24 December 2007

Winter Soldier

United States - 1971
Director - Winterfilm Collective
Milestone Films, 2006, DVD

Winter Soldier is a documentary of sorts that came back to light in recent history because of the ill-fated presidential candidacy of John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, and at the time this film was made, a member of Vietnam Veterans Against The War who was involved with the Winter Soldier Investigation.

At the time of the 2004 Election, I had been a student of the Vietnam war for about 6 years, and had read a great deal of eyewitness, journalistic and political accounts of the war, its causes, it’s execution, and it’s aftermath, so this resurgent piece of history caught my eye.
Winter Soldier is a little bit different than all of that literature and academic discourse on Vietnam. Why did it take a presidential race to resurrect the spectre of this film, and why is it so important?
Winter soldier is first of all, a documentary. But it’s not an objective take, it’s very much a subjective one, having been made as a part of the VVAW movement. At first this seems to color the proceedings with the pall of victimization, but the unending, deadpan sincerity finally becomes more than a little unsettling. Never overwhelmingly so, it’s too factual to be really disturbing, and it all seems too frighteningly possible within a personal context.

Billed as a war crimes investigation, for about an hour and a half, Winter Soldier proceeds with the simple continuous testimony of Vietnam veterans of all races and from diverse units and branches, speaking about the brutality and inhumanity that they witnessed and committed in Vietnam.
For a contemporary student of the war itself, many of these stories are surprisingly, not unfamiliar, if unique in the details. What I had to remind myself is that these confessions were not made 30 years later on the printed page with the promise of a royalty check on the far end. These men are still seeing these things in full color in their heads and can still feel the pull of the flesh. Vietnam itself, and their own personal version of it were still very much happening at the time this was filmed.

Two thirds of the way through this film is a segment that starts out feeling like a diversion. A black veteran rants at a white veteran about racism, and about the complete and total white/black disconnect, and lack of understanding. At first the black guy seems a little cartoony and out there, but soon, it’s seriously heavy, and the white guy stands there at the end with nothing to say, floored and nodding his head.
You’ll never get it man, you-will-never-get-it. No matter how much you think you’re staring right at it, you will never see the whole picture. For that reason, this film will never be “gotten”, it can’t be, not by anyone who is not on screen, it’s too real. It’s like a movie in a foreign language, without subtitles. I can’t say I know much about the Vietnam War anymore, and I never will.

No comments: