Apocalypse Then: The Vietnam War On Film
January 27 - May 8
Lecturer: Nora Annesley Taylor
Nora Annesley Taylor is the Alsdorf Professor of South and Southeast Asian Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of "Painters in Hanoi: An Ethnography of Vietnamese Art."
The war in Vietnam was often called the first television war. Between 1968 and 1975, most Americans watched the unfolding of events in Indochina from the comfort of their living room. After the war ended, Hollywood began to explore the trauma and legacy of the war on the American psyche. With the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive taking place in January 2018, and the recent broadcast of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's PBS documentary on the Vietnam War, these films, along with those made by Vietnamese and Cambodian filmmakers, deserve to be revisited. The series will take a close look at how the war and its legacy was imagined and represented in film, from the perspective of both Southeast Asian and international film makers.
— Nora Annesley Taylor
For nearly forty years, the Gene Siskel Film Center has collaborated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism to provide a unique experience for Chicago filmgoers. Each fall and spring, we present a themed Screening/Lecture series that is both a course taken for credit by enrolled SAIC students, and a weekly series of public screenings open to all ticket-buyers without need of enrollment or registration. A lecturer is chosen for each series from among the leading film scholars and critics in our region.
On each Tuesday during the series, that week's film is briefly introduced by the lecturer and then screened in its entirety. Following the screening, members of the public are welcome to stay for the lecture and participate in the discussion. The films usually have an additional screening, without the lecture and discussion, on Friday or Saturday. Click here to learn more about this program.
Admission to all Lecture/Screening programs is $5 for Film Center members; usual admission prices apply for non-members.
1992, Régis Wargnier, France, 157 min. With Catherine Deneuve, Linh Dan Pham.
"Hauntingly beautiful... Deneuve is magnificent." — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
This Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film (and nominee for Best Actress) spans the history of French Indochina from early stirrings of revolution in the 1930s to the loss of the colony in 1954. The story revolves around the relationship between Eliane (Deneuve), a French rubber-plantation owner, and Camille (Linh Dan Pham), her adopted Vietnamese daughter. The close bond between mother and daughter is tested, first by their passion for the same dashing French naval officer (Vincent Pérez), then by the forces of history, as Camille, swept up in the revolution, endures a perilous trek across her war-torn nation and becomes a folk heroine to the Communist insurgents. In French with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)
The 317th Platoon
La 317ème section
1965, Pierre Schoendoerffer, France, 100 min. With Jacques Perrin, Bruno Cremer.
- Fri, Feb 2nd 6:00pm
- Tue, Feb 6th 6:00pm
"One of the most compelling and riveting portrayals of war ever put on film...If you were told this film was a documentary, and what you were seeing was real, you would not doubt it for a moment." — Gary A. Freitas, War Movies
This pioneering portrait of the First Indochina War was directed by Pierre Schoendoerffer, who would win a Best Documentary Oscar in 1968 for THE ANDERSON PLATOON, and it was photographed by Raoul Coutard, the legendary cinematographer of a raft of French New Wave classics (as well as the cinéma-vérité milestone CHRONICLE OF A SUMMER). Both had combat experience as army cameraman during the conflict, which enabled them to make a war movie of unprecedented, documentary-like authenticity. Shot on location in Cambodia, the film tells of a French/Laotian platoon caught behind enemy lines during the final days of the war, centering on the relationship between an idealistic, inexperienced French lieutenant (Perrin) and his battle-hardened German adjutant (Cremer). In French and Vietnamese with English subtitles. New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
The Quiet American
1958, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, USA, 120 min. With Michael Redgrave, Audie Murphy.
- Sat, Feb 10th 5:30pm
- Tue, Feb 13th 6:00pm
"Mankiewicz was a serious and experienced filmmaker and his artisanship is on point here... The casting of the male leads is superlative." — William Gibson, PopMatters
This astringent, atmospheric adaptation of Graham Greene’s Cold War novel was the first American feature film to be shot on location in Vietnam. A cynical British journalist (Redgrave) grapples with a dangerously naïve American do-gooder (Murphy) in war-torn French Indochina, their ideological conflict complicated by sexual rivalry over a Vietnamese girl (whitewashed by the casting of Italian actress Giorgia Moll). Although writer-director Mankiewicz (reputedly coached by the CIA) controversially toned down Greene’s critique of American imperialism, this is a stronger film than the 2002 remake with Michael Caine: more sharply written, more vividly dramatized, and notably tougher on the central character. Mankiewicz (A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, ALL ABOUT EVE) is one of the screen's all-time masters of voiceover narration, and the voiceover passages, beautifully intoned by Redgrave and accompanied by Mario Nascimbene's percussive score, are among the highlights of the film. Cahiers du Cinéma critics Jean-Luc Godard and Eric Rohmer both selected THE QUIET AMERICAN as the Best Film of 1958. 35mm. (MR)
1979, Francis Coppola, USA, 147 min. With Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duval.
"A masterpiece...a grand and grave and insanely inspired gesture of filmmaking." — Roger Ebert
"Not merely the greatest film to come out of the Vietnam experience but one of the great works about the madness of our times." — Philip French, The Observer
No disrespect to THE DEER HUNTER, PLATOON, and FULL METAL JACKET, but Coppola’s eccentric epic stands as the Vietnam War movie. Over time, its apparent flaws have come to seem integral to its semi-hallucinogenic form, much of which was molded by unforeseen disasters and gut instinct. Transposing Joseph Conrad’s jungle odyssey "Heart of Darkness" from the Congo to Vietnam, the plot centers on a black ops mission to locate and terminate a colonel who has gone rogue on the wrong side of the Cambodian border. With its catalogue of legendary set pieces, pioneering surround-sound design, dazzling widescreen cinematography, and ultimately impenetrable density, APOCALYPSE NOW is a film that deserves to be seen and re-seen on the big screen. 4K DCP digital restoration of the original-release version, courtesy of American Zoetrope. (MR)
Full Metal Jacket
1987, Stanley Kubrick, USA, 116 min. With Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey.
