Sunday, March 04, 2007

In The Year Of The Pig

Emile de Antonio (Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1920-1989), made a number of excellent if unconventional documentaries, including In the Year of the Pig (1968/1969), a memorable attempt at contextualizing Vietnam.

Point of Order (1964) and McCarthy: Death of a Witch Hunter (1975) deal with Tailgunner Joe McCarthy; Rush to Judgment (1967) examines the investigation of the JFK assassination; America is Hard to See (1970) deals with Eugene McCarthy and the 1968 election; Millhouse (1971) parades Richard Nixon's foibles; Painters Painting (1973), inexplicably not yet available as a DVD, is a behind-the-scenes look at modern art and includes interviews with major artists from the 1950s and 1960s, including Andy Warhol; Underground (1976) interviews members of the Weather Underground; In the King of Prussia (1983) looks at direct action anti-nuclear protests; Mr. Hoover and I (1989), is the most personal of his films, in which he quips: "Anyone who knows me, knows that the only time I empty my wallet is at a bar."

De Antonio usually does not insert himself into his films like Michael Moore, but rather shows the viewer a montage of archival footage and interviews. In the Year of the Pig traces the Vietnam Wars from the French, Japanese, French again, and then American periods up to pre-Tet 1968.

This approach immediately puts American involvement in a wider, deeper and more complex setting. There are strange touches, too, like shots of American Civil War statues and pointed mini-blackouts between archival visuals, as befits Dada and the 1960s.

The interviewees run the full range of ideological viewpoints. A large set of politicians and generals come off in 2007 as lunatic or foolish, at best myopic. This class includes ex-generals Curtis LeMay, Mark Clark, and William Westmoreland; and politicians Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, LBJ, and Hurbert Humphrey, company men all. LeMay, who ran as George Wallace's running mate in 1968, is the Jack D. Ripper type who argued about Vietnam: "My solution to the problem would be to tell them frankly that they’ve got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age." Seem familiar?

The more sensible interviewees include some of the common soldiers (not all -- some are shown gleefully bulldozing or torching villages and torturing prisoners, complete with Abu Ghraib-style hoods); Daniel Berrigan; David Halberstam; Harrison Salisbury; and a number of French and American diplomats, senators, and journalists who have a much clearer grip on the ground situation. And the Buddhists protesting South Vietnamese President Diem certainly have the evident moral high ground. The Tonkin Gulf incident is skewered as a pretense for widening the war -- which, as historians have since proven in detail, it was. A pretense for widening the war -- again, sound familiar?

Today's Rune: Joy.

Birthdays: Antonio Vivaldi, Leslie Gelb.



Johnny Yen said...

I've been planning a blog piece on the Gulf of Tonkin-- I'm surprised nobody else has made the connection between the manufactured Gulf of Tonkin incident and the phony Weapons of Mass Distruction.

Erik Donald France said...

Gulf of Tonkin seems like a perfect comparison. How about the invasion of Grenada to divert attention from Beirut? The Maine as excuse to launch the SpanAm War? The list of phony pretexts for war is long. Where there's a will there's always a way to get the ball rolling.