FILMS ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR AND FILMS ABOUT VIETNAM BY NON-VIETNAMESE FILMMAKERS

JAMES BOND FILMS ABOUT VIETNAM BY FRENCH FILMMAKERS

The Lover (French: L'Amant) is a 1992 drama film produced by Claude Berri and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Based on the semi-autobiographical 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, the film details the illicit affair between a teenage French girl and a wealthy Chinese man in 1929 French Indochina. In the screenplay written by Annaud and Gérard Brach, the 15½ -year-old protagonist is portrayed by actress Jane March, who turned eighteen shortly after filming began. Her lover is portrayed by actor Tony Leung Ka-fai. Some scenes were shot in Vietnam. See Literature.

Indochine is a 1992 French film set in colonial French Indochina during the 1930s to 50s. It is the story of Éliane Devries, a French plantation owner, and of her adopted Vietnamese daughter, Camille, with the rising Vietnamese nationalist movement set as a backdrop. The screenplay was written by novelist Erik Orsenna, script writers Louis Gardel, Catherine Cohen, and Régis Wargnier, who also directed the film. The film stars Catherine Deneuve, Vincent Perez, Linh Dan Pham, Jean Yanne and Dominique Blanc. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Catherine Deneuve received a nomination for Best Actress - her only to date. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. [Source: Wikipedia]

A plan to shoot the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Knows (1997) in Vietnam was killed after equipment had already arrived there. Some scenes were planned to be filmed on location in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the production had been granted a visa. This was later rescinded, two months after planning had begun, forcing filming to move to Bangkok, Thailand. Bond spokesman Gordon Arnell claimed the Vietnamese were unhappy with crew and equipment needed for pyrotechnics, with a Vietnamese official saying it was due to "many complicated reasons." Among the Asian films shot in Vietnam are "White Badge" (Korea) and "Moments of War" (Japan). [Source: Wikipedia]

See Separate Article: VIETNAMESE FILMS AND FILM INDUSTRY AND VIETNAMESE AND VIETNAMESE-AMERICAN FILMMAKERS

The Quiet American

"The Quiet American" (2002) directed by Philip Noyce and starring Michael Caine as the crafty English reporter Thomas Fowler, is an excellent adaption of the 1955 Graham Green novel. Set Vietnam in the French colonial era, the story revolves around a turbulent love triangle involving cynical British journalist Thomas Fowler (actor Michael Caine), naive American aid worker Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) and Fowler's beautiful young Vietnamese mistress, Phuong (Vietnamese actress Do Thi Hai Yen). At the same time the film is also "a symbolic and blunt critique" of American involvement overseas, message that Vietnamese officials praised when granting approval for the movie to be shot on location in 2001. Joseph Mankiewicz made a black-and-white version of the film in 1958 with Michael Redgrave as Fowler and the American—much to Greene’s chagrin— as a hero. Both film adaptations of the film had some exteriors shot in Saigon.

The film's Australian director Phillip Noyce, along with several stars, were on hand when for the movie's premiere in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in December 2002. It was released nationwide in Vietnamese movie theaters, with a Hanoi-based company holding rights to distribute the movie in Vietnam. Nguyen Thi Hong Ngat, deputy director of the Vietnam Cinema Department, said, "The distributors told me that since the movie was about Vietnam and shot in Vietnam, they wanted to be the first to distribute the movie in Vietnam, not going through a foreign film distributor." The film opened earlier in the United States. Critics gave it good reviews. "I think people would like to see the movie very much, because they are curious to see how Hollywood makes this movie on Vietnam,'' Ngat said. [Source: Associated Press, November 30, 2002 <>]

Associated Press reported: "Vietnam's communist government has approved the film "The Quiet American'' for release in that country, calling it a "progressive movie'' about American imperialism in Southeast Asia. The film, based on Graham Greene's 1955 novel, tells the story of a CIA operative whose actions lead to the murder of dozens of innocent Vietnamese during the French war in Indochina. It is the first major Hollywood production filmed in Vietnam. The National Film Review Council viewed the film this week and approved it for mass distribution, Ngat said. "The council members all agreed that this is a progressive movie and made the decision without reservations,'' she said. "It's a fascinating movie which truly reflects the Vietnamese history at that time.'' <>

See Literature

Review of The Quiet American

Alistair McKay wrote in The Scotsman, "Michael Caine, playing a disillusioned, apathetic, emotionally frozen journalist in Vietnam, arrives at his office. "Anything new?" he enquires, half-heartedly. "Corruption, audacity," his assistant replies. There is a pause lasting half a heartbeat. "I said new." Caine plays Thomas Fowler, a correspondent for the Times, in the Saigon of 1952. The timing is precise. The French campaign is faltering, and American involvement in Vietnam - via covert support for a "third force" - is rolling out. In the first film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz in 1957, Fowler was played by Michael Redgrave, and the anti-American tone of the book was trained, instead, on the Vietnamese. Mankiewicz can, perhaps, be forgiven. It was a further decade before the folly of US involvement in South East Asia became apparent, and it took a new generation of filmmakers to examine the bloody reality of the American experience. [Source: Alistair McKay, The Scotsman, November 28, 2002 **]

"Greene’s prescience, though, is undimmed. His anti-Americanism is revealed as something more precise: it is not Americans he disapproves of so much as the hypocrisy of the country’s foreign policy, wherein tyranny is defined as everything which is not democracy, and democracy is defended by tyrannical means. Step up Noyce - the Australian director of the inventive Dead Calm, the energetic Clear and Present Danger and the stupid Patriot Games - who recently rediscovered his conscience with Rabbit-Proof Fence. He reinstates the book’s sceptical tone, and - as if to underline the danger of precise topicality - his film was locked in a vault after the events of 11 September made it, in the minds of timorous studio executives, unreleasable. That it has emerged now is due to the petitioning of Caine, who must have wondered if one of his finest performances had been lost to the political expediency it sought to explore. **

"Caine, as Fowler, starts the film in a state of emotional complacency. He describes himself as a reporter, but has only filed two reports in a year. He is not, he says, a correspondent, as the term implies a man with opinions. An opinion, he says, is a form of action. "I’m English," he says. "I have habits ... I drink tea." When the numbness thaws, he reaches for the opium pipe. One morning, apparently by accident, Fowler encounters Pyle, an idealistic American, at a café. In the Mankiewicz film, Pyle was played by the war hero Audie Murphy. Noyce uses Brendan Fraser, a bright-faced actor whose features have the boyish softness of Tim Robbins, and who usually inhabits cartoons. (He enlivened Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle). **

"Pyle is a mirror of Fowler’s concerns: open where he is closed, active where he is inert. The two find themselves in competition for Fowler’s Vietnamese girlfriend, Phuong (Hai Yen), a former taxi dancer, who is seeking to improve her status by marrying a Westerner. Fowler has a Catholic wife in England who will not grant him a divorce. In stolen glances, it is plain that Phuong’s affections have transferred to the younger man. Greene’s story emerges through a mist of shifting metaphor, which combines a meditation on the nature of love with an examination of political idealism. Pyle’s idealism is a mask, but his more cynical self is undermined by his attraction to Phuong. Fowler is brought back to life by romantic jealousy, and the bulk of the film is an elaborate justification for his part in Pyle’s death. "When did everything change?" Fowler muses. "Maybe there isn’t one moment." **

