Made prior to the fall of Saigon, Peter Davis took a camera directly into the Vietnam war, and recorded both sides of the conflict.
If further proof were needed that a) documentary film flourishes in troubled times and b) the echoes of Vietnam in the sorry Iraq debacle are too strong to be ignored, then the re-issue of ’Nam classic Hearts And Minds (also receiving a limited theatrical release this month) provides ample evidence on both scores.
Peter Davis’ 1974 Oscar-winner is the film that inspired Michael Moore to pick up a camera and, as Davis cuts image collages together, layers multiple testimonies and makes evocative use of music and archive footage, its influence on the 2003 Oscar-winner is easy to pinpoint. However, the unassuming former TV journalist could not be further removed in personal style from the showman polemicist, and Hearts And Minds is free of a controlling voiceover or viewpoint.
Released before the fall of Saigon, the film is not designed to be a primer on US involvement in Vietnam and modern audiences may miss some of the subtleties of the contemporary debate. However, now as then, it is the extraordinary cast of ordinary soldiers and villagers that make the most indelible impression. It is the images of destruction that retain all of their haunting beauty. The names may change, the song remains the same.
Still shocking, still powerful, still prudent. What is it they say about the more things change?
Reviewed by Colin Kennedy