156 Hearts and Minds

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Galen Young
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156 Hearts and Minds

#1 Post by Galen Young » Sun Nov 21, 2004 1:33 am

Hearts and Minds

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A startling and courageous film, Peter Davis’s landmark 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds unflinchingly confronted the United States’ involvement in Vietnam at the height of the foment that surrounded it. Using a wealth of sources—from interviews to newsreels to footage of the conflict and the upheaval it occasioned on the home front—Davis constructs a powerfully affecting picture of the disastrous effects of war. Explosive, persuasive, and wrenching, Hearts and Minds is an overwhelming emotional experience and the most important nonfiction film ever made about this devastating period in history.

Disc Features

• High-definition digital restoration, supervised by director Peter Davis and cinematographer Richard Pearce, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Audio commentary featuring Davis
• A collection of over two hours of never-before-seen outtakes from the film, including interviews with presidential adviser George Ball, broadcast journalist David Brinkley, French journalist and historian Philippe Devillers, political activist Tony Russo, and General William Westmoreland
• PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by Davis, film critic Judith Crist, and historians Robert K. Brigham, George C. Herring, and Ngo Vinh Long

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BWilson
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#2 Post by BWilson » Mon Nov 22, 2004 1:06 pm

Galen Young wrote:I finally got a copy of Hearts & Minds and having just watched it for the first time ever -- was completely blown away by it. Have any readers here seen this film?

So many feelings -- astonishing, chilling, hardcore, and transformative in the same manner as Fahrenheit 9/11. It's obvious that this film influenced Michael Moore. The parallel imagery between the two films is both amazing and downright heartbreaking. In a wonderful commentary director Peter Davis relates some wild stories about the time and the making of the film -- there was even an episode where they had to buy back the film from one distributor and give it to another to get the film released, similar to the story with Fahrenheit 9/11. Unreal!

So many scenes from films that I admire that were probably influenced by Hearts & Minds went through my mind while I watched the film have taken on a whole new meanings -- from Apocalypse Now to the second half of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, which now has greater resonance, and even somehow the irony of the football scene in Verhoeven's anti-war classic Starship Troopers strikes a new chord.

Of course I just happen to be reading Daniel Ellsberg's book Secrets and didn't know he was going to be featured in the film. His stories are powerful stuff. Some random quotes from the film: (Daniel Ellsberg) "Might it be possible that we were on the wrong side in the Vietnamese war? But we weren't on the wrong side. We are the wrong side." (Captain Randy Floyd) "I think Americans have worked extremely hard not to see the criminality that their officials and their policy makers have exhibited." Indeed. Is the current state of American "news media" guilty of inducing a nation-wide amnesia of American history for the past forty years?

Hearts & Minds won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1974. How the fuck did that happen?! Considering just how incendiary the message of the film is, that's almost unbelievable. If the Academy turns its back on Fahrenheit 9/11 it can only mean that the Hollywood establishment is ready to follow W. down his bloody road into an ugly world of shit�or are afraid of standing up to the multi-national conglomerates that own the studios.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Emile de Antonio's Vietnam documentary In the Year of the Pig (1968) coming out on DVD next year. Has anyone out there seen this film?
Aren't many of the clips in Hearts and Minds actually lifted from Year of the Pig?

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#3 Post by Jun-Dai » Mon Nov 22, 2004 3:11 pm

If the Academy turns its back on Fahrenheit 9/11
Why does it have to be political (I'm not denying that it isn't political, but why can't there be more to it than that)? If they don't think the film is any good, do they still have to give the award to the film to avoid supporting Bush? That's a pretty obscene false dichotomy that you've presented there, Galen, worse than most of the ones that come out of Republican politicians (e.g., "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists"). Anyways, I have to say that Hearts and Minds is a far superior film to Fahrenheit 9/11 (which is neither worthless nor a masterpiece), and that to have given the former an award and the latter none would not, in and of itself, be any indication of a change in standards on the part of the Academy.