"The growing uncertainty about the role of the American is acknowledged by Fowler only in his heightened impatience and volubility. In a scene of terrible tension, he cowers in a watchtower with enemies on all sides, and finds himself comforting Pyle by explaining what Phuong will be doing at that moment. To lose Phuong, he tells Pyle, "for me, it would be the beginning of death". The suppression of the film illustrates how dishonest we become in times of war, and it is to Noyce’s credit that his uncluttered direction explores the horrors of that state without glorying in its terror. There are explosions and severed limbs, but the chilling moments are more intimate: a dead baby shaded by a hat, a smear of blood wiped from a shoe. Only the drums on Craig Armstrong’s soundtrack - 1980s electronica in a 1950s setting - obstruct the timelessness of Noyce’s meditation." Otherwise: " It’s Caine’s show. He offers a cooler version of his usual insouciance. He is rakish and vulnerable, but his expression is wounded and opaque. The approaching enemy mirrors his torment, which is shown nowhere on his face." **

Shooting The Quiet American

During five weeks in Vietnam in 2001, the film crew for "The Quite American" transformed modern-day Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and other places into faithful recreations of French colonial Vietnam. Reporting from Ho Chi Minh City, Cong Thang wrote in The Saigon Times Weekly, "On the morning of February 17, the first scenes in the film "The Quiet American" were shot. After some initial troubles, the shooting of the film which was made by Australia's Very Quiet Productions kicked off as scheduled. The main service provider for "The Quiet American" film crew from Australia during their shooting in Vietnam is the Ho Chi Minh City-based Hang Phim Giai Phong (Liberation Productions Firm). The service is in fact not new to Liberation Productions as over the years it has cooperated with or provided similar tasks for foreign films such as "L'amant" (The Lover), "Green Papaya," both by French producers, "White Badge" (Korea), "Moments of War" (Japan) and, most recently, "Three Seasons" (U.S.). [Source: By Cong Thang, The Saigon Times Weekly, February 24, 2001 ><]

"Compared with 'Three Seasons,' 'The Quiet American,' an adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, has a much larger scale and the services we provide are more diverse," says Tran Khai Hoang, sales manager of Liberation Productions. The Vietnamese side is responsible for legal consultancy, licensing, recommendation and supply of personnel as requested. "The money gained is not big," says Hoang. "But more importantly, our staff has chances to approach the way a foreign professional crew makes a film." In addition to Ho Chi Minh City, "The Quiet American" will also be shot in Hanoi, Ninh Binh and Hoi An. Although having gained some experience in such services, the task for Liberation Productions is not always easy. The latest incident occurred last week when the film crew and its Vietnamese counterpart failed to produce a license to film explosion and fires on the streets of downtown Saigon. However, Hoang says the problem has been solved and the license has been issued. Aside from personnel of Liberation Productions and the Feature Film Productions No. 1, "The Quiet American" film crew has also recruited many local assistants, interpreters and workers. ><

"Huong, an assistant and interpreter working for the artistic design section, says previously she has done similar jobs for a few foreign film crews and the experience has helped her join the crew this time. According to Huong, her section has several groups, including set, decoration and tools. Her group of film set is staffed with 20 persons under the direction of three foreign experts. Huong's current job is to provide consultancy for the foreign experts in buying necessary instruments to be used to transform about a dozen of shops on Dong Khoi Street into "boutiques" in the early fifties. Huong says in order to film these shops during the nine shooting days, several hundred millions of dong have been spent for compensation. ><

Another Vietnamese assistant is Thai Uyen, a fashion designer in Ho Chi Minh City. "This is the first time I work for a big foreign film crew in such a long time-from January to April," says Thai Uyen. "They are very professional," remarks Thai Uyen. "References on Vietnamese costumes they have are better than what we have in Vietnam." Uyen says the Australian filmmakers have brought with them old traditional Vietnamese garments, footwear, headwear and even glasses-all are genuine worn-out items of the fifties. "Of course, they don't have all," Thai Uyen elaborates, adding that they have some made or purchased in Vietnam. Thai Uyen says her group includes five Vietnamese and eight foreigners under the guidance of a chief designer and a costume supervisor. The foreign film crew of over 100 members has checked in the two big hotels in the area-Caravelle and Continental, both have some relations with the setting of the film in one way or another. Pham Thanh Ha, deputy general director of Caravelle, says the film crew has occupied over 100 rooms in the two hotels. The expeditionary and technical groups arrived on February 5 and as planned the entire crew will be present by the end of this month. The filmmakers have also hired a broad room in Caravelle Hotel for rehearsal. ><

Jeff Thorp, art director of the film, told Thanh Nien newspaper: "I have done the same job for many Australian films. However, "The Quiet American" is both a big joy and challenge to me... On coming here I thought all had to be faithful to the approved shooting script-from A to Z. However, after my arrival, I understand that we should cooperate. It's not necessary always to do my way as my Vietnamese partners have contributed good initiatives. They can only be given by Vietnamese.

Films About the Vietnam War

Well-known films that dealt with the Vietnam War in one way or another have included: Deer Hunter (1978); Francis Ford Coppala's Apocalypse Now (1979); Rambo: First Blood (1982); Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985); Rambo III (1988); Missing in Action (1984) with Chuck Norris; Missing in Action II (1985); Missing in Action III (1988); Platoon (1986); Hamburger Hill (1987); Stanley Kubrick's Heavy Metal Jacket (1987); Good Morning Vietnam (1987); Casualties of War (1989); Born on the Forth of July (1989); and Heaven & Earth (1993).

Films about the Vietnam War have been shot in the Philippines (Apocalypse Now ; Platoon ; Missing in Action films) Thailand (Deer Hunter and Good Morning Vietnam ); British Columbia (Rambo ); Acapulco (Rambo II ); California (Rambo III ) and Dorsett; England (Full Metal Jacket ).

Platoon has been described as the best Vietnam War movie from the GIs perspective because it was directed by Oliver Stone, a former infantryman who actually fought in the war. The Rambo character is reportedly based on the exploits of a retired Army officer named James (Bo) Gritz, who organized four missions into Indochina, looking for MIAs and POWs. No prisoners or missing soldiers were found or rescued. One of Gritz's men, however, was captured by Laotian troops. "First Blood" (1982), the original Rambo movie had a note of hopelessness, as the main character was an American veteran of the Vietnam War who was misunderstood and abused on his return home.

Documentaries: Hearts and Minds (1974) by Peter Davis, featuring Gen. William Westmoreland, J.W. Fullbright, examines how the U.S. got itself into such a big mess in Vietnam , using interviews and footage from the war. Winter Soldier features American GIs describing the horrors they witnessed, and in some cases committed, in Vietnam. The Fog of War , essentially a long interview with Robert McNamara about his involvements in the Vietnam War and 20th century warfare, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2004. Directed by Errol Morris, it was released when the situation in Iraq was quite bad. The parallels between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam were not hard to miss.

