February 2002/March 2002
ARTS OF WAR
By Marc Leepson
"IT WILL BRING TEARS
TO YOUR EYES":
AN INSIDE LOOK AT WE WERE SOLDIERS
We Were Soldiers, the
outstanding new film based on Gen. Hal Moore and
Joe Galloway's amazing book about the 1965 Battle of the Ia
Drang Valley, opened to rave reviews the first week of March.
We'll save our review for next issue. Meanwhile, here are some
inside-baseball facts about the film that Joe Galloway passed on
to us during a recent interview with the veteran journalist and
former Vietnam War correspondent.
The filming, Galloway
said, took place mainly on locations at Fort Benning in Georgia
and at Fort Hunter-Liggitt near Big Sur in northern California,
and ended last July. The movie was set to be released over the
Memorial Day 2002 weekend. Paramount decided to fast-forward
the release date because of the increased interest in American
military exploits following the September 11th events.
The film, written and
directed by Randall Wallace, is extremely faithful to Gen. Moore
and Galloway's landmark book, We Were Soldiers Once and
Young (1992), which many regard as one of the best nonfiction
American war narratives. What=s
more, Moore and Galloway provided input throughout the
filmmaking process and have endorsed the final product
"Hal Moore and I
worked with Randall Wallace for eight years on this project,"
Galloway said. "We worked with him for four years on the
screenplay alone. And we took turns being on location during the
filming at Benning and Hunter-Liggitt."
During the process,
Galloway said, "we were treated very unlike what you hear
happens to writers whose books become movies. Mr. Wallace loved
the story, wanted to tell that story, and he was as passionate
about the story as we have been for the last--oh--36 years or
Wallace, Galloway, said, "is also a writer, and a damned good
one, and I guess he just decided to be good to us."
Galloway said that
the cast, beginning with superstar Mel Gibson (who plays Hal
Moore), also "were passionate about the story and wanted to get
Actors, he said, "don't often get the chance to talk to the
people they are playing, or talk to people who knew that guy. We
answered a thousand questions."
collaborated with director-screenwriter Wallace on the bloody,
big-budget historical drama, Braveheart. Gibson directed
and starred in that Wallace-written film, which won five Academy
Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Barry Pepper, the
actor who played Roger Maris in the excellent HBO film 61,
and who played the left-handed sniper in Saving Private
Ryan, portrays the young Joe Galloway, a UPI Vietnam War
correspondent who found himself on the ground during the Battle
of LZ X-Ray. "At one point during filming of the battlefield
sequences I got down in the red dirt beside him and showed him
how you change the film in an old Nikon F when you are laying
flat under fire."
Galloway told us. "You=ve
got to do that without sticking up your elbows. I know a TV guy
who got shot in the elbow in Nam. His arm still doesn't work
said, "delivers the finest performance in the whole movie--and
not because he plays Joe Galloway. He also does the voice-over
narration, and it will bring tears to your eyes."
Galloway said his
favorite actor in the film-- "and the absolute best casting in
the appealingly craggy, gravel-voiced Sam Elliott who plays SMAJ
Basil Plumley, Moore's second in command. "Sam is the absolute
essence of the Old Army sergeant major,"
Galloway said, "and is totally believable in his role."
Avon will produce a
mass-market paperback version of the book, featuring Mel Gibson
on the cover, Galloway said. The initial print run is 500,000
Many movie critics
seemed to go out of their way to find fault with Ali, starring Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, which
opened in December. They seemed only begrudgingly to point out
the movie's many strong points--especially Smith's
perfect performance as Ali--and whined about the lack of
character development and about important facts that were left
out or given short shrift.
Forget the naysaying.
Ali is one terrific movie. Director Michael Mann (Miami
Vice, The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider) Mann
knows how to tell a story and does so brilliantly in Ali.
He jump-starts things with a riveting ten-minute opening scene.
It features a Sam Cooke look- and sound-alike singing a soulful
version of "Bring It on Home to Me"
as Mann sets the scene (without dialogue) for the first Clay-Liston
fight. Mann then goes on to tell Ali's story from 1964-74, which
(not coincidentally) encompasses nearly the entire Vietnam
Ali's decision in
1966 to claim conscientious-objector status and refuse induction
into the Army after he was drafted is a large part of the story,
and one that Mann faces head on. He portrays Ali's decision as a
courageous one because it nearly ruined his professional career
when his boxing license was revoked after his indictment and Ali
was unable to defend his heavyweight title at the height of his
Mann's depiction of
Ali's actual refusal to step forward is overly dramatized and
the few military men in the film are portrayed stereotypically.
