DVD: The Vietnam War (2017)
I have a degree in History. I spent three very happy years immersing myself in, mainly British History, but my love of the subject extends worldwide, and especially to America.
Having said that, I know next to nothing about The Vietnam War.
However, I am familiar with Ken Burns and have long been a fan of his fantastic documentary programmes, particularly The West and The Civil War (both available in UK Netflix). He brought a new dimension to these periods with eye witness testimony repeated by well-known voices, and with the inclusion of period photographs the combination makes for riveting television.
The series cost around $30 million and took more than 10 years to make. Burns (along with Lynn Novick’s) latest endeavour examines The Vietnam War. It’s a 10 part, 18 hour journey which features eye witness testimony from 80 participants, which notably includes both US soldiers AND Vietnamese soldiers and also a lot of civilians who were affected, including conscientious objectors, photo journalists and politicians, and avoiding one of the main tropes of History programmes; that of the ‘Historian talking head’. This is a series filled with real people who were really there.
The researchers for the film also accessed more than 24,000 photographs and examined 1,500 hours of archival footage in order to make the finished product, and it includes coverage of at least 25 battles, 10 of which are detailed set-piece battle scenes documenting the action from multiple perspectives, which is something I’ve never seen before.
Of course this is told from the American perspective, and several reviews of the series have accused it of being rather ‘one-sided’ and not very objective, and even ‘blinkered by patriotism’, but as we historians know, the history of any war is ALWAYS written by the winner. But it seems that no one actually won this war, and the frequent referral to US ‘involvement’ (as opposed to invasion) in Vietnam which is essentially what happened, does gloss over some points. While the interviewees are given license to express whatever opinions they hold, a voice (Peter Coyote) alongside them implies that his narrative is the official version of events and the one the viewer can trust more than the person speaking
The score from Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, gives us ominius music over the hard hitting bits, and the same when the North Vietnamese forces score a win over the Americans which I did find a little corny. But the contemporary music soundtrack fits in wonderfully with the whole piece, with songs from all the big names of the time (from Bob Dylan to Joni Mitchell).
All in all a very informative, if a little biased towards the USA, documentary. Interesting and entertaining, and even though you’re pressed towards American ‘goodness’, the makers don’t shy away from all the atrocities that happened.
A great addition to Burns’ cannon work.
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