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#4 Post by Galen Young » Tue Nov 23, 2004 2:55 am

Jun-Dai wrote:Why does it have to be political (I'm not denying that it isn't political, but why can't there be more to it than that)? If they don't think the film is any good, do they still have to give the award to the film to avoid supporting Bush? That's a pretty obscene false dichotomy that you've presented there, Galen, worse than most of the ones that come out of Republican politicians (e.g., "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists").
Well, I guess my naive thinking was maybe since the Academy saw fit to give Hearts & Minds an award, then I would surmise that maybe the membership was against the war in Vietnam. Or maybe not, because yes, it's just great filmmaking. If the Academy saw fit to give Fahrenheit 9/11 an award, then again, I might surmise that maybe the membership would be protesting against the policies of the Bush administration and its war in Iraq. Or maybe not, because yes, it's just great filmmaking. But I know it's not going to win because of the times we live in -- the trend of overwhelming political correctness that has perverted criticism of our government into an anti-American, anti-patriotic act.

Hearts & Minds was made over thirty years ago, to me it's a time capsule of its moment. I would compare it to, in a way, to something like The Exorcist, in that, a film like The Exorcist just could not be made today. Reading that Hearts & Minds won an Academy Award in 1974, and then my seeing it for the first time in 2004 -- makes me think that something like that would just never happen today.

As much as I love Bowling for Columbine (and all the rest of Michael Moore's films), I think that Fahrenheit 9/11 is by far his most accomplished and important work to date. It dares to make a statement about the current state of affairs in America in such a direct manner that nobody else has yet done, much like Hearts & Minds did in its day I would have to guess.
Jun-Dai wrote:Anyways, I have to say that Hearts and Minds is a far superior film to Fahrenheit 9/11 (which is neither worthless nor a masterpiece), and that to have given the former an award and the latter none would not, in and of itself, be any indication of a change in standards on the part of the Academy.
I guess where we differ Jun-Dai is that I don't presume to believe that the Academy actually subscribes to a set of standards! :D

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#5 Post by Jun-Dai » Tue Nov 23, 2004 3:52 pm

See, if the Academy didn't give the award to Fahrenheit 9/11, I wouldn't consider it a political move, per se, because I didn't think it was a very good film. On the other hand, if they did give the award, I'd be inclined to believe that they were doing so out of the desire to make a political statement, which is understandable (the Academy doesn't have any other value, so why not use it as a forum to make political statements?). Hearts and Minds, on the other hand, is a pretty profound film, and I'd like to think that even people who weren't interested in Davis' viewpoint would agree, so I can imagine it receiving an award for its quality as a documentary rather than purely for its political import. Of course giving it an award must have been viewed as a political statement anyways, much like when Cannes gave the award to Fahr 9/11. However, I don't think that Fahrenheit 9/11 will have the same kind of value 30 years later that Hearts and Minds does now.

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#6 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Tue Nov 23, 2004 5:08 pm

This is kind of a moot discussion anyway, since we already know the Academy isn't going to give the award to Fahrenheit 9/11 -- it's not eligible.

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#7 Post by BWilson » Tue Nov 23, 2004 5:21 pm

To further this discussion of Hearts and Minds and its Oscar win we should discuss the Oscar acceptance speech.

As recounted in Peter Biskin's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" the winner was announced, Peter Davis and the proder (anyone?, anyone?) went on stage and read a message from the provisional communist president of Vietnam. This was evidently met with some objection by the audience.

Anyone know more about this incident? I'm recalling from distant memory here.

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#8 Post by Gregory » Tue Nov 23, 2004 6:03 pm

It was co-producer Bert Schneider (Peter Davis was also a producer). He read from a statement by an ambassador from the Provisional Revolutionary Government. My understanding was that the audience reaction was mixed, just as Moore's statements were met with both clapping and booing. I know that the footage of the ceremony survives. It would've made a good extra for this DVD.

