PROTESTING THE VIETNAM
Saturday, October 2, 2004
Eyedrum, Atlanta, GA
ONLY THE BEGINNING (Newsreel, 1971, 20 minutes)
The Newsreel collective was formed in late 1967 in New York City. Conceived as an alternative to mainstream media coverage of news events, they produced and distributed over 40 films before reorganizing as Third World Newsreel in 1973. Newsreel film subjects included the antiwar movement, feminist issues, Black Power, civil rights, human rights, and community action. On her website, www.newsreel.us, Newsreel member Roz Payne recalls, "Our cameras were used as weapons as well as recording the events. Melvin [Margolis] had a W.W.II cast iron steel Bell and Howell camera that could take the shock of breaking plate glass windows."
Only the Beginning focuses on the antiwar movement among Vietnam veterans in the U.S. The film is bookended by footage from the April 1971 protest in which veterans returned their medals by throwing them over the White House fence. The bulk of the film is commentary by veterans on the devastation in Vietnam, accompanied by footage of the war. The film is expertly edited, and the protest footage near the end is particularly fascinating. Throughout, the spoken commentary reveals the veterans' disillusionment with their indoctrination against Asians, and suggests that many of them, because of their own experience with racism in the United States, reached a point of identification with the enemy. "As you go on you begin to realize this is foolish," testifies one veteran. "You're killing your own brothers."
In an article published in the book From Hanoi to Hollywood: The Vietnam War and American Film, Michael Renov says of Only the Beginning:
The focus of the film spirals out from its point of origin, cutting across space and time with little regard for precise coordinates or the labeling of sources. This aesthetic choice is also an ideological one in its suggestion that "the struggle is one."
SELECTIVE SERVICE SYSTEM (Warren Haack, 1970, 13 minutes)
"[Y]oung men either had to serve in a war in which they did not believe, or face the bleak alternatives to service. Some chose prison. Some sought refuge in other countries. This film documents another alternative. There was no attempt to alter the proceedings that took place." - Warren Haack
"One of the most shocking documentary films ever made." - Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art
First Prize, Documentary, Ann Arbor Film Festival, 1971.
Selective Service System's subject is Dan Lovejoy, a friend of filmmaker Warren Haack's. Both men were students at San Francisco State University in 1969, when this film was made. In a September 2004 phone conversation, Haack recalled that Lovejoy conceived the idea for a film which would document his own protest against the draft system then in place, and asked Haack to film it. The finished film, which takes place almost entirely in real time, reflects the length of the single reel of film Haack used to document the event.
Haack says that for him the film works partly as a corrective to the Hollywood method of portraying violence, which "shows the incident but not the aftermath."
ALLISON (Richard Myers, early 1970s, 7 minutes)
16mm, b&w, sound
"[A] short, simple film about Allison Krause, one of the four students murdered at Kent State in May 1970 by the Ohio National Guard. It is a memorial film put together out of footage I and other students had shot of Allison Krause (unknowingly) during student demonstrations ... and later freeze-framed. The soundtrack is Allison's father ... Arthur Krause ... reading a poem about Allison written by Peter Davies ... and reading a letter he wrote to Nixon ... and one that was never answered ...." - Richard Myers
VIET-FLAKES (Carolee Schneemann, 1966, 7 minutes)
From the pioneer performance artist and filmmaker, an artistic indictment of the war, "composed from an obsessive collection of Vietnam atrocity images I collected from foreign magazines and newspapers over a five-year period." Collage soundtrack by electronic music composer James Tenney.
PIECE MANDALA/END WAR (Paul Sharits, 1966, 5 minutes)
16mm, color and b&w, sound
A "flicker" film which utilizes single frame images of lovemaking, alternating with groups of solid color frames.
THE BATTLE OF THE INNOCENTS (Steve Seaberg)
photographs of a mural exhibited at Rutgers University, 1969
As with Paul Sharits's film, we see how the sexual revolution of the 1960s played a large role in the antiwar movement. Steve Seaberg writes:
When I was teaching in the art department at Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey between 1967 and 1970 the war in Viet Nam was the foremost thing on my students' minds, that and being busted for pot and or causing or having a wanted or unwanted pregnancy and this included both men and women...Almost every day there was a march in the streets where we lived on the Lower East Side protesting the war, sometimes only three or four people, pushing strollers, carrying groceries and signs...
In 1969 we had a faculty exhibition at Rutgers in which each of us got a room or two to do what we wished. One of the other instructors who was also the editor of Kiss magazine papered the walls of his space with the pornographic pages of his publication. I painted the battle of my students and other youth against the criminal government of Richard Nixon and the US war machine, the stripes of the flag becoming, as they are now, smoke and flames...The exhibit was on view for a couple of weeks, then the building was closed. The photographs were made by one of my students.
NO GAME (Newsreel, 1968, 17 minutes)
"October 21, 1967, The Pentagon: The Confront the Warmakers protest organized by David Dellinger and Jerry Rubin brought out over 100,000 anti -war demonstrators. Following the Civil Rights tactic of non-violence, the protesters were not prepared for a violent confrontation with the military police and Pentagon Guards armed with tear gas and rifle butts."
No Game, the first film produced by Newsreel, was created by pooling the footage of many different filmmakers present during this event. As with tonight's other Newsreel film, Only the Beginning, the lack of a voice-over narration serves to draw the viewer into the event effectively. The first half of the film essentially contains two soundtracks: the voices of the day's speakers and comments of participants, running simultaneously with the voice of Allen Ginsberg, who can be heard chanting his poetry, and leading a group in the chanting of a mantra, and the phrase "Out Demons Out!" in an exorcism of the Pentagon. The crowd of 100,000 is at first shown mostly in small groups or individual faces.
Abruptly, the film then shifts focus to the violent confrontation of the protestors with the Military Police. The speakers become more strident, and there is a montage of chaotic, hand-held shots which capture the confusion and tension of the moment. Finally, the film ends with a comment from one of the demonstrators, an odd mix of optimism with ominous overtones: "Nothing has really changed. But somehow I don't feel that there's no hope anymore. I feel that something may happen, whether it's violent or nonviolent. There's more of a chance now."
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING, DADDY? (Fred Wellington, 1967, 1 minute)
16mm, b&w, silent
A brief, haunting, indelible film about the costs of war. In a series of luminous shots, a man plays with his infant son. Then the film cuts to an image of a different child, very far away. Though the image does shock, the filmmaker holds it on the screen long enough to make us squarely face it. The connection is clearly made, and a sense not only of anger but also of compassion is created.
TIME OF THE LOCUST (Peter Gessner, 1966, 13 minutes)
16mm, b&w, sound
One of the earliest and most influential films made against the war. Music by Morton Feldman. "Compiled from American news film, Vietnamese National Liberation Front combat footage, and unreleased material filmed by Japanese Television camera units, this by-now classic film by Peter Gessner provides one of the strongest treatises against the war in Vietnam." "This motion picture is more powerful than collections of statistics, political rhetoric, and even the cleverest written argument. Its point is simple and dramatic: it exposes the cruel agony of Vietnam." - Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation
For assistance with tonight's screening, thanks to Richard Gess, Warren Haack, Robbie Land, Keith Leslie, John Lowther, and Oliver Smith.
Program notes: 2004 Andy Ditzler
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Andy Ditzler 10/21/2016