"Profoundly moving, this is the most tightly crafted Kubrick film since DR. STRANGELOVE, as well as the most horrific — the first section alone accomplishes most of what THE SHINING failed to do." — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
In his next-to-last film, Kubrick trains his sights on the Vietnam War with a sardonic rigor that counterpoints the more romantic visions of Cimino, Coppola, and Stone. The film’s two-part structure begins with the observer-hero Pvt. Joker (Modine) in the brutalizing regime of the Parris Island boot camp, featuring a legendary performance by Ermey as the mother of all drill sergeants. In the second part, Joker arrives in 'Nam as a non-combatant correspondent but gets drawn into the infernal carnival of the 1968 Tet Offensive, culminating in a harrowing showdown with a sniper amid the ruins of Hue. 35mm. (MR)
Hearts and Minds
1974, Peter Davis, USA, 112 min.
“A masterful documentary, one of the most unsettling discussions of Vietnam and its aftermath ever to appear in any medium.” — Don Druker, Chicago Reader
“Not only the definitive American documentary about the war in Vietnam but a landmark political action.” — Michael Atkinson, Village Voice
In the decade between the inadequate first stab of THE GREEN BERETS and the arrival of major ‘Nam movies like THE DEER HUNTER and APOCALYPSE NOW, Peter Davis’s Oscar-winning documentary filled the gap, providing a sweeping overview of the waning war. Working in the politicized post-cinema-verité style pioneered by Emile de Antonio, Davis fashions a vast mosaic that uses expressive editing in place of conventional narration. The background is deftly sketched in (Indochina, orientalism, the domino theory, the myth of the communist conspiracy), but the core of the film is a series of up-close-and-personal threads placed in resonantly dialectical opposition (veterans unwaveringly patriotic and wracked by guilt; grieving parents of a fallen soldier and a prison-facing resister; administration officials unapologetic and repentant), until the coup de grâce is delivered by the juxtaposition of the funeral of a Vietnamese soldier and a jaw-droppingly obtuse remark by U.S. commanding general William Westmoreland. In English, French, and Vietnamese with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)
The Killing Fields
1984, Roland Joffé, USA, 141 min. With Sam Waterston, Dr. Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich.
"A masterful achievement...As a human story, this is a compelling one." — Roger Ebert
This suspenseful, sobering drama is based on New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg's account of his friendship with Dith Pran (Ngor), who served as Schanberg's assistant in Cambodia before disappearing into the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge regime. Enhanced by Mike Oldfield's unconventional score, the film's style is energetic and authentic, with a keen eye for punchy details (e.g., a cache of hot dogs falling out of a fleeing U.S. official's suitcase). Ngor, a Cambodian survivor with no previous acting experience, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his assured performance, and Malkovich has an attention-getting early role as a flaky photographer. 35mm. (MR)
The Missing Picture
2013, Rithy Panh, Cambodia/France, 92 min.
"Unlike anything I've ever seen...so immediate, so vital, it practically breathes. " — Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice
The problem of representing atrocity and genocide is a crucial and all too necessary one in modern art and history. Director Panh (S21), himself a childhood survivor of the Cambodian killing fields, revisits the regime of terror that exterminated his family and millions of others in the name of ideological purity. Little documentation exists, so Panh uses only snippets of archival footage while visualizing the past primarily through childlike dioramas peopled with clay figures. This haunting device both distances and intensifies the events, as the "missing picture" is handed over to our own imaginations. In English and French with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)
Far From Vietnam
Loin du Vietnam
1967, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda, France, 120 min.
"An important film, a beautiful film, a moving film...the cinema at last has its 'Guernica.'" — Richard Roud, The Guardian
This landmark agit-doc marked a turning point in the history of the French New Wave, addressing the lack of political consciousness for which the movement had been previously taken to task. Conceived and edited by Chris Marker, FAR FROM VIETNAM enlists the collective contributions of six leading directors - Jean-Luc Godard, Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda - diverse in their approaches but united in their opposition to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. Notable passages include a moving interview with the widow of self-immolating Pentagon protester Norman Morrison, an appropriately distorted videocast of a speech by Gen. Westmoreland, and a soul-searching monologue by Godard, immobilized beside his camera as he weighs the next step. In French, Vietnamese, and English with English subtitles. DCP digital restoration. (MR)
2016, Trinh T. Minh-ha, South Korea/Vietnam/USA, 90 min.
The multilayered films of Trinh T. Minh-ha (REASSEMBLAGE, SURNAME VIET GIVEN NAME NAM) escape categorization, moving freely among and between documentary, fictional, experimental and essay modes. Trinh, who was born in Hanoi and grew up in South Vietnam during the war, conceived FORGETTING VIETNAM as a reflection on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. Using as its central image the interplay between land and water in Vietnam's history, and layering its images with fragments of superimposed text and frames-within-the frame, the film explores marginalized areas of Vietnamese society, including bus and taxi drivers, street vendors, women at prayer, and new voices in poetry. In Vietnamese with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)