Vietnam War in Film

The Vietnam War has been the subject of many films. One of the first major films based on the Vietnam War was John Wayne's "The Green Berets" (1968). Further cinematic representations were released during the 1970s and 1980s, including Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" (1978), Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" (1979), Oliver Stone's "Platoon" (1986) — based on his service in the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket" (1987), "Hamburger Hill" (1987) and "Casualties of War" (1989). Later films would include "We Were Soldiers" (2002) and "Rescue Dawn" (2007). [Source: Wikipedia]

Other films in this genre include films that deal more with the issues veterans face at home after returning from the war. Films of this type include "Taxi Driver" (1976), "Heroes" (1977), "Coming Home" (1978), "Combat Shock" (1986), "First Blood" (1982), "The War at Home" (1979), "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989), "Jacob's Ladder" (1990), "Heaven & Earth" (1993), "Forrest Gump" (1994), "Dead Presidents" (1995), and "Music Within" (2007). The musical Miss Saigon focuses on the end of the war and its aftermath.

After the Vietnam War ended in 1975, there was an increase in films that were more "raw", containing actual battle footage. A FilmReference.com article noted that filmmakers "appeared more confident to put Vietnam combat on screen for the first time" during that era. These post-war film representations have generally been more realistic and gritty, such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979).

In cinema, noted films that have shaped the popular conception of the war include Apocalypse Now, Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Hamburger Hill, Forrest Gump, Full Metal Jacket, Good Morning, Vietnam, Born on the Fourth of July, and the Rambo films. It was represented on television by the series Tour of Duty.

Top 30 Realistic Vietnam War Movies , Ignore the Rest

1) A Rumor of War (1980 TV Movie): The memories of a US private in Vietnam who slowly gets disillusioned as the war progresses. (114 mins.); Director: Richard T. Heffron; Stars: Brad Davis, Keith Carradine, Michael O'Keefe, Richard Bradford. [Source: IMDb, Badlands, Mar 7, 2011]

2) Platoon (1986): A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man. (120 mins.); Director: Oliver Stone; Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David.

3) Hamburger Hill (1987): A very realistic interpretation of one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War. (110 mins.); Director: John Irvin; Stars: Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle, Michael Dolan.

4) 84C MoPic (1989): Impressive performance by unknown actors in this low-budget Vietnam drama. The story is being told in... (95 mins.); Director: Patrick Sheane Duncan; Stars: Jonathan Emerson, Nicholas Cascone, Jason Tomlins, Christopher Burgard.

5) Casualties of War (1989): During the Vietnam War, a soldier finds himself the outsider of his own squad when they unnecessarily kidnap a female villager. (113 mins.); Director: Brian DePalma; Stars: Michael J. Fox, Sean Penn, Don Harvey, John C. Reilly.

6) The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989): A tough sergeant and his sidekick roll into a demoralized firebase and proceed to rebuild morale and fortifications in advance of the climactic battle with the VietCong. (99 mins.); Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith; Stars: Wings Hauser, R. Lee Ermey, Robert Arevalo, Mark Neely.

7) Born on the Fourth of July (1989): The biography of Ron Kovic. Paralyzed in the Vietnam war, he becomes an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist after feeling betrayed by the country he fought for. (145 mins.); Director: Oliver Stone; Stars: Tom Cruise, Raymond J. Barry, Caroline Kava, Josh Evans.

8) Go Tell the Spartans (1978): A unit of American military advisors in Vietnam prior to the major U.S. involvement find similarities... (114 mins.); Director: Ted Post; Stars: Burt Lancaster, Craig Wasson, Jonathan Goldsmith, Marc Singer.

9) Heaven & Earth (1993): The final movie in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy follows the true story of a Vietnamese village girl... (140 mins.); Director: Oliver Stone; Stars: Hiep Thi Le, Tommy Lee Jones, Haing S. Ngor, Bussaro Sanruck.

10) The Veteran (2006 TV Movie): (90 mins.); Director: Sidney J. Furie; Stars: Ally Sheedy, Bobby Hosea, Michael Ironside, Colin Glazer.

11) The Odd Angry Shot (1979): In between drinking cans of Fosters beer, Australian soldiers tread on a few landmines, and generally experience the war in Vietnam. (92 mins.); Director: Tom Jeffrey; Stars: Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves, John Jarratt, Bryan Brown.

12) Rescue Dawn (2006): A US Fighter pilot's epic struggle of survival after being shot down on a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War. (126 mins.); Director: Werner Herzog; Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Zach Grenier.

13) The Boys in Company C (1978): This war drama (which prefigures the later "Full Metal Jacket") follows the lives of five young Marine... (125 mins.); Director: Sidney J. Furie; Stars: Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, James Canning, Michael Lembeck.

14) We Were Soldiers (2002): The story of the first major battle of the American phase of the Vietnam War and the soldiers on both sides that fought it. (138 mins.); Director: Randall Wallace; Stars: Mel Gibson, Madeleine Stowe, Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliott.

15) The Iron Triangle (1989): Based on the diary of an unknown Viet Cong soldier, this film provides a sympathetic look at a Viet... (91 mins.); Director: Eric Weston; Stars: Beau Bridges, Haing S. Ngor, Liem Whatley, Johnny Hallyday.

16) Cyclo (1995): A young man who struggles through life by earning some money with his bicycle-taxi in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) gets contact to a group of criminals... (123 mins.); Director: Tran Anh Hung; Stars: Le Van Loc, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Tran Nu Yên-Khê, Nhu Quynh Nguyen.

17) Bat*21 (1988): Lt. Col. Iceal "Ham" Hambleton is a weapons countermeasures expert and when his aircraft is shot over... (105 mins.); Director: Peter Markle; Stars: Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Jerry Reed, David Marshall Grant.

18) A Bright Shining Lie (1998 TV Movie): True story of Army man John Paul Vann, whose military success provided him the fulfillment he never found in his personal life. (118 mins.); Director: Terry George; Stars: Bill Paxton, Bo Eason, William L. Mansey, Karina Logue.

19) In Country (1989): Samantha Hughes, a teenaged Kentucky girl, never knew her father, who died in Vietnam before her birth... (120 mins.); Director: Norman Jewison; Stars: Emily Lloyd, Bruce Willis, Joan Allen, Kevin Anderson.

20) The Hanoi Hilton (1987): A drama focusing on the suffering, torture, and brutal treatment the American P.O.W.s had to deal with daily while in North Vietnam's Hoa Lo Prison... (125 mins.); Director: Lionel Chetwynd; Stars: Michael Moriarty, Paul Le Mat, John Edwin Shaw, Ken Wright.

21) Three Seasons (1999): An American in Ho Chi Minh City looks for a daughter he fathered during the war. He meets Woody, a child who's a street vendor... (113 mins.); Director: Tony Bui; Stars: Ngoc Hiep Nguyen, Ngoc Minh, Phat Trieu Hoang, Diem Kieu.

22) The Deer Hunter (1978): An in-depth examination of the way that the Vietnam war affects the lives of people in a small industrial town in the USA. (182 mins.); Director: Michael Cimino; Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale, John Savage.

23) Purple Hearts (1984): (116 mins.); Director: Sidney J. Furie; Stars: Ken Wahl, Cheryl Ladd, Stephen Lee, Annie McEnroe.

24) Full Metal Jacket (1987): A pragmatic U.S. Marine observes the dehumanizing effects the U.S.-Vietnam War has on his fellow recruits from their brutal boot camp training to the bloody street fighting in Hue. (116 mins.); Director: Stanley Kubrick; Stars: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin.

