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

May/June 2003
ARTS OF WAR
 
 

FX TV's Version of Daniel Ellsberg's
Life and Pentagon Papers Times

BY MARC LEEPSON

There is a lot to admire about Director Rod Holcolm's The Pentagon Papers, the made-for-FX TV movie that had its cable debut March 8. The script, by Jason Horwitch, was in the main intelligent and cogent. The acting was nearly uniformly on the mark, especially by sleepy-lidded leading man James Spader as Daniel Ellsberg and jolly Paul Giamatti as his co-conspirator Tony Russo.

And what a story it is. In just under two hours, the film covers Ellsberg's 1960s mercurial career after he left the Marine Corps and went to work at the RAND Corporation and then the Pentagon. It shows Ellsberg as a gung-ho military theorist and planner, which lasted through his civilian tour of duty in Vietnam at the height of the war. That included his role as one of the authors of DoD's secret history of the war. The film also shows quite well how Ellsberg--a man of extremes--became extremely disillusioned with the war, which led to his decision to leak what
became known as The Pentagon Papers to Neil Sheehan of The New York Times.

That leak set in motion a series of events that made American judicial, constitutional, and presidential history. The Nixon administration took the unprecedented and drastic step of trying to stop the presses of The New York Times and The Washington Post, only to be overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Nixon White House set up the illegal ``plumbers'' operation to stem the leaks. The plumbers broke into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and then into the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, which led to the Watergate scandal and to Nixon's resignation.

Holcolm and Horwitch do a commendable job telescoping these and other events into a sometimes smoothly told story that gets nearly all of the important facts straight and puts them in context. That includes the in-country Vietnam War scenes, which are meant to convey the war at its bloody worst. The telling of Ellsberg's often chaotic personal life, however, leaves a lot to be desired. In short, there's too much smooching in the film between Spader and the ravishing Clair Forlani, who plays Ellsberg's second wife, Patricia Marks. At times the movie is a combination of a gripping historical drama and a maudlin soap opera.

The touchy-feely love story aspect of the film, fortunately, does not ruin it. But it does detract from an entertaining and informing look at one of important legacies of the Vietnam War.

ARTS IN BRIEF

The 2003 National Memorial Day Concert, which was broadcast from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol May 25 on PBS, honored the victims and survivors of the September 11, 2001, attacks as well as veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The actor and WWII veteran Ossie Davis hosted the event, which featured the music of the National Symphony Orchestra. ``I hope that on Memorial Day,'' Davis said beforehand, ``with the broadcast of the concert, we will help the country set aside its preoccupation with commercial activities and reflect for a moment on what the country is.''

Hollywood actor and military technical adviser Dale Dye had a new radio gig on KFI-AM, a talk radio station in L.A., during the war in Iraq. He provided military expertise for a regular talk show host from 8:00-9:00 a.m. weekdays, then came back from noon to 1:00 p.m. on a news show focusing on the war. Dye spoke mostly about tactics and weapons and answered listener's calls. The guest shots are continuing. For more, go to www.kfi640.com

Wayne Hansen, who served as a combat engineer with the 1st Marine Division's 9th Engineer Battalion in Vietnam in 1968-69, has been playing the guitar since he was in 7th grade. He has recorded a CD, An Acoustic Expression, containing a dozen well-rendered patriotic songs. For more info, go to www.cdbaby.com/cd/whansen

The Veterans History Project Program at the Library of Congress held a ``Salute to Women'' on the occasion of Women's History Month on March 24. The salute included a display of materials submitted by and on behalf of women who served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars and of women who served in support of the war effort. It also included audio and video clips from the collection.

The project, run by the LOC's American Folklife Center, collects and preserves audio- and video-tape oral histories, along with documentary materials such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, and home movies, of America's war veterans and those who served in support of them. For more info, go to www.loc.gov/folklife/vets

In late March, Rep. Richard Pombo (D-Calif.) re-introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives providing for construction of a visitor center at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The proposed bill is co-sponsored by several Vietnam veterans, including Reps. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) and John Murtha (D-Pa.). The sponsors in the Senate include Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.). The proposed visitor center would include interactive displays featuring photographs of those whose names are on The Wall, along with some of the more than 60,000 items that have been left at the
memorial.

The series of prints currently on view outside the cafeteria at the San Francisco VA Medical Center contain several Vietnam War images, including a small monochrome print of a solitary soldier with an M-16, seen through thick jungle foliage. The prints are the work of Chris Hamann, 27, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division before leaving the service because of a back injury.

The new nonprofit San Francisco Exposure Gallery's first show is Vietnam Inc., a photography exhibit by Philip Jones Griffiths, who covered the Vietnam War for Life magazine and the Magnum photo agency. Many of Griffiths' evocative black and white photos appeared in his book of the same name, which was published in 1971. ``I want to grab people emotionally. That's what I always set out to do,'' said Griffiths, who wrote his own detailed captions for the photos on exhibit. The show opened April 20 and runs through June 14.

Leslie Townes Hope--known to the world as Bob Hope--celebrated his 100th birthday May 29. That milestone has been commemorated with a series of events throughout Hope's centennial year. That included a two-hour TV special in April and the dedication of the expanded Bob Hope Hollywood USO at the Los Angeles Airport. VVA honored Hope for his work entertaining the troops in Vietnam at the 2001 National Convention.

The Museum of Television and Radio in New York City--in which visitors may watch or listen to thousands of old broadcast offerings--had a special showing of six documentaries from the Vietnam War era from April 24-May 4. They were: The World of Charlie Company (CBS, 1970), The Anderson Platoon (CBS, 1967), I Am A Soldier (ABC, 1966), The Mills of the Gods (CBS, 1965), Basic Training (PBS, 1971), and Vietnam: It's A Mad War (NBC, 1964).

Don Duong, the 46-year-old Vietnamese actor who appeared in last year's We Were Soldiers, has gone into exile in the United States. One of his nation's most successful and honored actors, Don Duong arrived in California with his family in April, after he was denounced by the Vietnamese government as ``a human puppet'' who had ``lost his honor'' performing in Soldiers. A letter-writing campaign from the Hollywood community, led by Joe Galloway, along with pressure from the U.S. State Department, convinced the Vietnamese government to allow Don Duong and his family to leave the country. They are living with his sister in San Jose.

QUERIES

The London documentary film company ITN is researching a film on R&R experiences during the Vietnam War. If you would like to share your R&R stories--where you went, who you met, what you did--they would like to hear from you. You have your choice of going on or off the record with your R&R tales. Contact Richard Yee by e-mail at richard.yee@itn.co.uk, phone, 00 44 207 430 4645, or snail mail, Richard Yee, ITN Factual, 16 Mortimer Street, London, England W1N 7RD.

VVA Chapter 725 in Gonzales, Louisiana, is compiling a book of poetry by Vietnam veterans. If you'd like to contribute or would like more information, contact Chapter vice president Paul Horner at 42104 Norwood Rd., Gonzales, LA 70737 or by phone at 225-253-6414 (cell) or e-mail tedebearhd@aol.com

   

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