Hearts and Minds
"Hearts and Minds" is hard to watch. Not in the way that you might think a slow-paced "art" movie is hard to watch, mind you - but rather, in the way that the news can be hard to watch. "Hearts and Minds" puts us through the ringer by showing us a vision of the world that extends past our own backyard, to the nations and states where our country is (or in this specific case, was) fighting a war. It’s not always easy to comprehend.
Director Pete Davis’ documentary is a wide-ranging chronicle of American involvement in Vietnam, and it’s long been considered a controversial one. That’s because it’s stance isn’t hard to parse: as the director mentions in a written statement included on the disc, his focus was trained on public figures - from the president on down - who started off gung ho in regards to Vietnam, and eventually flip-flopped their stance. So we see contradictory public statements, interviews with soldiers who regret re-enlisting (one interview, quite manipulatively, is framed to mask the subject’s use of a wheelchair until the moment he verbally reveals that he’s paralyzed,) and newsreel clippings that invoke the hypocrisies of the war and the grunts who fought it.
The movie made a lot of waves when it was released in the 70s - and anybody who was taken with it then would do well to check back on this re-release now. That’s because Davis has included (alongside a grainy, gorgeous high-definition transfer of the film) roughly 2 hours of unedited, extra footage filmed during the production of the documentary. These comprise extended interviews with people who are featured in the film, as well as full interviews with subjects who didn’t even make it into the final cut. It works, essentially, as a companion piece to the full film - the redacted documents that didn’t make it into the public report. (The disc also features a commentary with Davis and his cinematographer.)
So indeed, many hold "Hearts and Minds" to be a sort of propaganda - but images don’t lie, even when the context surrounding them does. Seeing the combat, the phrases used to justify it - and perhaps most affectingly, the funerals of some of those lost - you can’t help but be swayed to Davis’ side, no matter how many blunt-filmmaking-sledgehammer-shots he uses to get you over there.
"Hearts and Minds"
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Release