However, Mann--and screenwriters Stephen J. Rivele and
Christopher Wilkinson (who also wrote Oliver Stone's
Nixon)--do a great job of showing why Ali chose to
become the nation's most celebrated draft resister of the
Vietnam War. And they illuminate the emotional and financial
toll Ali's decision took.
Those of us who came
of age during the Vietnam War remember many of the events
depicted in the movie--at least as they were presented to us by
the mass media. That includes the first and second Clay-Liston
fights, the first Ali-Frazier fight, Ali's draft resistance, the
Supreme Court's 1967 reversal of his conviction, Ali's TV
jousting with Howard Cosell, and the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the
movie, allows us to get an up-close-and-personal look at these
events. If nothing else, it gives us a fresh look at Muhammad
Ali himself and a chance to marvel at Smith's acting ability and
Mann's movie-making creativity.
ARTS IN BRIEF
Daughter From Danang, a film that looks at the reunion of a young Amerasian
woman and her Vietnamese mother, won the Grand Jury Prize for
documentaries at this year's prestigious Sundance Film Festival
in January. Directed by Gail Dolgin and Vincente Franco,
Daughter tells the story of Heidi Bub, who, in 1975 at age
7, was flown out of Vietnam and raised in Tennessee.
The film follows the
"101 percent Americanized"
Heidi on her 1999 trip to Vietnam to see her birth mother--an
emotionally complex reunion filled with unexpected cultural
clashes. The movie, Dolgin said, is "a story about war in the
past and peace in the present, and about reminding us that
wounds of war don't heal over immediately after peace treaties
feature film The Independent tells the story of one Morty
Fineman, a 60-something movie director of such epics as
Brother Divided, the story of Siamese twins who literally
represent the cultural divide of the sixties. One=s
a Vietnam War hawk; the other a dove. They wind up fighting in
the war. There are "scenes"
from that and other Fineman movies in The Independent,
which stars Jerry Stiller (Frank Costanza from Seinfeld)
and the always-hilarious Janeane Garofalo. Stephen Kessler
directed this bit of nonsense which had a limited theatrical run
late last year. Look for it soon on cable and in the video
The latest issue of
the Viet Nam War Generation Journal (Vol. 1, No. 3,
December 2001) does not disappoint. This edition of the
resurrected quarterly journal of Vietnam War fiction, literary
nonfiction, poetry, and reviews is filled with insightful,
creative work from a sterling group of mostly Vietnam veteran
writers. That includes co-editor David Willson, the novelists
D.S. Lliteras and Paul Clayton, poet Marc Levy, and short story
writers Susan O'Neill and Walter Jones. For subscription info,
write: Business/Editorial Office, 23630 201st Ave. SE, Maple
Valley, WA 98308, or visit
The actor Dennis
Franz, who received a VVA arts award at the 1997 National
Convention, was honored as "Veteran of the Year"
at the American Veteran Awards in February. Other notables who
received recognition at the awards ceremonies, which were
broadcast on The History Channel, were Army veterans Sam
Donaldson of ABC News and the actor Hal ("Barney Miller@)
Linden. Navy veteran Montel Williams emceed the event. Robert De
played more than a few on-screen soldiers and veterans (think:
The Deer Hunter and Jackknife) received the Audie
Murphy Theatrical Award.
Texas Tech University=s
renowned Vietnam Archive is compiling oral histories of Vietnam
veterans. If you=re
interested in participating, contact the Archive=s
Oral Historian, Steve Maxner, The Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech
University, Special Collections Library, Room 108, Lubbock, TX
Larry Edmonds, a U.S.
Navy Vietnam-era veteran, is a researcher at Arizona State
University specializing in personal narratives of veterans of
the Vietnam War. "I am convinced that the personal narratives
and stories of the experiences of individuals and small groups
of individuals make for a grand educational experience about
what occurred during the U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia,"
Edmonds told us. "I am also convinced that these narratives
must be collected now in a timely fashion."
If you'd like to share
your Vietnam War story in this educational effort, contact Edmonds
at Stauffer Hall 349, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication,
College of Public Programs, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
85287-1205 or e-mail Larry.Edmonds@asu.edu
The people putting
together the 20th Century Veterans Memorial in North
Platte, Nebraska, are publishing an anthology of short stories
honoring veterans to raise money for the cause. If you=d
like to contribute, or for more information, contact Vurlee A.
Toomey at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to