25) Platoon Leader (1988): A young officer, just out of West Point is sent to Vietnam, where the men don't respect him until he gets wounded and returns to be a wiser soldier and a better commander (97 mins.); Director: Aaron Norris; Stars: Tony Pierce, Robert F. Lyons, Michael Dudikoff, Michael DeLorenzo.

26) Jacob's Ladder (1990): Mourning his dead child, a haunted Vietnam vet attempts to discover his past while suffering from a severe case of disassociation. To do so, he must decipher reality and life from his own dreams, delusion, and perception of death. (113 mins.); Director: Adrian Lyne; Stars: Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Peña, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven.

27) Vietnam War Story (1987 TV Movie): Director: Kevin Hooks; Stars: Joshua Cadman, Nicholas Cascone, Peter Cohl, John DeMita.

28) Vietnam War Story II (1988 Video): Director: David Burton Morris, Jack Sholder; Stars: Cynthia Bain, Tate Donovan, Tim Guinee, Joseph Hieu.

29) Tribes (1970 TV Movie): A Marine Corps drill instructor who is disgusted by the fact that the Corps now accepts draftees finds himself pitted against a hippie who has been drafted but refuses to accept the military's way of doing things. (90 mins.); Director: Joseph Sargent; Stars: Darren McGavin, Earl Holliman, Jan-Michael Vincent, John Gruber.

30) Vu khuc con co (2002): A story about young men who had to go war to protest their country. Each of them has his own Director: Jonathan Foo, Phan Quang Binh Nguyen; Stars: Chi Bao Pham, Ngoc Bao Ta, Quang Hai Ngo, Quang Vinh Luu.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now , shot around Pagsanjan and other locations in the Philippines, is regarded the classic Vietnam War film despite its flaws. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the director of the Godfather, and based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , it is about a young army intelligence officer, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who is sent on a mission to find and "terminate with extreme prejudice" the renegade Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who had established himself as the leader of a army of Montagnard headhunters in Cambodia. A rough cut of the film took the top award at Cannes in 1979. Many critics panned the film when it came out.

Captain Willard first has to a get a boat, which he does with help of surf-loving Colonel named Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and then embarks on a journey up the Mekong River, accompanied by another surfer, a wannabe cook and a Bronx teenager (Lawrence Fishburne), to find Kurtz. Along the way they have a number of scrapes and misadventures while Willard muses on the "conflict in every human heart between rational and irrational, good and evil." Some of the most memorable quotes ("I like the smell of napalm in the morning") and scenes (helicopters blasting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries ) are associated with Kilgore.

The story of the making of Apocalypse Now is almost as interesting as the film itself. The filming took an exhausting 238 days over 16 months and used up 375 hours of film, with the film opening up years behind schedule. The project was plagued by troubles from beginning to end. Expensive sets were destroyed by a typhoon. Brando showed up on the set overweight. The first leading actor (Harvey Keitel) was fired. The second (Martin Sheen) suffered a heart attack. The film was so over budget Coppola had to take a second mortgage on his home to raise more money. The e film's release was postponed several times while Coppola edited millions of feet of footage. At one point Coppola told his wife, "I’m thinking of shooting myself." The story is brilliantly told in the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness .

The final scene was filmed at Pagsanjan and involved constructing a huge set that the Philippine government destroyed with firebombs (shown during the closing credits). Real bombs and real bullets were used in the filming of some of the battle scenes. Real heads from some real corpses, thought to have been supplied by a morgue, but really robbed from graves, were scattred around Kurtz’s jungle compound. The helicopters were provided by the Marcos government. Coppola had an affair with one of the Playboy Playmates in the film

With Coming Home and The Deer Hunter Hollywood Begins Addressing the Vietnam War in 1978

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "Throughout the duration of the bloody, wasteful, and fratricidal Vietnam War—roughly, say, from the commitment of the first American military advisers, in 1961, to the war’s end, in 1975—the Hollywood studios maintained a discreet silence, save for a few exceptions, such as John Wayne’s jingoist picture, The Green Berets, released in 1968. This was a deeply unpopular war, and conventional studio wisdom held that Americans saw enough of it on the six-o’clock news. But the dam finally broke in 1978, when the studios released two high-profile features, both replete with Hollywood’s best and brightest, "Coming Home" and "The Deer Hunter." [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"Even though three years had passed since the panicky evacuation of U.S. personnel and some South Vietnamese friends from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon, the two pictures, which seemed to come down on opposite sides of the conflict, brought the war home with a vengeance, reopening old wounds and inflaming passions long thought spent. As Bruce Gilbert, associate producer of Coming Home, puts it, "The war may have been over, but the war over the interpretation of the war was just beginning." Both movies vacuumed up Oscar nominations—"The Deer Hunter" nine, "Coming Home" eight." ^^

"Looking backward from the distance of three decades, one thing that comes as a surprise is the extent to which the two pictures resemble each other. Both feel like works in progress, with dialogue made up as the actors went along. Both films take the measure of the war’s impact on the men who fought it. Both films end on notes of exhaustion, confusion, and dysfunction. Both films feature V.A. hospitals and maimed vets. John Savage, who plays the legless G.I. in The Deer Hunter, says people were forever mistaking him for Jon Voight. The politics expressed by Voight’s Luke Martin, in a climactic scene where he addresses an audience of high-school kids, is almost indistinguishable from the message delivered by The Deer Hunter: both films condemn the war for damaging white American males. ^^

Nevertheless, there are significant differences. In The New York Times not long ago, A. O. Scott aptly contrasted "the wounded liberalism of Coming Home" with "the wounded conservatism of The Deer Hunter." Voight’s character not only laments the harm the war did to G.I.’s, but goes a tad further, slagging the military for making white American males do things that they felt bad about—namely, killing Vietnamese. And he complains that war in general is not as exciting as it’s cracked up to be in John Wayne movies. The Deer Hunter, on the other hand, has few scruples about killing Vietnamese; the sadistic, cackling monkeys with dollar bills clutched in their paws deserve what they get." ^^

Getting the Film "Coming Home" Off the Ground

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "Coming Home was born of a what-if "game" played in 1972 by Jane Fonda and her friend and fellow activist Gilbert. Tarred by the right with the sobriquet "Hanoi Jane" for a notorious photograph, widely circulated, where she was seen sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, Fonda was having career troubles. She had been graylisted, her agent was having difficulty getting roles for her, and she was even thinking about giving up acting. Her conversations with Gilbert would go, "If we could make any film in the world, what would it be?" Of course, the answer always came back, "A film about the Vietnam War." But that only raised more questions: What kind of film about Vietnam? A war film? With combat? That didn’t seem right. Like most of the activists in the peace movement, they venerated the Vietnamese, their history and culture, but with the war still going on they obviously couldn’t shoot in Vietnam, and they didn’t want to phony up their picture by having, say, Filipinos play Vietnamese, which, as Gilbert puts it, "was sort of like white guys playing Indians." That meant a story about the home front. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"Around January 1973, I was speaking at an anti-war rally with Ron Kovic," recalls Fonda. Kovic had been a hard-charging Marine serving his second tour of duty in Vietnam when he was wounded and paralyzed; he then turned against the war and wrote the memoir Born on the Fourth of July. Fonda continues: "From his wheelchair, Ron said something that stuck with me: ‘I may have lost my body, but I’ve gained my mind.’ I thought, Wouldn’t that be an interesting hook for a movie?" She and Gilbert decided to focus their story on disabled G.I.’s, in the tradition of post–World War II pictures such as The Best Years of Our Lives and The Men. Needing a part for Fonda, they came up with the idea of a woman torn between two men: her husband, an officer, and a paraplegic enlisted man. ^^

"Fonda felt that an unconventional, politicized love story also presented an opportunity, in her words, to "talk about what really makes a man. Is he the gung-ho guy who’s going over there to get the gooks and come back and fuck your brains out, or is he the guy who’s more sensitive and knows how to use other parts of himself, like his hands and his mouth?" (Kovic had told Fonda his injuries "really helped my sex life.") Gilbert, who had never written a script before, collaborated on the screenplay with Nancy Dowd, an acquaintance of Fonda’s and a recent film-school graduate. The script was called Buffalo Ghost. It ended up on a shelf. But good ideas die hard, and eventually Fonda and Gilbert decided that what the project really needed was an actual writer. They turned to Waldo Salt, whom Fonda knew slightly. Salt was an old lefty who had been blacklisted and was best known for his Oscar-winning script for Midnight Cowboy, released in 1969. Salt brought in director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman, with whom he had made Midnight Cowboy. ^^

"Even with that pedigree, none of the studios bit on Coming Home until Hellman took Salt’s treatment to United Artists, where he had made Midnight Cowboy and had a close relationship with the company’s head, Arthur Krim...Hellman presented Krim with a bare-bones $5 million budget, and Krim agreed to finance the film. But when Hellman showed Salt’s treatment to Schlesinger, the director balked. He said, "Look, I can’t talk to these guys. I don’t know about pissbags. The last thing they need is a baroque British faggot" making the movie. Suddenly, Hellman needed a new director. He had once written Hal Ashby a fan letter after seeing The Last Detail, Ashby’s 1973 film, with Jack Nicholson. It so happened that Ashby lived a few houses away from Hellman in the Malibu Colony. In those days, you could knock on someone’s door and hand him a script without having to brave a phalanx of agents, managers, and lawyers. Ashby read the script and said yes. Ashby refused, however, to defer his usual fee, the way the other principals had, and insisted on $400,000 up front, which he got. "Hal, the guy who didn’t care about money, was now gonna be the highest-paid guy on the movie," says Hellman. "So, what else is new?" ^^

"While Salt interviewed more disabled vets, Ashby and Hellman began to scare up a cast to play opposite Fonda. They wanted a blond, blue-eyed straight-arrow type to play Fonda’s officer husband—someone like Jon Voight, who was desperate to get onto the movie. He too had felt the pull of the anti-war movement in the 60s, and was attracted by the politics of the picture. But Fonda couldn’t see him in the part. According to Hellman, she said, "He’s too wimpy—he’s not manly enough. I see someone much more physical. But if you believe that he’s the guy, I’ll support you." Voight got the role and was ecstatic. The filmmakers thought that the role of the paralyzed enlisted man called for a working-class or ethnic actor like Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino. Both declined. Medavoy suggested Sly Stallone, whose Rocky U.A. was producing. "We were in shock," recalls Hellman. "We said to ourselves, ‘We will not make the film with Sylvester Stallone. We’ll take it elsewhere.’ But Stallone didn’t like the script. Why? There were too many people in it! ‘I like a movie where there’s only one guy.’ " Medavoy, who tells a slightly different story, says he showed 20 minutes of Rocky to Ashby, who nixed Stallone. ^^

"Meanwhile, Voight kept bird-dogging Ashby about playing Luke. "I was walking with Hal at one point, and I said, ‘You know, Hal, I’m right for this film, because this guy has to be a lover, and I’m a lover.’ What I really meant, I suppose, was that it had to be a love story. Otherwise, the film wouldn’t work. It couldn’t be a political diatribe." According to Hellman, he and Ashby had a long talk where they discussed their frustration at being "surrounded by assholes, executives we couldn’t trust" at U.A. They decided to follow their instincts. "So we said, ‘O.K., let’s cast Jon Voight in the lead.’ " ^^

"The start date was only seven weeks away, but Salt, a notoriously slow writer who had consumed more than his share of alcohol and drugs over the years, had delivered only 36 pages of a shooting script. Ashby was getting panicky. There was a tense meeting on Thanksgiving weekend in 1976. Salt, 62, looked tired and frail....According to Gilbert, Salt said: "Like real estate is location, location, location? With movies it’s story, story, story. Conceptualizing is hard; the writing is easy. So, get off my back." Ashby retorted, "If the writing is so fucking easy, where are the fucking pages? We go into rehearsals in seven weeks!" Later that day, Hellman’s doctor, whom he shared with Salt, called to say that the writer had suffered a heart attack. ^^

"For a millisecond, Hellman considered pushing the picture back. But he knew that that was a recipe for disaster. Ashby hired Robert C. Jones, his regular film editor and an aspiring writer, to finish Salt’s script. It was an unorthodox choice, to say the least, throwing an inexperienced writer into the deep end of the pool only a few weeks from production. This was especially true in that Ashby, in typical fashion, was unwilling or unable to communicate any particular vision. "Hal just gave me the script and said, ‘Do what you want to,’ " Jones remembers. "The script was overlong, disconnected, and unfocused. I did the best I could." ^^

"As the start date approached, and passed, the script became a group project, with everyone contributing pages: Voight, Dern, Ashby, Hellman, Gilbert. Recalls Hellman, "Sometimes we would all show up for work with our own versions of the scene. We’d put them under the door of Hal’s trailer, and then he’d hack them all up and paste them all together, and the actors would improvise. The last day of filming, in Hong Kong, we were still working on the script." In a 1978 interview, Ashby recalled that Fonda had asked him during pre-production, "Have you ever started a film knowing no more about what we’re going to do than this?" "No." "I hope it works." "So do I." " ^^

Getting the Film "The Deer Hunter" Off the Ground

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "In 1968, EMI, then the most successful record company in the world, went into the movie business. The new company was called EMI Films, run by producers Barry Spikings and Michael Deeley. Spikings had bought a script called The Man Who Came to Play, about people who go to Las Vegas to play Russian roulette. He was always looking for talented filmmakers, and set up a meeting with Michael Cimino after seeing Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, the director’s first film, starring Clint Eastwood, and released in 1974. Spikings didn’t much like The Man Who Came to Play, but hadn’t been able to get it out of his mind. He talked it over with Cimino, who, according to Spikings, said, "You know why you’re obsessed with it? It’s because the Russian roulette is a metaphor for what America was doing with its young people, sending them to a war in a foreign place, when there was no justification for it. I know something about Vietnam, and I’ve always wanted to do a movie about it. Are you up for it?" Spikings replied, "Sure." That was the beginning of The Deer Hunter. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"There’s always been a bit of a mystery surrounding this picture, squabbles over who wrote what, where the material came from, what Cimino really knew about Vietnam and the military, the extent to which the actors improvised the dialogue, and what the film’s ultimate point of view on the war was. Despite rapturous reviews heralding Cimino as the Second Coming, his subsequent work—Heaven’s Gate cultists notwithstanding—never came close to fulfilling the promise of The Deer Hunter, if promise it was. In 1976, Cimino was 24 or 37, depending on whom you believe, Cimino or public records. He was small and chubby, with long curly hair. He looked a bit like an Italian Garry Shandling and carried all the baggage of a short man. "When I first met Michael he was making commercials and came to see me one day in a gigantic, perfectly manicured Rolls-Royce," recalls Deric Washburn. ^^

"Cimino told Spikings that he wanted to work again with Washburn, who was living in New York, writing for the theater—an innocent, Washburn says, as far as the movie business was concerned. The Deer Hunter would be his third script. As Washburn tells it, he and Cimino spent three days together in L.A. at the Sunset Marquis, hammering out the plot. The script eventually went through several drafts, evolving into a story with three distinct acts: The first establishes the main characters, five steel-mill workers and a bartender, all of Eastern European extraction, living in Clairton, a small town in Pennsylvania coal country. They work, they get sloppy drunk, they hunt deer, and eventually three of them go to war. ^^

"The centerpiece of the first act is a lengthy Russian Orthodox wedding in which one of the future G.I.s, Steven, gets married to his pregnant girlfriend. Cut to Vietnam, where all three friends are captured, are forced to play Russian roulette by their North Vietnamese Army (N.V.A.) tormentors, and, after considerable violence, escape. In the third part, Michael, the main character, is back home in Clairton, for better or for worse—mostly worse—but returns to Vietnam to retrieve his buddy Nick, now a near zombie who robotically plays Russian roulette in sleazy clubs for the entertainment of gamblers who bet on the outcome; it’s The Man Who Came to Play set in Saigon instead of Las Vegas. ^^

Washburn didn’t interview any vets to write The Deer Hunter, didn’t do any research. (He had grown up in a middle-class family in Pittsburgh and spent six months in the army.) "I had a month, that was it," he explains. "The clock was ticking. Write the fucking script! But all I had to do was watch TV. Those combat cameramen in Vietnam were out there in the field with the guys." When Washburn was finished, he says, Cimino and Joann Carelli, an associate producer on The Deer Hunter who would go on to produce two more of Cimino’s films, took him to dinner at a cheap restaurant off the Sunset Strip. He recalls, "We finished, and Joann looks at me across the table, and she says, ‘Well, Deric, it’s fuck-off time.’ I was fired. It was a classic case: you get a dummy, get him to write the goddamn thing, tell him to go fuck himself, put your name on the thing, and he’ll go away. I was so tired, I didn’t care. I’d been working 20 hours a day for a month. I got on the plane the next day, and I went back to Manhattan and my carpenter job." ^^

Casting and Rehearsing the Deer Hunter

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "The film features an extraordinary cast, anchored by—and in part recruited by—Robert De Niro, who played Michael, the lead, and was among the first to sign on. "I liked the script, and [Cimino] had done a lot of prep," says the actor. "I was impressed." De Niro knew every actor in New York; he was the magnet who attracted established actors such as John Cazale—forever Fredo from the first two Godfathers—as well as up-and-comers such as Christopher Walken, who had grown up in musical theater and who played Nick, the Russian-roulette junkie; John Savage, who played Steven, the wedding scene’s groom; and Meryl Streep, whom Cimino had seen in a production of Kurt Weill’s Happy End on Broadway and practically hired on the spot as Linda, the love interest for Walken’s and De Niro’s characters. Offscreen, her boyfriend was Cazale, who was ill with cancer and would die shortly after The Deer Hunter finished shooting. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

(While The Deer Hunter and Coming Home were both being put together, Streep did a brief scene opposite Fonda in Julia. Streep so impressed the veteran actress that she called Gilbert and said, "I’ve seen somebody who is going to be major. We should get her for Coming Home. Write this down: M-e-r-y-l … " But Streep was already signed for another film—quite possibly The Deer Hunter, though no one recalls for certain.) ^^

"Just prior to the start of production, the director took the principal cast members to Weirton, West Virginia, which would in part fill in for Clairton. The cast hung out there for a week. Recalls Walken, "We went to a real Russian wedding, huge, with food and dancing. We traveled in the same car together, so by the time we did start shooting we had some real camaraderie going, which I hadn’t done in a movie before." ^^

De Niro, as is his custom, had done meticulous research for the project, speaking to a number of veterans. Cimino gave him a wallet with the actor’s picture and his character’s name on a driver’s license along with family photos that belonged to a real veteran. According to Walken, the director also gave the cast a photo of a dozen or so children which he said held great significance for him, although he declined to reveal what that was. ^^

The Deer Hunter began principal photography on June 20, 1977. The Clairton scenes comprise footage shot in eight different towns in four states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Ohio. The celebrated wedding scene was filmed in Cleveland in a magnificent Russian Orthodox church, obscenely ornate, actually, given the poverty of the fictional surroundings. In the final film, this is a bravura sequence, running about half an hour. But at that point in the production, nearly halfway through principal photography, Cimino was already overbudget, and Spikings could tell from the script that shooting the extended scene could sink the project."

Shooting the Deer Hunter Vietnam Scenes in Thailand

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "The Vietnam sections were filmed in Thailand. "There was discussion about shooting the film on a back lot, but the material demanded more realism," says Spikings. As a result of the dilatory wedding sequence, the picture had fallen even farther behind schedule. At the time, only a handful of Hollywood films had been shot in Thailand, so there was no reliable infrastructure for such an undertaking. The production was plagued with all kinds of logistical problems, and Spikings flew from London to get it under control. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"Spikings’s Thai liaison was General Kriangsak Chomanan, the supreme commander of the Thai military. The producer simply called him "K." Spikings recalls, "We needed lots of weapons, helicopters, armored personnel carriers—and he provided them all." But one day Kriangsak told the producer, "What’s going to happen this weekend: we’re going to play some martial music, and we’re going to have a military coup. That means we need all the weapons back, the helicopters back, and all the armored personnel carriers back." "K! We’re making a movie here! You can’t do that! We’ve got an agreement—we’ve shaken hands!" "Barry, Barry—please, please. You’re making a movie—I have a military coup. But it won’t take long. There’ll be a few people who’ll get shot on Sunday, and then you can have the stuff back." (Kriangsak was in a position to know. He arranged a series of coups and became prime minister, ruling until 1980.)

Cimino strove for a documentary look in the Vietnam sequences. Some of the scenes were re-creations of film or photographs Carelli had found in her research, such as the famous sequence wherein De Niro and Savage are rescued from a rope bridge over the river Kwai—yes, that river Kwai!—by helicopter. Doing their own stunt work, the two actors could have lost their lives when the chopper snagged one of its skids in the bridge. As Savage remembers it, "The bridge was shaking, and everything was flying around, debris all over. I was frantic, screaming, ‘There’s something wrong, move it back.’ " De Niro says he thought the helicopter was going to come down right on top of them. Instead, continues Savage, "the helicopter went straight up in the air, pulling the bridge upside down, and Bobby and I flipped over and were hanging next to each other underneath the helicopter, whose blades barely were missing the steel cable on either side of the bridge."

