Success. it appears. breeds a thousand imitators. The commercial currency and Cinderella-like Oscar bouquets bestowed upon Oliver Stone's Platoon have brought in their wake a veritable barrage of Vietnam dramas. The latest to reach Scotland are John Irvin's Hamburger Hill and Stanley Kubrick‘s long-awaited Full Metal Jacket. Reinforcements on the horizon include Francis (‘oppola‘s (iardens ofStone. Lionel (‘hetwynd's Hanoi Hilton and a primetime television series entitled (‘ombat Squad. Major studios that once dismissed the war as box-office poison are now vying to jump on the latest lucrative celluloid gravy train.
after many of the events depicted in these films. the time has finally come to undertake a national healing process. Temporal distance has begun to soothe the lacerating wounds inflicted by the war and its aftermath: a nation that suffered the unique humiliation ofsenselessly bloody defeat and bitter internal division now seems to be finally extending a compassionate hand to its veterans and seeking to enquire into what 'Nam was like for those who experienced it. Peace protestors
Aside frotn the cynical motive of greed. the current Vietnam boom is also reﬂective of trends within American society. Twenty years and soldiers. politicians and pacifists. hawks and doves are gradually uniting in the need to absorb and comprehend the lessons ofevents that have scarred an entire generation. (.‘atharsis through drama is one strand of the need to discuss and unburden the legacy of guilt and attrition.
It is surprising that virtually nobody was willing to tackle the subject ofVietnam in cinema terms whilst the war was still in progress. The one notable. notorious exception was John Wayne‘s The Green Berets ( 1968). a mammoth anti-(‘ommie salute to the special forces co-directed by the Duke himself and closing on the oh-so subtle imagery of the sun setting in the East.
When filmmakers did. albeit gingerly. begin to address themselves to the topic it was often in the most oblique manner. using other genres to pass implicit comment on Vietnam as in the underrated cavalry and Indians western Ulzana's Raul( 1972). By the late 1970s films like (io Tell Tlte Spartans ( 1977) and The Boys in ( ‘ompany ('( 1978) were more forthright in their approach but the focus of attention was often diffused on to domestic issues of how veterans were adjusting to disability ((‘oming Home) or civilian life (Taxi Driver). Even major works like The Deer/tunterl 1978) and Apocalypse Now ( 1979) were seen as metaphors for grander moral issues and thus Platoon ( 1986) has come to be seen as the first 'authentic' Vietnam combat drama although Oliver Stone is prone to describing it as. ‘Moby Dick set in the jungle.‘
Following in such illustrious. award-strewn footsteps did not
daunt veteran Stanley Kubrick who gave a rare American interview in which he commented. ‘I liked Platoon quite a lot. because I think it‘s the first war movie where you really believed what was going on; perhaps not the first. but certainly one of the best. I liked both Apocalypse Now and The Deerhunter but I liked Platoon more. Apocalypse was probably hurt by the fact that it did not have a story. and The [)eerhunter had a story that you didn’t always believe. I wondered how a guy could make a living playing Russian roulette. though I know it was a poetic metaphor for somethingorother.‘
John Irvin. whose credits range eclectically from Pinter‘s Turtle Diary to Schwarzenegger‘s Raw Deal. is more openly assertive in his claim for Hamburger Hill‘s distinctiveness. ‘l‘ve just come back from a tour in America where we showed the film in thirty cities to veterans groups and the majority of veterans are overwhelmingly in favour ofthe film; to them its the first film about Vietnam that they can take their wives and children to and say. ‘Well. it was a bit like this.‘ It conveys to them much more the authentic experience of Vietnam because the film is principally about friendship and the loss of friends. not about drug-addicted psychopaths raping children. I was in Vietnam briefly in 1969 and what appalled me about Vietnam was the youth of the soldiers. The average age was 19. During the Second World War the average age of the combatant was 24. 25. I think the previous Vietnam films have made a very grave error in casting actors who were too old because the pathos of Vietnam. the poignancy was in seeing these young kids suffering. enduring these incredible firefights and bloodbattles.‘
Hamburger Hill recreates a true incident from 1969 in which American infantrymen launched wave after wave ofattacks on the heavily fortified Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley. suffering 70C} casualties in a battle that ‘chewed up soldiers like chopped meat‘. John Irvin had wanted to make the film for years and believes. ‘there is an audience that is fascinated by war. In Britain. we haven‘t. apart from the Falklands. had a really big war for some time and 1 think young men everywhere. as Robert Graves pointed out. are all fascinated by the idea of how they themselves would cope with combat. What they call the Big Test. Young men are fascinated. 1 think. by wondering whether they‘d go forward or whether they‘d run away and I think this film perhaps takes audiences as close to combat as you can actually get without killing somebody.‘
Full MetalJacket is based on Gustav Hasford‘s novel The Short- Timers and follows a group of raw recruits through a blistering basic training at Parris island before facing the actuality ofbattle during the 1968 Tet offensive. Stanley Kubrick has no direct experience of Vietnam but says. ‘1 always had an
ETNAM TAKE Two
A wave of new-style Vietnam films is sweeping America. Allan Hunter examines the latest attempts to heal old wounds.
4The List 21 Aug— 3 Sept