Sunday, January 14, 2007

Movie Review: Vietnam: A Television History 5 stars

The Vietnam War has been an albatross around the neck of the United States ever since the last helicopter left Saigon in 1975. A countless number of books and films have tried to help us understand this dark period in our country’s history, but none does it better than the extensive documentary, Vietnam: A Television History.

Thirteen hours of news footage, interviews and photographs covering every aspect of the Vietnam conflict dominate this seven volume series originally broadcast on public television in 1983. The series is tirelessly thorough in its effort to understand the causes and effects of every political decision and each military maneuver. Beginning with a detailed history of Vietnam and its people, the documentary chronicles the effects of French colonial rule, Japan’s domination of the region during World War II and the denial of independence by Allied forces after the war. Interwoven through this fascinating tale is the story of Ho Chi Minh and the consequences that placed him in power. After arming the viewer with this essential understanding of the events that led up to the war, the series is then able to move through the military war that ravaged the region through the 1960s and ‘70s. Subsequent volumes concentrate on the American political muscle that continued to pump endless support into a seemingly hopeless situation, culminating with disastrous ventures in Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile, comprehensive coverage of the war at home rounds out what must be considered the definitive Vietnam documentary ever made.

The collection of interviews with the people on the front lines and behind the scenes, painstakingly gathered over a six year period, gives the documentary a genuinely human point of view. The truth flows easier with the benefit of a few years hindsight as the madness these people endured becomes brutally evident. Though thirteen hours long and uncompromisingly thorough, the series is broken up into logical segments that are easy to follow and compelling throughout.

Both a terrific educational tool and a dynamic piece of filmmaking, Vietnam: A Television History is mandatory viewing for everyone who struggled to live through the events of the day as well as anyone eager to understand the complexity of the times.

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