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#9 Post by Galen Young » Tue Nov 23, 2004 11:57 pm

Someone on another forum related the story to me this way:
Do you know it has a place in Oscar scandal history? The director, upon receiving his Oscar, read a congratulatory telegram from the Viet Cong delegation at the peace talks. Backstage, an outraged Bob Hope demanded that the Academy make some sort of apology. Shirley Maclaine was also backstage, and got into a screaming match with Hope. Eventually, Frank Sinatra read a disclaimer on air that views of the winners didn't necessarily match those of the Academy.
I agree that speech might have made for a very interesting DVD extra!
BWilson wrote:Aren't many of the clips in Hearts and Minds actually lifted from Year of the Pig?
Came across this unusual review of Hearts and Minds, written by Emile de Antonio for University Review in 1974:
excerpt from "Visions of Vietnam" by Emile de Antonio, University Review, 1974

Network television and Hollywood have always been uncomfortable with the documentary. The networks used to spew them and give out awards, like National 4-H Clubs, to one another; long white papers, etc. They take their place in Trotsky's dustbin, so objective that life is bleached out. Objective enough to be mindless, no sponsor or his grandchild should be offended. Hollywood's discomfort is more practical; it avoids them, finding Godfathers, Airports, Poseidons, and a kind of ritual cinematic cloning of the works of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Zane Grey more profitable.

Hearts and Minds is the Godfather of documentaries. My guess is that there is one big difference: it will never find an audience.

Hearts and Minds is also a miracle. A political film without politics. The style betrays the political emptiness: no style at all, amorphous sequences strung together. Most art has something to do with structure(s).

I found it both heartless and mindless. Heartless because of an inability to understand either the United States or Vietnam. Heartless because it sneers with a japing, middle-class, liberal superiority when it should be doing something quite different. Patronizing attitudes include: a returned POW pilot is welcomed home to Linden, New Jersey. He is still gung ho as police wave the flag, as he talks before the flaccid city fathers, as he talks to the mothers of Linden, as he talks to a grammar-school class. The distance between the more hip parts of Beverly Hills and Linden, New Jersey, is vast, and those who made Hearts and Minds don't understand it. They laugh. Example: head shot, black veteran, smiling, tells of getting his pants blown off, running around with his thing hanging out. A real chuckle of a figure. "Shit, man," and all that. Camera pulls back and he is missing an arm and a leg. Neither the camera nor the director makes one feel that humanity is involved in any way. Example: football locker room, coach pep talk, rough language, coach slaps around the players, go and kill 'em. They go out, they get hurt. It's a sour metaphor, it's not even a good one, and it hangs in the middle like something interesting they didn't understand.

Mindlessness is worse. I'm not asking that Das Kapital be made into a film, but it's so much more coherent. How can you make a film about Vietnam and leave out their revolution? How can you leave out the dissent here that cost LBJ the presidency and forced Nixon into lies and Vietnamization? (Ninety seconds of "Give Peace a Chance" won't do.) How can you suppress all evidence that the war is still going on? Where did the war come from? Where is the system that produced it? And the Christmas bombing? The voices that seem to speak for the makers of the film, like the makers of the film, found out about the war too late. Clark Clifford? A plushy Washington lawyer, a behind-the-scenes figure in many administrations (he was blamed by Joe McCarthy for starting the Army-McCarthy hearings), he discovers something is wrong in 1968 when he was secretary of defense. Where was he in 1964? Daniel Ellsberg? He weeps about Robert Kennedy, but I'm more interested in what motivated him into being part of the Rand/CIA/Marine deal so long; and his version of our involvement is cut down to the skeleton of a field mouse. A Vietnamese Catholic priest talks about defending his native land, but Dien Bien Phu and the Tet Offensive were about more than that.

A little semiexplicit sex in a Saigon whorehouse. A brilliant sequence of a Saigon banker who rushed home at the first whiff of "peace" to make deals with U.S. companies. It ends as it began, trailing off to nowhere, carrying the logo of Columbia Pictures. Rumors are that Columbia won't distribute it. After all, it takes $8,ooo,ooo at the box office to get back $1,200,000.
Ouch! Sour grapes? It doesn't lessen my liking of Hearts and Minds, but it is an interesting perspective I think. Now I really have to see The Year of the Pig and see how it stacks up.

