peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2014 10 07 LastDaysInVietnam

Last Days in Vietnam

/noise/movies | Link

At the Music Box Theatre, 5pm session, $10, and a Revolution Brewing Octoberfest beer for $5. I rode up from work due to a power shutdown that was delayed from yesterday, via Target. It seems I can't buy Nivea deodorant in this country, and so I stupidly bought some off Amazon, forgetting that I can buy super-cheap fragrence-free stuff everywhere. Oops. I got a new poncho — the old one, from Vietnam, has shed its lining along the shoulder seams and now provides little more than symbolic rain protection. Oh well, it survived a couple of monsoons and a few Sydney showers, pushbikes, scooters and a motorcycle. The new one is essentially a $12 breathless plastic bag that tore the first time I tried to zip it up. Oops.

This one sucked me in in the obvious way: I enjoy footage of Sài Gòn in the old days, and trying to figure out what remains the same. One thing that never did were the street names, but you won't learn about that here. Nor about the baby lift, though the earlier World Airways lift from Đà Nẵng does get a passing mention. There is some excellent footage here, and some some objectively sterling behaviour. For instance, Richard Armitage was tasked with ensuring that the northerners did not gain the southern navy's boats, clapped-out as they were. With help from his high-placed connections he did this, and additionally managed to shepherd a huge number of people across the South China Sea (some call it the Pacific in this film) to the Philippines, who understandably didn't want to process or house the refugees. The story of Vietnamese Chinook pilot Ba Nguyen is awesome. We get to see Big Minh striding around in the final days of his country.

Less charitably, one can see this as a frozen-in-time piece of heart wringing by American film makers. The communists don't get a say, and we don't get any real sense of what has happened since April 30, 1975. (The re-educations camps are mentioned in endnotes.) One could also compare this chaos to the Berlin air lift, so many years before. It is fuel for the hands-tied-by-pollies version of history.

A. O. Scott found this to be even handed; I disagree. For instance, to paraquote one of the American interviewees: "[that] the North Vietnamese were terrified by Nixon..." was not really true: the northerners were clearly resigned to sacrifice and more sacrifice. I'm not sure how much stock we can put in Kissinger's take on negotations as he is getting blandly revisionist in his old age. George Packer calls him on it.

In the weeks before I watched the fair-and-balanced PBS TV series on the Vietnam War from 1983.