directed by Bestor Cram and Michael Majoros

Covering an antiwar march organized by Vietnam veterans from Lexington Green to Concord, Massachusetts in the late 1960s, this documentary contains recently restored footage from this significant yet overlooked event. The march was designed to follow the route of Paul Revere's ride; it ended with the arrest of over 400 participants.

* * *

When the Tenth Month Comes (1984), 90 min
Archival print
Directed by Dang Nhat Minh

In this fictitious film, "Vietnam's finest filmmaker" (The Los Angeles Times), Dang Nhat Minh, explores the dramatic impact of the war on the daily lives of the Vietnamese people through the story of a woman who attempts to keep from her family the news of her husband's death. The film was nominated for the Moscow International Film Festival's Golden Prize.

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Source: Brooklyn Academy of Music

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Published on 11/9/02

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