The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2003
ARTS OF WAR
   
 

Movin' Out:
Broadway Rocks To Billy Joel's Vietnam War Era Tunes

BY MARC LEEPSON


One of the top hits on Broadway today is a ballet set to popular music that contains an in-country Vietnam War scene and deals, in part, with the readjustment problems of two Vietnam veterans. That may sound hard to believe, but it's true. What's more, the show in question - Movin' Out - is exhilarating, moving, and vastly entertaining. Movin' Out is the work of the renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp, who conceived, choreographed, and directed the production, which is based on the music of Billy Joel.  

Movin' Out contains two acts of 24 scenes, each of which is built around a Billy Joel tune, beginning with "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," and ending with a reprise of "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." In between are spirited renditions of 25 other Billy Joel songs, including "Uptown Girl," "This Night," "We Didn't Start the Fire," "Big Shot," "Innocent Man," and - of course - "Goodnight Saigon."  

The "Goodnight Saigon" scene, which takes place near the middle of Act II, is the most moving number in the performance. It's a dream/nightmare sequence that conveys the emotional torment faced by two of the three Long Island middle-class boys who join the Marines and undergo a brutal tour of duty in the Vietnam War. The war scene itself, to the tune of  "We Didn't Start the Fire," also is effectively and creatively done. Everything from the dance moves - a mixture of ballet and modern - to the minimal yet effective scenery works nearly to perfection.

With the sole exception of a few lines barked by a Marine D.I., the show has no dialogue. But Tharp tells her story well. It follows six friends, including the three guys who fight in Vietnam, from the mid-sixties to the mid-eighties. It's a story of optimism, innocence lost, and redemption, and it works on every level. 

A sensational ten-piece rock band is on a riser on stage during the entire performance. Michael Cavanaugh does an amazing job of leading the spirited group, singing and playing piano like a young Billy Joel at the top of his game. The entire troupe of dancers does splendid work, especially the energetic John Selya (Eddie) of the American Ballet Theatre; the raven-haired Elizabeth Parkinson (Brenda), a Joffrey Ballet principal dancer; and Keith Roberts (Tony), another ABT standout.  

It all adds up to a satisfying night of singing and dancing, even if you're not a big Billy Joel fan. If you are, Movin' Out just could be your favorite Broadway experience of all time. 

NOYCE IN GREENE-LAND 

In 1958, in the midst of the Cold War, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, one of Hollywood's brightest lights, co-wrote, produced, and directed The Quiet American, based on Graham Greene's seminal novel. Mankiewicz was a multiple Oscar winner whose body of work included two of the most thoughtful and honored films of all time,The Philadelphia Story (1940), which he produced, and All About Eve (1950), which he wrote and directed. 

Mankiewicz's Quiet American, though, did not come close to his best work. One reason was that he took significant liberties with Greene's plot, turning its main message around nearly 180 degrees. Greene's 1954 book brings a well-intentioned, if na‹ve and arrogant, American, Alden Pyle of the CIA, into conflict with a hard-bitten, cynical British newspaper reporter, Fowler, in Saigon in 1952. They come into conflict over the future of Vietnam and the attention of the married Fowler's mistress, Phuong. Pyle pays with his life. 

In Mankiewicz's version, Pyle (played by WWII hero Audie Murphy) is an innocent victim of communist treachery, abetted by the jealous Fowler (Michael Redgrave). In Greene's novel, Pyle brings on his own demise through his clumsy, ignorant meddling into Vietnamese national politics, and Fowler is only one player - albeit an important one - in Pyle's demise.  

The novel's message comes through loud and clear in Australian director Phillip (Clear and Present Danger) Noyce's new Quiet American. This riveting film hews closer to Greene's plot, with a few exceptions.  

Noyce's movie is an absorbing, if sometimes dark and slow, effort. It's clear that he set out to show the factors that led to the subsequent American war in Vietnam. And it's also clear that he, like Greene, zeroes in on the meddling Pyle as the embodiment of the arrogant American policy-makers who thought they had the answers to save Vietnam from Vietnamese communism.  

Noyce's message is less than subtle. There are three American characters in the film; all are portrayed negatively. The CIA Saigon station chief is a sinister lurker; the Army adviser is a boorish drunk; Pyle thinks he knows all the answers but doesn't have a clue about what's going on. 

Brendan Fraser, the man of many faces, is an excellent Alden Pyle. He's especially good at conveying Pyle's political naivet‚. The acclaimed Michael Caine gives a very nuanced performance as the conflicted, addicted (to opium) Fowler. Do Hai Yen, the Vietnamese actress who plays Phoung, is spectacular in every aspect, including the way she looks in an ao dai. 

The new Quiet American, an Australian-American co-production, was the first foreign movie shot in Vietnam since 1975 - and probably since 1958 when Mankiewicz took advantage of the lull between the end of the French War and the beginning of the American War and filmed his opus on location in and around Saigon. The new film also is being mentioned as Oscar fodder; at the very least Michael Caine should get a nomination for Best Actor. 

ARTS IN BRIEF 

Daughter From Danang, which was a Grand Prize winner in Documentary at last year's Sundance Film Festival, has been shown in several movie theaters around the country in recent months. That includes engagements in November and December in the San Francisco area. The film, directed by Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco, tells the dramatic story of Heidi Bub, who was born to a Vietnamese mother and American GI father in Vietnam in 1968, but raised in Tennessee after escaping her homeland in Operation Babylift. 

The filmmakers followed Heidi Bub back to Vietnam in 2000, her first trip to her homeland since she escaped. The film "is beautifully directed and edited," said the San Francisco Chronicle's Edward Guthmann. It is "that rare documentary that incorporates so much of human experience - drama, conflict, tears, and surprise  -that it transcends the normal divisions between fiction and nonfiction film. It's absorbing and it's complex." 

Sarah McClendon, the pioneering White House reporter who died at age 92 on January 8, was known for her tough questioning at press conferences of every U.S. president beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. She also gained a reputation for standing up for veterans' rights, stemming from her service as a WAC in WWII. 

In 1974, for example, McClendon had a nationally televised confrontation with President Nixon. She accused his administration of delaying GI Bill checks for Vietnam veterans. Nixon said he thought the checks were going out on time. "No, you're just misinformed," McClendon shot back. Soon after, Nixon checked into the problem, and the GI Bill checks went out on time. In honor of her work on behalf of veterans, the VA in 1997 named its transitional housing and assistance facility for homeless veterans in Washington, D.C., the Sarah McClendon House. 

"Through a Soldier's Eyes," a collection of photos taken by soldiers during the Vietnam War, was displayed at Grays Armory in Cleveland November 13 through December 1. The nearly one hundred photographs in the exhibit were lent by the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago.  

The new electronic periodical,Combat: The Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones, made its debut in January. Combat will be published quarterly and will be published on line at www.combatmagazine.ws The e-mag's mission, its editors say, "is to impart the historical reality and to disclose the psychosocial effects of warfare to the general reader." Combat will contain essays, stories, and poetry. Authors and artists are invited to submit work by e-mail. The address is majordomo@combatmagazine.ws

In November, The Providence College Department of Art and Art History in Rhode Island displayed a group of paintings and photographs by Cambodian artists, several of which dealt with the post-Vietnam War Killing Fields. You can learn more about the exhibit, about Cambodian contemporary arts, and view the show's images at the website: www.providence.edu/art/cambodian

The Hemphill Fine Arts Gallery in Washington, D.C., presented "Vietnam Now and Then," a photographic exhibit, in December. The exhibit combined Vietnam War photojournalism with images of Vietnam today. The photos included works by Larry Burrows, Vo Nah Khanh, Kyoichi Sawada, Peter Steinhauer, and Mitch Epstein. 

QUERY 

VVA Chapter 725 in Gonzeles, Louisiana, is compiling a book of poetry by Vietnam veterans. If you'd like to contribute or would like more information about the project, contact Chapter VP Paul Horner by phone at 225-622-6614 (home) or 225-253-7142 (cell). Tell him you read about it in The VVA Veteran.

   

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