A publication of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

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 wholeheartedly. 

"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 so." 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 it right."  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." 

Gibson last 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 well." 

Pepper, Galloway, 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 movie"---is 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 copies.


ALI 

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 War era. 

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 athletic prowess. 

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 Jungle." 

Ali, 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 are signed." 

The tongue-in-check 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 stores.

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 http://www.vwarjournal.com

 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 Niro, who=s played more than a few on-screen soldiers and veterans (think: The Deer Hunter and Jackknife) received the Audie Murphy Theatrical Award.


QUERIES 

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 79049-1041; 806-742-9010; http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu 

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 vurlee@inebrask.com or go to www.geocities.com/vurleeb/letusnotforget.htm

   


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