A courageous and startling film, Peter Davis' landmark documentary Hearts and Minds unflinchingly confronts the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Using a wealth of sources-from interviews to newsreels to documentary f... more »ootage of the conflict at home and abroad-Davis constructs a powerfully affecting portrait of the disastrous effects of war. Explosive, persuasive, and shocking, Hearts and Minds is an overwhelming emotional experience and the controversial winner of the 1974 Academy AwardŽ for Best Documentary.« less
"It's interesting that so many of those who have reviewed this film have included information about when and where they first saw it. But I understand. In 1974 we had cowardly withdrawn our promised assistance to our Vietnamese "friends." The riots had stopped. We stopped caring about a war that continued unabated; the evening news no longer led with stories of American vs. "bad guy" bodycounts. I saw the film in a theater located on one of the very streets where the most bottles had been thrown by students and other youth, and where the most heads had been bashed by Seattle's finest (gee, some things never change!) When the film ended there was absolute silence: no one spoke; no one moved from their seat; it seemed no one even breathed. After almost a minute you could finally hear some muffled sobs only. There were, and are, no words to express the darkness of men's souls; there is only art. And, besides being a good documentary on the Vietnam war,
(by "good" I mean it will anger both sides, and provoke much conversation and debate,) this film is art, of the most important kind.
A late-blooming "child of the 60's" I am oft-dismayed that more recent generations neither know nor value the cultural icons of our youth, many of which I still hold dear. But the single most true thing about our generation was growing up in the shadow of a news machine that fed us war and hate on a daily basis. A shadow that was sometimes our own hatred, and sometimes our fear of oncoming nuclear missles (which fortunately never came,) or the fear of a loved one in a body bag.Please watch this film. You'll gain a better understanding, not just of part of the war, but of a part of the soul of America . . .my part."
The Truth is Disturbingly Heartbreaking and Grotesque...
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 12/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The images from Hearts and Minds are disturbingly heartbreaking and grotesque. For example, a naked little girl is shown running down a road with skin pealing off her body as napalm continues to eat into her flesh. American soldiers watch the girl running by them, until it seems as if the camera that is capturing the moment urges the soldiers to help the girl. A Viet Cong suspect is shot point blank in the head on the street and his body falls to the ground with blood pulsating out of his temple. A child cries in agony by the grave of someone close to him while the grave diggers take a break with a cool Coca Cola. These unsettling scenes slowly descend into some unused space of the brain as they will return to consciousness in order to haunt the viewer of the horrors of the Vietnam War at a later time.
Peter Davis had accumulated over 200 hours of footage before beginning the long process of editing down the film into a feasible 112 minutes. During these 112 minutes the audience gets to follow how the American mindset which is created from young age, and how it influenced the decisions of the war. Davis brings the audience to a high school football game where young minds are formed into believing that what they do is right and that they have to win at all costs. Similar mentality saturates the thinking behind the American decision makers as President Lyndon B. Johnson increased the American participation in the war, to which he stated, "The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there." The President's statement also became the title for the film.
The Vietnamese people, whose living standards were and are much different from the typical American lifestyle, fought for independence and freedom while the United States fought against the fear of Communism. This political and fundamental difference in perceiving the war was monumental as Communism, in essence, become the liberator for the Vietnamese people, and the Americans were perceived as the evil invaders. Most Vietnamese were opposed to the American's, as most people in Vietnam are poor, and those who promoted the so-called Americanism of Vietnam were war profiteers and people in high positions. The war continued into a dirty slaughter of civilians and children through dropping millions of bombs, spraying the herbicide Agent Orange, burning villages to the ground, and killing suspect Viet Cong as the American soldiers were in constant fear of being shot in the back.
Interesting comments were made by several characters such as General Westmoreland who said that "the Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does the Westerner." This followed by a shot of a child weeping in misery by a grave, which brings across the message of the ignorance that some of the leading military staff possessed. However, General Westmoreland continued to make derogatory comments about the Vietnamese people and continued to come across as a bigot and a racist.
Hearts and Minds was initially delayed in the United States for a year as a result of the distributors, Columbia, being afraid of legal repercussions. However, the film went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1975, and the Oscar's positive appraisal of Hearts and Minds led to a massive controversy. Nonetheless, Hearts and Minds message was out as it was the biggest documentary of the time with a million dollar budget.
Ultimately, the audience will have traveled a rough cinematic journey, which could be summed up by Daniel Ellsworth's quote "We weren't on the wrong side -- we were the wrong side." This notion is offered through several perspectives while viewing the horrors of war, as families were destroyed, children burnt to unidentifiable lumps of meat, and men wished they were home with their loved ones. Hearts and Minds provides the audience several interesting notions to ponder, but the most vivid idea would be that war should be avoided at all costs as people are mutilated and die on all sides. "
A movie of modern history that made modern history
"This is, without doubt, one of the best, most memorable movies I have ever seen. It has stuck with me since I first saw it as part of a high school film-making course in in Ottawa, Canada in 1975. It was the first, last and only time I ever saw it and I remember it all vividly 25 years later. At the time it exposed me to the absolute evils and sickening realities of a modern war for really the first time. It's lack of narrative adds a peculiar realism that I have never seen repeated in a documentary or fiction work. So controversial was the picture that at the 1974 Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences convinced the late Frank Sinatra to go on stage after it won best documentary to tell the audience the movie's award victory did not mean the Academy supported the movie's avowed anti-Vietnam War tone and tenor. The move by the Academy was unprecedented -- and has never been repeated. This movie must be re-issued. It is an outstanding testiment to the power of film."
