Vietnam! Vietnam! (1972): John Ford’s Documentary

That the U.S. government was out of touch with public opinion was clear from John Ford’s documentary, Vietnam! Vietnam! in 1972,

It was sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), represented the official line.

Ford, one of the best filmmakers (winner of four Oscar Awards), was known for his Republican politics, which made him a natural choice for producing an “official” documentary.

Like John Wayne, Ford visited in Vietnam in 1966, but his contribution to Vietnam! Vietnam! was mostly in postproduction, supervising the editing and rewriting of the script, which was narrated by another Hollywood conservative, Charlton Heston, then president of the Screen Actors Guild.

Vietnam! Vietnam! was longer (58 minutes) and more expensive (with a budget of $250,000) than other USIA documentaries.

The feature consisted of a prologue (a montage of stills of some 50 headlines of the 1960s, from the Beatles to the Pill to Vietnam); exploration of Vietnam’s background, culture, and the war; and cameos of politicians (Reagan, Johnson, McCarthy, Fulbright), ordinary soldiers, and hippies, all debating the war.

The documentary ended with a shot of a Vietnamese parade with 7-Up-can torches, while Heston narrates solemnly: “The flames were still bright on December 31, 1969, but if that fire would be a permanent light of freedom or would be extinguished was not to be known within the decade.”

The interpretation of the war in this documentary was so outdated by the time of its release (four years after it was made), that it caused the government embarrassment. After some screenings at USIA libraries and consulates, the film was withdrawn from exhibition.