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#10 Post by Doctor Sunshine » Sun May 08, 2005 1:50 am

A excellent interview with Peter Davis on the Speakeasy with Dorian back on October 25th, 2004. The Ed Helms, of Daily Show-fame, segment preceding it is worth a listen too.

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#11 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Apr 28, 2006 1:13 pm

One of my favorite commentary moments is on this disc: in reference to Mr Rolling Thunder Westmoreland himself mentioning "Orientals don't place the same value on human life as we do in the west", Davis commenting that he got heat for placing the comment where he did-- and saying that no matter where he put it "it just detonates the footage around it." I busted out laughing for five minutes after that.

Great film obviously, a bit skimpy package but no worse than COUNTRY PRIEST.

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#12 Post by richast2 » Fri Apr 28, 2006 2:12 pm

IIRC, this was originally going to be a 2-disc set, with the second disc containing scenes not used in the film. Unfortunately, there were rights issues...

Davis got heat not only for placing the Westmoreland comment where he did in the film, but Westmoreland said the quote was taken out of context. I loved that Davis said that he ran out of film (I think?) right after Westmoreland said it, reloaded it, started filming again, and Westmoreland said it AGAIN, picking up right where he left off...

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#13 Post by Antoine Doinel » Thu Mar 05, 2009 6:12 pm

Rainbow Releasing will be bringing this back to theaters this year. Here's the re-release trailer.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#14 Post by aox » Fri Mar 06, 2009 12:31 am

wonderful documentary. Great double feature with In the Year of the Pig..

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#15 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Mar 06, 2009 4:59 pm

A great film indeed.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#16 Post by Donald Brown » Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:42 pm

Someone needs to show this and The Battle of Algiers to Obama as he calls for an increase to the clusterfuck in Afghanistan.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#17 Post by Tribe » Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:52 pm

Donald Brown wrote:Someone needs to show this and The Battle of Algiers to Obama as he calls for an increase to the clusterfuck in Afghanistan.
There are vast differences between the colonial aggression by western powers in Algeria/Vietnam, and what led to the clusterfuck in Afghanistan.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#18 Post by Gregory » Fri Mar 06, 2009 11:01 pm

There are also vast similarities, and I think that was the point.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#19 Post by Tribe » Sat Mar 07, 2009 1:53 am

Gregory wrote:There are also vast similarities, and I think that was the point.
Sure there are.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#20 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Mar 07, 2009 9:38 am

We should walk away from Iraq. We can't walk away from Afghanistan. Similarities or no, history lessons can be learned but no foreign policy professional could sanely advise walking away from the situation there.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#21 Post by Antoine Doinel » Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:56 am

HerrSchreck wrote:We should walk away from Iraq. We can't walk away from Afghanistan. Similarities or no, history lessons can be learned but no foreign policy professional could sanely advise walking away from the situation there.
The PM of Canada would disagree.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#22 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:55 pm

Well there's a complete and total divorcement from political and military reality. His country has the political luxury of walking away from something that never affected them directly. We've all gotten to justifiably hate Bush and his wars and his handling of 9/11 so much that we're repulsed by anything connected to him and his anti-terrorist jargon and escapades. But the fact is the US helped the Mujahedeen boys in Afghanistan fight the Soviets in the 80's, helped keep them independent (as opposed to our meddling in the middle east proper prior to the Bush years), and still the place turned into an attack lab for all of the hatreds in the mideast-- in bin Laden's case, mostly extremist Muslim, as opposed to pro-Palestinian, which he was a latecomer to in employment as propaganda.

