Vietnam Kids in Hell & the Darker Side of their Parents
TUCO H. | Los Angeles, CA | 07/16/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Here are two documentaries that are more strongly related than might initially appear, especially with regards to the ever-elusive field of 'official' and 'actual' American History. The truly depressing spectacle of 1950s neurotic overload, and the horrifying psychotic nightmare of Vietnam, back to back! One indirectly resulted in the other ten years later! The soldiers in the second film are part and parcel of what goes on in the first film, they grew up in it. Similar, from the same place, and yet how utterly different these My Lai veterans are than some of the totally bizarre square people you see in the 1950s film (and I'm not just talking about the hair-lengths and side-burns). From someplace deep inside, they seem to be from different planets, while only 8 years separates them. Their experience of warring the war-war-war-warackazoo has dropped them at the forefront of cultural changes while they may have been at the back end when they went in.
The award-winning My Lai massacre interview film directed by Joseph Strick needs no introduction. It's simple and captures what needs to be captured from soldiers determined to reveal, for once, at least part of the truth, either to clear their consciences or satisfy an investigation. One of the guys even admits that since the orders came from above & he had no choice, he saw it as an opportunity for target practice. It achieves more genuine outrage and absurdist despair in 22 minutes than all 3 of Oliver Stone's supposed 'insider-expose' films about that war combined.
The longer film, "Savage Eye," (62 minutes)is the real pre-cursor of "Medium Cool," Haskell Wexler's classic 1969 semi-doc which put Robert Forster at the '68 Chicago Democratic National convention, capturing the riots that happened as a natural part of the background of the fictional film (Wexler is one of the 3 cinematographers credited on "Savage Eye" who worked under the directorial team of Maddow, Meyers, and Strick). "Savage Eye" is semi-narrated by the main character, a young depressed divorcee, in conversations she has inside her head with her 'guardian angel' who dourly and facetiously comments on her thoughts and attitudes in deeply 'existentialist' tones (very fashionable at the time among intellectuals). The voice of the guardian angel isn't credited to anyone (or is it Gary Merril, I'm not sure?) but it sounds exactly like William Holden's "Sunset Boulevard" voice (he even seems to appear, or if it's not him then some dead-ringer lookalike, in part, very quickly in one street shot, cigarette dangling from his mouth). The whole 'conversation in the head' approach is a bold narrative method with a myriad of possibilities that isn't duplicated enough by all the imitators of recent years who've certainly had no scruples exhausting almost everything else used by innovators of the past. So, in addition to this interesting double-perspective narration, you follow the disillusioned divorced woman in the pre-feminist era, as she goes around trying to pick up the pieces of her life: that's the fictional drama played out entirely 'on location,' to a background of documentary footage that doesn't include riots like "Medium Cool," but is similarly oblivious to the fictional film being shot around it.
Unfortunately the music almost ruins the film. I hated the music on Savage Eye! It was groovy for about 2 minutes at the beginning and went downhill from there: very little variation, just more of the same pretentious Faux-Prokofiev-meets-Faux-Varese dreck over and over again (truly the worst pseudo-modernist, noisy yet utterly sentimental stuff I've ever had my ears tortured by, and I'm a guy who loves REAL modern music by Stravinsky, Boulez, Henze, Varese etc.). When will DVDs offer an option of turning off the music while keeping the dialogue and narration going? That way we can provide our own music to otherwise fine films or have none. In spite of this atrocious music by Leonard Rosenman, made even more annoying by the heavy-handedly manipulative way the directors use it to cue cheap emotions through conditioned reflex (seemingly intent on draining any ambiguity from the quite fascinating situations shown), thereby totally crippling the film's potential to succeed on the high artistic level it may have been capable of, "Savage Eye" is still too fascinating & original to ignore.
What's all this documentary footage? A lot of frightening & darkly-poetic real folks, the kind Bukowski specialized in talking about. Plain looking women surrounding our relatively cute divorcee at the hair-dresser. Real bars with real people in them (the kind you might see in a good film-noir like Siodmak's "Criss-Cross"). Little old ladies and fat old ladies at wrestling matches between crew-cutted versions of today's greasy long-haired buffoons; Little old ladies and fat old ladies at Roller-Derbies (they had these back then?!); religious faith-healers; flat-out crazy old people; poor people you'll never see in any hollywood film; drunk people lying on the streets; a transvestite gathering; strippers never shown in any Hollywood film of the period wearing nothing but a bikini bottom and tinsel, etc. Inner City Blacks rarely shown in any film of the period, etc. All this, and a charmingly sympathetic main character manage to transcend some of the weaker elements I talked about. The DVD transfer is sub-mediocre at best, but at least IMAGE is even bothering to release this previously unavailable curiosities & rarities. Rent it on DVD. Force your local rental store to carry it or take your business elsewhere. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED"