Personal and impacting recollections of two key events in how America of the time viewed Vietnam
October 1967 a Viet Cong ambush nearly wiped out an entire American battalion. It caused some in power to question whether the war could ever be won. In Wisconsin, a campus antiwar demonstration spiralled out of control and into violence. These two separate events on two different days in October saw the country split politically and the pressure on an unpopular war continue to mount.
Although it is accredited as part of a series of films in the "American Experience", in the UK BBC4 screened this episode as a standalone documentary as part of a season of films looking at modern America from a variety of angles. This documentary was one of the more impacting film in this season as it looks back at two moments in modern American history that marked a sort of intellectual turning point in the Vietnam war. The first half of the film follows the ambush in Vietnam and it produces an consistent stream of emotionally but matter-of-fact recollections that eloquently sum up the loss and pain of that day.
The second half is about the protest in Wisconsin which marked the first time that such an event had turned so violent. I knew little of this event and I found it fascinating to hear from both sides and to see the footage from the day. This side of the film is lessened to some degree by the fact that we now have regular violent clashes between heavily equipped police squads and protesters and the link to the wider political climate of the time was not made as well as I would have liked. Understandably the strongest aspect of the film is the recollection and footage from the war itself around the ambush. The contributions from this is made up of sturdy old men and I respected the way that they were able to talk about the events but all of them have a point where they do break.
The film is very well put together and I liked the heavy use of archive footage blended with well-selected contributions. I didn't like the musical score it is not obtrusive because it isn't used that much but it does tend to drift in at times to try and evoke emotion, which it didn't need to do. Fortunately it isn't used that often.
Overall then an interesting and impacting documentary about these two separate events. Those looking for a strong link to the wider political climate of the time (suggested by the title cards) may be disappointed because instead it is a much more personal film involving those actually involved in the events but this is not a weakness of the film, because it is strong from start to finish.
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