The fact is if we leave they'll declare total victory and go right back to what they were doing before we entered. Nobody wants to "occupy" that hellhole rock/opiumpile of a country besides the Taliban and narcotics traffickers. There's nothing "in" it for us otherwise. Victory may be difficult, but some neutralization has got to be effected.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#23 Post by Antoine Doinel » Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:19 pm

I understand what you're saying HerrS, but the US is in an awkward position. If they stay, it only gives the Taliban more reason to call them occupiers and draw more people to their cause. If the US declare "victory" (the terms of victory being, at this point, vague at best), the Taliban will still regroup anyway. I think the US has confused a military action with a moral one. They will never change the ideals behind what the Taliban stands for, no matter how many bombs they drop. And even if they can establish some sort of neutralization, the US will need to stay in the region for years and years to maintain that stability.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#24 Post by Murdoch » Sun Mar 08, 2009 1:50 am

Well, this is certainly interesting. Based on the current discussion I'm wondering what others think of this strategy.

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Re: 156 Hearts and Minds

#25 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Mar 08, 2009 9:33 am

One of the things I was worried about if Obama had not won the election and the public had instead bought the idea of an open ended "War on Terror" again and gone into a different right-winger's regime was a similar situation to that described in Hearts and Minds. The film seemed to describe the real ramping up of the Vietnam War coming once the ideological reasoning behind deciding to going to war (however faulty that initial reasoning may have been) has mostly passed on and the next governments, which come to power at a time of war, are less interested in 'winning' or 'losing' their predecessor's war, or the ideological reasons for beginning the war in the first place, than in the political consequences of changing the status quo that they started their term with. It is during changes of President and Presidential Policy that there is true upheaval and the chance to either redress the balance or persue certain policies further. McCain would have likely pursued the dual objectives of Iraq and Afghanistan without questioning whether one was 'legitimate' and the other was not.

Iraq has been rather without purpose since Bush fulfilled his aim of shuffling the guy who defeated his father off the end of a scaffold and presenting the video of the event to the country as a New Year gift (unless we count selling the rebuilding of the country off to private contractors and siphoning the oil off as a reason for staying in Iraq but that is not really being sold to the American people as a primary goal). In Afghanistan, where there was perhaps a more legitimate reason for invasion, in order to find Osama Bin Laden and remove the Taliban, who supported him (and incidentally ran a repressive regime) from power. The danger was that in the change of President there was the possibility of the relationship between these two conflicts to be solidified in a continuance of the Bush idea of a global war on terror (which seemed to be the possibility with McCain), or to try and tackle each war as separate situations each needing their own approach. Luckily Obama so far has been trying to disentangle the two wars from each other which seems the right approach to calming the situation down. However he is also admirably not taking the "let's get the hell out of here!" approach and acknowledging the responsibility that the US (and its allies) now face in rectifying the situation that was blundered into in such a ham-fisted manner. No matter how successful he is in actually ending the conflicts, for now I am at least grateful that someone is not blindly trying to escalate things.

The Vietnam War escalated so much because a number of Presidents continued to support one repressive regime against an uprising purely for US interests, without any real consideration for the people of the country. There is a brilliant sequence in The Fog of War where Robert McNamara talks about finally sitting down decades later with participants on the other side in the war and being told that the Viet Cong saw the situation from a different perspective, as a civil war with one side supported and funded by the US while the US saw the situation as an uprising that threatened the security of the country and, more importantly, would have spread the threat of alternative ideologies, at that time of course it was communism. A lot of that ideology could be lifted from Vietnam and placed on the Middle East now, only with religious fundamentalism replacing communism. If we let one country, like say Pakistan, go down could we create a 'domino effect'? I'm sure this kind of thinking is what kept Pervez Musharaff in control in Pakistan for so long.

It could be persuasively argued that the US was considering itself to be doing the right thing in considering the needs of the country and its citizens first over peoples in other countries, allowing them to be repressed in order to keep stability, but I think if Vietnam (or later Iran) taught anything it was that it is impossible to try to hold back a naturally occurring change within a country by imposing a puppet government (Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or Fatah in Palestine) or propping up a corrupt or ineffectual one (the current Iraq governement) - it just prolongs a regime. When the inevitable overthrow (or uprising, revolution, coup, insurgence - whatever you want to call it) takes place it is usually bloodier, more devastating and far more extreme in its reaction from having been repressed for so long, and legitimised even more by having being considered as such a threat.
Last edited by colinr0380 on Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:29 am, edited 2 times in total.

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