Wonderful documentary about America's longest war
audrey | white mtns | 08/01/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Davis's 1974 documentary about the causes and effects of America's Vietnam War has been digitized and reissued after 25 years, and it is an invaluable touchstone for each of us. Using war footage, newsreels, clips from Hollywood films, and interviews with officials, soldiers and Vietnamese, ex-CBS journalist Peter Davis and his team present a sobering view of American arrogance, misguided policy and dishonest government. (Sound like anything you've heard lately?)Some of the most memorable scenes for me are: General Westmoreland's comment that the "Orientals" don't value life the same way we do, right after we see a Vietnamese boy mourning at his father's funeral; a Vietnamese coffin maker hammering nails into a child's coffin; Daniel Ellsberg, on trial at the time for releasing the Pentagon Papers, listing the lies told to the American people by five presidents -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon; Charlie and Jerry, bored Air Force men cruising Saigon for entertainment; fitting prosthetic limbs onto veterans; Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense from 1968-69, discussing the interviews that suddenly made him realize that the war could not be won; a father talking about how his son died for a worthwhile cause as his wife looks on. Shocking, also, is the revelation that the US offered France TWO ATOMIC BOMBS to use in their war with Indochina (later Vietnam)!! This film is heartbreaking and poignant, capturing the tragedy of lives caught up in madness.Davis used interviews from people who supported or fought in the war; some later came to oppose the action while others continued to support it. A wonderful extra feature would have been to talk to those same interviewees today; instead, the only dvd extra is the director's commentary, but it is terrific. You hear what Davis's thoughts were in making the documentary and how his own perceptions changed over the years, the material he did get and the material he wasn't allowed to use, experiences he had during filming and the problems he had getting it released.If you have this film on vhs or remember seeing it, you will love this crisp new print and enjoy Davis's insightful comments. If you have never seen it, you simply must. While this documentary doesn't have the benefit of hindsight, it does have the advantage of immediacy, being shot and released while the war was still being fought. The message: no one wins a war."
One of the most powerful documentaries ever made
T. Biddle | Denver, CO USA | 08/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To start off, the "criticism" that this film is "too one-sided" or has "an agenda", demonstrates a lack of understanding of what a documentary is and does. Documentary filmmakers ALL have agendas; they have a point-of-view and must engage viewers emotionally or they fail in their task.
I saw "Hearts and Minds" in college in about 1977. The campus auditorium was packed with mostly sympathetic "liberal" college students, with the exception of about half a dozen uniformed military clearly present to ridicule the film and voice their opposition. As has been mentioned in other reviews, a stunned silence gripped the room at the end of the film, as the parade clown shouting "Come on! Smile! Get happy!" pranced into the fade-out at the end of the credits. The only sound was the audible sobbing coming from the military protesters. We as an audience stayed to talk to them and to help them deal with the emotions they were experiencing. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had at a movie. It forever burned the power of film into my mind.
Of course, the filmmakers have an anti-war agenda. Of course, the film is harshly critical of a government that, in its view, sent a generation off to an un-winnable war and basically forgot about them and the horrific experience they endured. The film is compassionate and caring about the soldiers in the Vietnam war while being unmerciful in its presentation of the politicians and upper-echelon bureaucrats who perpetuated the war. ("Are you really asking me this goddamn silly question, Mr. Davis?" asks presidential advisor Walt Rostow, almost rolling his eyes, when asked to explain the origins of the Vietnam conflict. This embarrassing, pompous moment might have been edited out of a less courageous film, but director Peter Davis is taking no prisoners.)
The portraits here of heroes, victims, villains and cads, are incisive and powerful. An earlier reviewer criticized the film for using the interviews with the parents of a deceased soldier. The parents are proud of their son, proud of President Nixon (even though an on-screen disclaimer notes that these comments were made pre-Watergate) and seemingly proud of the way he died. They have clearly chosen to be a part of the film voluntarily, so when the mother breaks down at a fond memory of her son, the audience does not feel pity, but rather great compassion for these good people who have been lied to, and whose son died for the lie.
Of course, a film could be made to show the noble intentions of our involvement in the war (or you could just rent the John Wayne movie "The Green Berets"), but it is fairly universally granted that the Vietnam War was a tragic, shameful episode in American history. This film, made and released at the moment of America's withdrawal from Vietnam at a time when support for the war was at its lowest, captures that feeling of depression and anger. It is a film of its time and should not be criticized for that.