Re: '95 Vietnam films

Kitty Schweyer (
Sat, 27 Jan 1996 16:00:24 -0500

I'm not sure if this was 1995 or '94, but Kevin Costner played a Vietnam
vet in _The War_, a film which I heard was terrible.

In another reply to Ted Morgan's query, Randy Fertel mentions _First
Knight_ as a film reflecting persistent post-Vietnam soul-searching. I
think he's right. I was struck by the ways in which the plot paralleled
stories from the western/frontier genre -- the genre through which
Hollywood so often refracts its representations of U.S. wars, Vietnam not
least. The opening scene to me recalled not the village of Cam Ne but the
classic Indian raid on a frontier outpost -- fiery arrows, war whoops and
the whole bit. Then there's Lancelot (Richard Gere), the cowboy-type hero
who's 'handy with a sword', as the scrolling intro tells us, just as the
archetypical frontier hero is handy with a gun. Like the gunfighter, he's
at bottom an individualist, a loner, occupying a highly ambiguous
relationship to established authority, but he reluctantly allows himself to
be drawn into the fight to save the 'good people'. There's the obligatory
ambush -- savages swarm down, with reckless disregard for the own lives, on
an unsuspecting stagecoach/royal carriage and its attendant outriders --
from which hero rescues woman the first time. Then there's the obligatory
captivity scene, from which he rescues her again. The ending is classic
western, even if the roles are switched around somewhat: savages defeated
in a final battle, Lancelot joins civilisation, and Arthur's funeral pyre
floats off into the sunset.

The movie seems to be an attempt to time-warp back to the pre-Vietnam
period when narratives could be structured in this way in order to affirm
American righteousness. The setting is, after all, Camelot... Not that I
endorse the view that the Kennedy years can in any meaningful sense be
called pre-Vietnam War, but JFK's Camelot is, as we know, often recalled as
the idyllic time before Americans stopped being the good guys.

Ryan Stanley
Toronto, Ontario