Savage called out to De Niro, using his character’s name: "Michael, what do we do? Should we drop?" "Will you get out of character?" De Niro yelled back. "What’re you doing? I don’t know—I don’t know if we should drop!" The river was filled with spiky tree stumps, sunken boats, and huge rocks. "You go first!" Savage called out to De Niro. "Nah, you go first." "Michael, should we drop?" "Savage, for Christ’s sake, we’re not in character anymore! We’re not in the fucking movie!" Seconds later, Savage says, "I dropped, he dropped, we hit the water, bumped into a sunken boat, and came up down the river, grateful to still be alive."

Response to Coming Home and the Deer Hunter

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, ""When Coming Home opened, in February 1978, the reviews were respectful, but by no means outstanding. Frank Rich, in Time magazine, called it "a devastating vision of this country’s recent social history.… Coming Home is, as its material dictates, one long, low howl of pain." Roger Ebert called it "an extraordinarily moving film," in the Chicago Sun-Times. On the other hand, Vincent Canby, in The New York Times, dismissed it as "soggy with good if unrealized intentions." The film didn’t pick up much steam at the box office until it was showered with Oscar nominations almost a year after it was released. But the vets loved it, and Hellman was invited to Washington with the film by Max Cleland, Jimmy Carter’s head of the Veterans Administration, who had himself lost three limbs in Vietnam. He showed it to members of Congress, and the film became an important tool for advocates for the disabled. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"Ten months after Coming Home debuted, the innovative plan to open The Deer Hunter for a single week in December worked perfectly, creating frantic want-to-see. It helped that the reviews were generally breathless. In Newsweek, Jack Kroll wrote that the movie placed Cimino "right at the center of our film culture." In The New York Times, Vincent Canby called The Deer Hunter "a big, awkward, crazily ambitious, sometimes breathtaking motion picture that comes as close to being a popular epic as any movie about this country since ‘The Godfather’ … its vision is that of an original, major new filmmaker." ^^

"But there were negative voices too. Andrew Sarris called the film "massively vague, tediously elliptical, and mysteriously hysterical.… It is perhaps significant that the actors remain more interesting than the characters they play." The Russian-roulette motif, the portrayal of the North Vietnamese, and the picture’s attitude toward the war invited a barrage of criticism. As Pauline Kael wrote, "The Viet Cong are treated in the standard inscrutable-evil Oriental style of the Japanese in the Second World War movies.… The impression a viewer gets is that if we did some bad things there we did them ruthlessly but impersonally; the Viet Cong were cruel and sadistic." Another point of contention was the final scene, where the characters sing "God Bless America"—was it meant ironically or not, as a critique of patriotism or a paean to it? ^^

"Unsurprisingly, the picture ignited a particularly vicious round of the art-versus-truth debate, pitting reviewers who generally indulged it against former war correspondents who came out of the woodwork to denounce the picture’s liberties with the historical record. Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the war, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "In its 20 years of war, there was not a single recorded case of Russian roulette.… The central metaphor of the movie is simply a bloody lie." Under the headline the gook-hunter, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by John Pilger, who had also covered the war for the paper. "Hollywood sensed that a lot of money could be made with a movie that appealed directly to those racial instincts that cause wars and that allowed the Vietnam war to endure for so long.… ‘The Deer Hunter’ and its apologists insult the memory of every American who died in Vietnam." ^^

"Both films performed well at the box office. Coming Home, which ultimately cost about $7.2 million, grossed $32.7 million in the U.S. The Deer Hunter cost a little over twice that much, about $15 million, and earned almost $49 million. These numbers were not spectacular (Grease led with $160 million for films released in 1978, and Superman followed with $134 million), but considering the subject matter, they were respectable. ^^

Coming Home Versus the Deer Hunter at the Oscars

Peter Biskind wrote in Vanity Fair, "It was an exciting Oscar race that year. The smart money was on Warren Beatty and his hit comedy, Heaven Can Wait, which matched The Deer Hunter with nine nominations, followed by Coming Home’s eight. All three were up for best picture, and everyone was sure that The Deer Hunter and Coming Home would cancel each other out. Besides, Beatty was an insider and well liked, while Fonda was still Hanoi Jane to a substantial number of Academy voters, Ashby was a hippie recluse, and Cimino was a nobody from New York. The other contenders for best picture, An Unmarried Woman and Midnight Express, were little better than afterthoughts. [Source: Peter Biskind, Vanity Fair, March 2008 ^^]

"As the golden night approached, the backlash against The Deer Hunter gathered strength. When the limos pulled up to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 9, 1979, they were met by demonstrators, mostly from the Los Angeles chapter of Vietnam Vets Against the War, waving placards covered with slogans that read, no oscars for racism and the deer hunter a bloody lie. Washburn, up for best original screenplay, claims his limousine was pelted with stones. According to Variety, "Police and The Deer Hunter protesters clashed in a brief but bloody battle that resulted in 13 arrests." ^^

"Those were the days when anyone who was cool didn’t bother to attend the ceremony. Ashby was a no-show, ditto De Niro, but almost everyone else from both pictures was there. Coming Home was the first of the contenders to show muscle in the major categories: Waldo Salt, Bob Jones, and Nancy Dowd won the Oscar for best original screenplay. It was widely reported that they had never met one another before (actually they had, at a Writers Guild award ceremony a few weeks earlier), highlighting the peculiarities of the writing process in Hollywood. The Deer Hunter had won two technical awards, and Walken picked up best supporting actor, but when Fonda and Voight won the best-acting Oscars (the latter beating De Niro), for a moment it looked as if U.A. might snag its fourth best-picture Oscar in a row. ^^

Then Cimino won best director. It must have been an uncomfortable moment for presenter Francis Coppola, whose own Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now, wouldn’t come out until the following year, to have to bestow the award upon his rival. When John Wayne walked out on the stage to present best picture, he looked like a ghost. Ravaged by cancer, he would die two months later. After he opened the envelope and named Cimino, Spikings, and the other producers of The Deer Hunter, "the acclaim was respectful but well short of thunderous," according to the Los Angeles Times. ^^

Representation of the Vietnamese in Vietnam War Films

According to a study by Martin Novelli, the depiction of the Vietnamese in American war films is woefully stereotyped. Vietnamese civilians are usually shown as passive victims, prostitutes, or conniving with the enemy, while North Vietnamese or NLF guerilla fighters are frequently drawn as cruel torturers or effeminate cowards, and the ARVN are described as incompetent. In Walsh and Louvre's opinion, "the ideology of such films speaks of several basic and widespread public attitudes towards the war". [Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Donna Alvah at St. Lawrence University reported that students taking her class, "The United States and the Vietnam War", when writing an introductory essay on their understanding of the war, often show a view point that reflects the common perception shared by most Americans born after the war. According to Dr. Alvah, the student's conception of the Vietnam War are "largely gleaned from movies, documentaries, music, and other popular cultural expressions, as well as from older relatives who served in the war, or who in any case hold strong opinions about it."[2]

