I’m super happy that we’ve chosen a topic – the Vietnam War (1955-1975). In this post, I include some notes from my preliminary research from Film Studies. I thought these may be useful to you, as some of you would like to include film as your ‘data/material’ as part of the discussion; and it may help us to narrow down our research scope too.
There are more than 400 films produced around the Vietnam War: some films only use the was as a wide social backdrop, some films engage more directly with the war, discussing it’s rationals, representing the warfare itself, or reflecting on the implications of the war. While it is impossible to survey all of the films, I analysed some 126 films (features and documentaries) from the list of Vietnam War Film on Wikipedia, listing on IMDB, as well as a list provided by the British Film Institute. I have not seen many of these films myself, but the following data analysis will give us a better overview of the war in film representations.
1. By country of film production:
The majority of the films (feature and documentary films) are produced in the USA (97 films) , with The Republic of Vietnam (7 films), South Vietnam (2 films), Canada (5 films), the UK (5 films) and Hong Kong (4 films), and South Korea (3 films).
Please let us be aware that countries have film industry of different scales (both production and consumption), the statistics do not include smaller scale productions (short films and videos). For example, 7 feature film productions may constitute a major part of film production of Vietnamese film industry, whereas 97 feature films in the US film industry is still a very small percentage (therefore it may not be fair to say, for example, the film representation of the war is US-centric). Further, the resources I have gathered are generally in the English language (Resources such as wikipedia is arguably more frequently used by English language speakers, with less attention given to perspectives of non-English material). So my analysis is just a very rough calculation, so to speak.
2. By year of film production:
It may be particularly helpful to look at the years in which a large amount of Vietnam War films were produced. This may be a result that the filmmakers/film studios/government want to reflect on other issues, such as expressing anti-war message, advocating nationalism, or to comment on other warfare that the country was facing. There may be a delay in film representation, as it takes time from getting a film production to film exhibition. There are a lot of films produced in the year 1990 – could it be something happened in the late 80s that triggered this ‘wave’ of films?
3. By theme of film production
From a quick analysis on the keywords in the synopsis, war veterans are the most often filmed subject. In the 126 films in my analysis, there are 19 films’ leading characters are war veterans, with a few films covers recruitment, foreign soldiers in the war, refugees as the following most popular themes. Some films also represent the war through stories of military doctors and nurses. It would be also very interesting, if we look at how the themes have changed from before the war, during the war, to after the war.
Having looked at the above information, I find it would be very interesting to discuss the film representation in genre studies – War film as a genre (the Vietnam War films as a sub-genre). Although there is no strict definition of film genre, genre is sort of an ‘agreement’ between the filmmaker and the audience. For example, there is a consensus on what an action film should include and the style (fast-paced editing, music, fight choreography etc).
Regardless if the filmmakers had coded the messages in their films, the genre films often reflect social attitudes and values of the society. There are some scholars compare genre films to ‘ritualized drama’ – they reaffirm values in a predictable way (Bordwell, 2013:336). Such ‘ritualised drama’ may also help us to shift our attention from the ‘more disturbing aspects of the world’, to ‘the familiar characters and plots of genres way also serve to distract the audience from reality social problems. (ibid)’. I’m aware that it is oversimplified here a little, but it may be helpful to look at the film in relation to such a collective ‘vision’.
In our discussion this afternoon (Penny, Li and me), we thought it may be a good way to narrow down our discussion to one or two films. Then discussion issues raised through the films. For example, The Cultural Representation Of The Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now. Then to perform an interdisciplinary studies on this film. It would be much more focused topic for our 20 minutes presentation. Let me know what you think.
For me, I can always talk about the film: in relation to other Vietnam War films, how the ‘vision’ set up for us as an audience – what we see (lighting, colour, composition) in relation to the context of production and distribution.
We perhaps should look at other films to find some films particularly suitable for our discussion.
Link to the 126 films I included in my data analysis: click here
(underlined parts are those we expressed an particular interest in previous discussion)
Auster, Albert, and Leonard Quart. How the war was remembered: Hollywood & Vietnam. Praeger Publishers, 1988.
Rasmussen, Karen, and Sharon D. Downey. “Dialectical disorientation in Vietnam War films: Subversion of the mythology of war.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 77, no. 2 (1991): 176-195.
Sturken, Marita. Tangled memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS epidemic, and the politics of remembering. Univ of California Press, 1997.
Jeffords, Susan. The remasculinization of America: Gender and the Vietnam war. Vol. 10. Indiana University Press, 1989.
Rowe, John Carlos, and Rick Berg, eds. The Vietnam War and American Culture. Columbia University Press, 1991.
Devine, Jeremy M. Vietnam at 24 frames a second: A critical and thematic analysis of over 400 films about the Vietnam War. University of Texas Press, 1999.
Lanning, Michael Lee. Vietnam at the Movies. Fawcett Books, 1994.
Malo, Jean-Jacques, and Tony Williams. “Vietnam war films.” Jefferson: McFarland & Company (1994).
Dittmar, Linda, and Gene Michaud. From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War in American Film. Rutgers University Press, 1990.
Adair, Gilbert. Hollywood’s Vietnam. William Heinemann, 1989.
Wetta, Frank Joseph, and Martin A. Novelli. “” Now a major motion picture”: War films and Hollywood’s new patriotism.” The Journal of Military History 67, no. 3 (2003): 861-882.
Wikipedia’s list of Vietnam War films: click here
IMDB Top 30 Realistic Vietnam War Movies: click here
British Film Institute’s 10 Great Vietnam War Films: click here