Vietnamese Actor Slammed and Harassed for His Role in American Vietnam War Film

Ben Stocking and Bruce Newman wrote in the Mercury News, "To Don Duong, it must have seemed like a perfect opportunity. Already one of the most prominent film stars in Vietnam, he was offered featured roles in two American-made movies about the war that had torn his country apart. But his work in those films has left his career in tatters as he has been forced to defend himself against charges of betraying his country. His family, including a sister in San Jose and filmmaker nephews who grew up in the South Bay, says the government has subjected him to repeated police interrogations, confiscating his passport and pressuring him to sign a confession. [Source: Ben Stocking and Bruce Newman, Mercury News, October 29, 2002 <+>]

"Duong played a North Vietnamese officer in Mel Gibson's 2002 film "We Were Soldiers,'' which, according to the government, does not accurately depict its soldiers' valor in battle. He played a fleeing refugee in this year's "Green Dragon,'' which enraged officials for allegedly making America look like a paradise compared to Saigon at the end of the war. The uproar over Duong's case underscores Vietnam's ambivalence about its increasing ties with the West. While the Communist-controlled government is eager to forge economic links, it is equally determined to maintain political control." <+>

"Vietnamese government spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh chastised Duong for playing roles that have "offended the Vietnamese people and caused resentment in Vietnam.'' She referred further inquiries to the Ministry of Culture, where a spokeswoman said Duong would not be banned from acting but might be fined an undisclosed amount. Police in Ho Chi Minh City, where Duong was interrogated, declined to discuss the case. Duong, who is 45 and has been acting professionally for two decades, was unavailable to comment. So far, he has refused to sign a confession. "He's not a traitor,'' said Susie Bui, Duong's sister, who has kept in touch with him by e-mail from her home in San Jose. "Why does he have to say he's guilty?'' "We feel his human rights have been violated,'' said Timothy Linh Bui, Duong's nephew and the director of "Green Dragon,'' by telephone from his home in Los Angeles. "They have denounced him as a traitor and most important, they don't give him a voice to defend himself.'' <+>

Vietnamese authorities are outraged because a scene in "We Were Soldiers'' shows Vietnamese troops killing a wounded enemy soldier rather than taking him prisoner. Furthermore, the film's nuanced view of a battle has been portrayed by the press as transforming Vietnamese victory into defeat. Duong plays the late Lt. Gen. Nguyen Huu An, commanding a North Vietnamese division against an invading U.S. force led by Lt. Col. Harold Moore Jr., played by Gibson. "Green Dragon,'' meanwhile, has come under fire for supposedly denigrating the victorious North Vietnamese regime. "We all felt the film wasn't anti-Communist, that it wasn't negative toward the present government,'' said Timothy Bui. "But maybe we looked at it the wrong way.'' Apparently so. In a recent front-page editorial, Vietnam's government-owned Army Daily branded Duong "a sellout and a national traitor'' and said he should be "severely punished'' for his "unforgivable'' mistakes. The current issue of Vietnam Film -- a magazine published by the same Ministry of Culture that will decide Duong's fate -- accuses the actor of being "greedy for money and fame.'' <+>

"As the media attacks against Duong were starting to accelerate, Nguyen Ngoc Quang, director of the government-sponsored Liberation Movie Company, came to Nha Toi (My House), the restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City that Duong owns with one of his sisters. He asked the staff to take down a poster-sized picture of Duong and Forest Whitaker, Duong's co-star in "Green Dragon.'' When his request was refused, Quang himself took the picture down and threw it on the floor, according to an account in the Vietnamese press. Duong's supporters in Ho Chi Minh City — nearly all of whom are too frightened to speak to the media — say the actor had the best of intentions when he accepted both roles. He was especially proud to play the part of Gen. An, according to a source close to Duong who declined to be identified for fear of government reprisals. "He never meant to hurt Vietnam or the Vietnamese military,'' the source said. "He read the story and thought that it was a true story. And that's why he wanted to act in it.''

We Were Soldiers from Vietnamese Side

Tran Dinh Thanh Lam of Inter Press Service wrote: "The controversy erupted after bootleg copies of We Were Soldiers - which focuses on the first major battle between North Vietnamese forces and US troops in 1965 - came on sale in early July at Huynh Thuc Khang, the city's popular quarter for pirated compact disks and digital video disks. Within no time, government officials, press commentators and film critics had condemned the movie as distorting the truth about the US involvement in the Vietnam War. The film censorship council concluded that We Were Soldiers "rubbed out the frontier between just and unjust wars, said that the Vietnamese army lost the battle while in reality it wins, and has finally distorted the true image of Uncle Ho's soldiers". As for Duong, NFCC deputy chair Luu Trong Hung said he "has lost honor among the people and has become an instrument in the hands of forces hostile to the Vietnamese nation" by taking part in the offensive movie. [Source: Tran Dinh Thanh Lam, Inter Press Service, November 2, 2002 >=<]

"We Were Soldiers depicts the battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam's Central Highlands in which the 7th Air Cavalry led by Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Moore, played by Mel Gibson, is overrun by a more experienced North Vietnamese army led by commander Nguyen Huu An, played by Duong. The movie is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young by Moore, who is now a retired lieutenant-general. Movie critics say the film tried to show the human, courageous and self-sacrificing side of soldiers on both sides, and has scenes of US and Vietnamese families grieving for their soldiers. >=<

"But although history records the North Vietnamese as having won the bloody three-day battle in which about 400 US troops find themselves surrounded by some 2,000 Vietnamese soldiers, the film appears to show that the US side won. Tran Thu Ba, 24, a third-year university student, said, "The film is not worse than the other Hollywood films on the Vietnam War. The main problem is that this time it is the other side who was more humane and who won the battle." The state media were far more vitriolic in their reactions. "This is a very politically reactionary movie with the wicked intention of distorting the legitimate national liberation struggle of the Vietnamese people and at the same time justifying the unjust war of aggression of the American imperialists," the newspaper Nguoi Lao Dong (The Laborer) declared in a front-page commentary. The army's official newspaper Quan Doi Nhan Dan (the People's Army) soon after joined in, commenting in a front-page article that the movie "did not reflect correctly the truth of history of the just war by the Vietnamese people". Duong had tarnished the image of the Vietnamese soldiers and people, and had "sold his conscience cheaply and become a national traitor", Quan Doi Nhan Dan said. >=<

"The media also took issue with an earlier Hollywood acting role by Duong, who played the role of the head of a refugee camp in the 2001 movie Green Dragon that starred US actor Patrick Swayze. The film censorship council also said that Green Dragon, which depicted the life of Vietnamese refugees in a US camp after the war, contains many scenes that "distorted the reality" in Vietnam. The council proposed that the Culture Ministry and the Ministry of Police ban We Were Soldiers and Green Dragon and that they refuse entrance visas to Randall Wallace and Tony Bui, the respective directors of the films. >=<

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh agreed with these recommendations, saying last week that Duong "could be punished for going abroad [to the United States] with a wrong purpose, eventually to work in movies but not to visit relatives as he had stated". "It is very regrettable that an actor who used to enjoy popularity in Vietnam, who took part in big movies now has taken part in movies that damage his own image. That's the most severe punishment to an actor. It will be heavy losses for an actor when he loses popularity," Thanh said. In early October, Culture Ministry officials removed a Vietnamese film starring Duong, Me Thao Thoi Bong (The Glorious Time in Me Thao Hamlet), from the list of the country's movies screened at the 47th Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Seoul.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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